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Friday, 11 June 1915

Senator WATSON (New South Wales) . - I am reluctantly compelled to again bring under the notice of the Senate the position created in Newcastle by the restrictions on the export of coal. I have received the following letter from Mr. Flynn, the secretary of the Chamber of Commerce at Newcastle: -

You will doubtless remember having informed Mr. H. C. Langwill, on 2nd inst., that you had learned that all restrictions on the export of coal to foreign ports had been removed in the case of any such port where a British Consul was stationed. Inquiries made this day elicited the reply that up to the present neither the Collector in "Sydney, nor the Sub-Collector here, has received any advice to this effect, and the embargo still holds as before at both ports. As the matter is of great importance to this district, I am to ask that you and Mr. Watkins will kindly see the Minister of Customs or Comptroller-General as soon as possible, and get the order communicated to the Sydney and Newcastle Customs officers.

The gravity of the situation at Newcastle cannot be over-estimated. I had an assurance last week from the Minister that the embargo on the export of coal had been removed, and conveyed that information to the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce. The above letter practically declares that the embargo has not been removed. The matter calls for immediate action on the part of the Government.

Senator Pearce - I pointed out that there were still certain tilings that had to be observed. The general embargo was removed.

Senator WATSON - I have an assurance from the Chamber of Commerce that they are quite prepared to comply with all the conditions laid down by the Government.

Senator Millen - And still cannot get their coal out?

Senator WATSON - Yes.

Senator Pearce - Yes, they can. There was one case where they did not comply with the conditions, and what happened afterwards was their own fault. They gave the name of a firm to whom they said they were sending the coal, but on inquiry it was found that they were sending it, not to that firm, but to another firm which is on the black list.

Senator Millen - I would have done something more than stop their coal.

Senator WATSON - My information is that they have not sold coal to other than accredited agents.

Senator Pearce - In this case they gave the name of an accredited agent, and it was afterwards discovered through the Consul that it was going to another firm who were not accredited agents.

Senator Millen - Are they still at large ?

Senator Pearce - Yes, subject to further inquiries.

Senator WATSON - No blame can be attached to the shipping agents at Newcastle.

Senator Pearce - Yes, it can.

Senator WATSON - I have yet to learn that they are responsible. I am not here to defend any party or person who would be guilty of doing anything to aid the enemy. Notwithstanding our present adversity, we are not anxious to do anything that will interfere with the success of our arms at the front, but having received an assurance and finding that that assurance does not hold good, we feel that the matter calls for further inquiry.

Senator Pearce - It does hold good exactly on the conditions laid down.

Senator WATSON - If the shipping agents have not complied with the conditions, that was unknown to me. I have been assured by those at Newcastle that they have complied with the conditions, and yet are being refused permission to send their coal away. They are allowed to load the vessel on the understanding that a clearance will be given, but immediately the vessel is ready the clearance is refused.

Senator Millen - If later information has reached the authorities that the permission was obtained under false pretences, you cannot blame the authorities for stopping the shipment.

Senator WATSON - Still it is due to those concerned that immediately information of the kind is available they should be made aware of it. That is the complaint that Mr. Langwill has against the Department - that the shipping agents are not being taken into the confidence of the Department to an extent which, would enable them to carry on their shipping operations.

Senator Mullan - It might not be safe to take them into the confidence of the Department.

Senator WATSON - It would be safe to tell them that they were not allowed to sell their coal to certain persons, instead of letting them fill their ships only to find afterwards that the ships were not allowed to leave.

Senator Pearce - They said the coal was for a certain person. They were given permission to ship it away. Before the ship left it was found that it was not for that person at all. We are now trying to find out who was responsible.

Senator WATSON - I have given the Committee the information I have, and the shipping agents complain that for every day the coal lies loaded at . Newcastle they have to pay demurrage, which necessarily involves them in great financial loss. This is a serious matter, and if there is a reason for the action of the Government that reason ought to be forthcoming. The shipping agents who are- engaged in bringing trade to Newcastle should be given some valid reason why the vessel which they have been engaged to load is not allowed to sail. I trust further inquiries will be made, and that the Government will do everything possible to facilitate the shipping trade of Newcastle.

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