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Wednesday, 25 March 1942

The PRESIDENT - Is the motion supported ?

Four honorable senators having risen in support of the motion,

Senator ALLAN MacDONALD - I take this opportunity to bring to the notice of the Senate a matter which is considered to 'be of extreme urgency by the people of Western Australia. This afternoon I asked the Leader of the Senate (Senator Collings) whether it was a fact that the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Johnson) had been deputed to visit the gold-fields in Western Australia in order to advise those vitally concerned in the industry of the Government's intention that the production of gold would virtually cease. To my astonishment, the Minister replied that he had no knowledge of the matter. Coming from a senior member of the Government, that is an astounding statement, because, I suggest, he must know that the honorable member for Kalgoorlie did visit various gold-fields in Western Australia.

Senator Collings - I take very strong exception to the statement just made by the honorable senator. In reply to his question this afternoon, I informed the Senate that I had no knowledge of the statement to which he referred. The honorable senator now says that I must know of it. I repeat that I do not know of it, and I ask the honorable senator to believe me.

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator is not in order in interrupting the speech of another honorable senator. If he wishes to correct a misstatement made by the honorable senator he must do so at a later stage.

Senator ALLAN MAcDONALD - I accept the assurance just given by the Leader of the Senate. I have just returned to Canberra from Kalgoorlie, where I was reliably informed - as a matter of fact the dogs were barking it - that the honorable member for Kalgoorlie had visited Kalgoorlie and other goldmining centres and had informed the people directly interested in the production of gold that he had been deputed by the Prime Minister to advise them of the Government's intentions with respect to the industry. I was informed that he pointed out that man-power allegedly available in the industry would be required for other purposes, and that the mines would have to cease production. In other words, the Golden Mile must be left in the hands of a caretaker. He also informed them that the Government of the United States of America would compensate the industry for any loss incurred as the result of the Government's plans. He stated that when employees in the industry had been drafted into labour corps for the purpose of making roads and doing other works in other centres, their wives and families would be compelled to remain on the goldfields. This information has astounded residents of mining centres from Marble Bar to Norseman. The livelihood of over 40,000 people depends directly on a continuance of the industry, and in the interests of those people I now bring this matter to the notice of the Senate. My primary duty as a member of this chamber is to protect the interests of residents of the State which I represent. Whenever I feel that those interests are likely to be jeopardized by federal action I shall raise my voice in protest, regardless of the political colour of the

