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Wednesday, 11 May 1921

Senator BAKHAP (Tasmania) . - I think my colleague, Senator Earle, is animated by the very best of motives in bringing this matter under the consideration of the Senate and the Government, and he is well qualified to do so, as he was for a long time, as he has told us, resident on the Zeehan silver-lead field. But silver-lead is not produced exclusively at Zeehan. That field has been the largest producer of high grade galena that the State has known up to the present, and the important mining town of Zeehan has been built up in consequence of the prosperity which the silver-lead mining industry at one time enjoyed. I am not in the habit of disguising facts, and I must say that I am very much afraid we are up against another unpleasant fact like death and' rent day, for instance. We are faced with a condition of things that no talk will explain away, but perhaps Senator Earle has suggested something which, if it will not do a great deal of good, may do something to remove the misunderstanding that exists in the minds of those who are engaged in the industry. My object is not to cover some of the ground that my worthy colleague has gone over, but rather to make it' quite clear to the Government that the State of Tasmania has been no laggard in connexion with the conservation of the interests of the silver-lead miners. Senator Earle will recollect that during the time he was Premier of Tasmania the State Parliament was very solicitous to extend all the assistance it possibly could to the silver-lead industry on the West Coast, and I have a lively recollection of having assisted to vote moneys in connexion with the smelters near the town of Zeehan. I remember being a member qf a Select Committee appointed by the Tasmanian House of Representatives to inquire into the industry on the West Coast. I think the chairman of the Committee was ex-Senator Mulcahy, who was deeply interested and who spent a very great deal of his own means to investigate the resources and bring about the development of the industry of the West Coast. The Tasmanian Parliament has voted many substantial sums to the silver-lead smelting works at Zeehan. It has even owned a silver-lead mine, and, like others, at one time I believed that the smelting companies or buyers did institute returning charges higher than the industry ought to have been legitimately called upon to bear. But in all fairness I must say I think that ii the State-owned mine as a producer of silverlead ore submitted to these charges - I do not think it would tamely submit if the charges were manifestly unfair or exorbitant - it is not likely that anything particularly sinister will now be disclosed in connexion with the operations of the smelting company.

Senator Earle - I am not so sure about that.

Senator BAKHAP - I do not think that the State silver-lead mine has totally ceased operations even at the present time.

Senator Earle - It is being worked on tribute.

Senator BAKHAP - At all events work is being carried on, and to that extent it is still a live concern. Far be it from me to say anything that will prevent a practical attempt to right the present position. I think honorable senators will remember that less than a year ago the Tasmanian representatives in this Parliament were insistent in approaching the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) in order to get the embargo on the export of silver-lead ore removed, and up to the present it has not been reimposed. The measure was in some degree efficacious, and I hope that what Senator Earle has very properly suggested to-day may be efficacious in another direction. I hope it may result in the removal of misunderstanding, because when misunderstandings in connexion with economic and industrial operations are removed, a slight rift in the clouds always indicates the possible return of prosperity. I do not believe that anything better than the removal of the embargo on the export of silver-lead ore could have been done at the time. Senator Pratten has indicated that there are other restrictions. How far these may operate to the detriment of the producers I' cannot say. Certainly if there are any restrictions which operate detrimentally to the silver-lead mining industry, now in the name of the Lord and in the name of the Commonwealth of Australia is the time to remove them. I do not for a moment contend that there are restrictions the removal of which would place the industry in a better position. But if there are, I ask the Minister to report the fact at the earliest possible moment to the head of the Government with a view to their removal. Only the other day my colleagues and I had representations made to us in connexion with this very matter. Thereupon I consulted Senator J. D. Millen and also Colonel Bell, who is the representative in another place of the territory in which this particular field is located. We decided that it was exceedingly difficult to indicate anything of a practical character in the way of relief, and I took the responsibility of wiring to one of the three gentlemen who had written to us stating that with all the best will in the world we were confronted with a position of great difficulty, because we were up against a major force. Circumstances were too great for us, and circumstances, I ยป fear, will prove to be too great to permit of the prosecution of some of the other industries of Australia during this time of stress. I am sorry to make this statement, but the facts must be faced. I cannot say precisely what is in the minds of the gentlemen who are very properly doing all that they can to retain for the town of Zeehan whatever measure of prosperity it is possible to retain. One of them wired to me the other day, and asked me to hold my hand in respect of any intended action. But as a matter of fact we were in a quandary as to what action we could take. These gentlemen form a kind of local committee. To my own personal knowledge one of them was for some time the manager of the State silver lead mine, whilst the other two are public spirited citizens. They have requested us to await further advices from them before we proceed farther. I support Senator Earle in his desire to have these smelting charges investigated.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable senator means the charges made by the Sulphide Corporation - not the accusations ?

Senator BAKHAP - Yes. I understand that the Sulphide Corporation invite such an investigation.

Senator Earle - They do not say' that, but they offer the use of their plant if anybody can run it.

Senator BAKHAP - That is prima facie evidence that their operations are not very lucrative at the present time. But if an investigation of the charges made by the corporation - I do not know that "any such investigation could take place unless the corporation were a willing party to it - would result in the clearing away of any misunderstandings which exist, I say God speed to it: At the same time I frankly confess that the situation is one with which we are likely to be confronted in Australia for some time, and in regard to which nothing -that human ingenuity can suggest, nothing that human effort can. accomplish, is likely to achieve very much good. Yet this is not a time when we should tamely submit to the decrees of fate. If anything can be done in the direction which has been suggested, by all means let it be done, and in that spirit I support the action of Senator Earle.

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