Government which may be in power. Were the party which I support in office to-day I should take exactly the action I am now taking. However, I do not think that if the former Government were still in office it would be necessary for me to do so. When I visited Kalgoorlie I made it my business to discuss this matter with representatives of the Chamber of Mines, the local governing body, the Chamber of Commerce and other bodies which are vitally concerned in the production of gold. I pointed out, as it was my duty to do, that there was no reason why the goldmining industry should he singled out for complete sacrifice, because that is what it will mean. To intimate the Government's intentions at a series of small conferences and not at a public meeting, was quite wrong, and that is why I want to know whether or not the honorable member for Kalgoorlie received his instructions in writing from the Prime Minister or from the Government. But no one seems to know and that is the reason I am raising this issue now. With regard to the allegation that the Government of the United States of America was prepared to indemnify the gold-mining industry, the suggestion was that such action might be a condition to the granting of assistance to Australia in our present critical hour. I told the gold-fields officials - they are responsible men - that I did not believe that to be the case, and that it was not a method of approach which would be adopted by any government. Furthermore, I reminded them, if any reminder were necessary, that this was still a British community; we were the lords of creation here, and had voices to raise in protest against any disabilities which we might suffer or anticipate. I do not believe that the Government of the United States of America imposed any such condition, but even if that were so, I have yet to learn of the Government of the United Kingdom refusing to come to the assistance of any section of primary producers in the Dominions. As a responsible citizen of Western Australia, I am confident that the United Kingdom Government would be quite prepared to take over all the gold produced in Australia just as it is taking over all the wool, and other commodities produced in Australia. Furthermore, I believe that the producers of gold are entitled to go to the Commonwealth Government in the same way as the wheat-growers, apple and pear growers, and other primary producers Iia ve done, to ask that the same consideration be extended to the gold-mining industry as has been granted to the people engaged in the other industries which I have mentioned. I can see no economic reason why the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) should refuse the request made 'by the gold producers, either to finance or purchase their annual production, amounting to approximately £15,000,000, because gold is an asset. It floes not have to be shipped overseas, and it is not subject to destruction by pests iu the same way as wheat can be destroyed by weevils. It may be argued that there is no need for the further production of gold in this country because people cannot eat gold and it cannot be fired at the enemy, but my view is, first, that the possession of gold is essential ro the well-being of any nation. At the termination of hostilities, we shall be very lucky to own the clothes that we stand up in, and something will be required in the post-war period to stabilize our financial affairs, both inside and outside the Commonwealth. The only commodity which can do that is gold. I defy any one to suggest that at the conclusion of the war, any country which grows products or manufactures goods which we cannot grow or manufacture, will refuse to supply those goods to us if we are prepared to exchange gold for them. In addition, the possession of gold will help Australia in its negotiations with other countries for the supply of goods which could not be obtained without gold. Secondly, I believe that our currency should be harnessed to a gold reserve. As ii matter of fact, many of our troubles commenced, as did those of the United Kingdom, when the gold standard was abandoned, and the sooner our currency is again attached to the gold standard, the better it will be for us. I go further and suggest as I did to a Commonwealth Treasurer four years ago, that it would be better for us if gold were once more used as a token of currency. As soon as that happens, the threat of inflation caused by huge over-production of paper money will disappear. Only by the reintroduction of gold as the basis of our currency can we return to a properlybalanced and stabilized economy, and when we do so, we shall hear less from financial theorists who have solutions of all our monetary problems, but only on paper. Those engaged in the gold-mining industry are not asking for any special privilege in regard to the man-power regulations, and if the industry were carried on as it is at present, the man-power situation would not be jeopardized at all. Last week I had a look at the recruiting figures in Kalgoorlie, and on unimpeachable authority, they indicated that Australian Imperial Force enlistments in the Kalgoorlie and Boulder districts were the highest in the Commonwealth. Furthermore, there was every indication that the weekly number of volunteers offering was regular. Therefore, the action which I have suggested would not prejudice recruiting for our armed forces in any way. At one meeting which I addressed, it was stated by a councillor who claimed to represent 98 per cent, of the miners, that the miners themselves considered that they should be doing more important work in our war effort. The speaker said that he had heard such remarks made at crib time. Later, however, I discovered that the man was a carpenter and did not go underground at all. Therefore his statement was incorrect. As a matter of fact, I know from long experience that it is very difficult to persuade even three gold-miners to agree on a debatable point. The statement suggested that many of the workers in the industry were prepared to support the proposal made by the Prime Minister's deputy, the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, merely on party political grounds. It is my earnest desire to prevent this discussion from following party political lines; I am concerned only with the future of the goldfields communities in Western Australia, whose livelihood is jeopardized. If the mines are closed down, property values on the gold-fields will virtually disappear, overnight, and the homes of miners and their families will be worthless.

Senator E B Johnston - Property values throughout the State would suffer.

Senator ALLAN MacDONALD - That is true, because every part of Western Australia has benefited from the prosperity of the gold-mining industry. I need only refer to the great economic depression of 1929-33 in order to bear out that statement. In that period, the price of gold appreciated so greatly that we in Western Australia were able to organize large numbers of prospecting parties amongst the unemployed in the coastal areas, with the result that the demands on Government sustenance funds were greatly reduced and many men were given effective work to perform. This increase of employment on the gold-fields took up the slack in coastal areas and bolstered up commerce from Albany to Wyndham. Western Australia would have suffered far more severely than it did during the depression if it had not possessed its gold-fields. Those of us who had experience of the depression in Western Australia will not forget what we owe to the gold -mining industry.

In the latter part of last year, I was a member of a deputation which waited upon the Treasurer. We told him that rumours which were 'being circulated had given us the impression that the gold-mining industry was in danger, and we pointed out to him, as I have pointed out to the Senate this afternoon, the great importance of the industry to Western Australia. We went so far as to say that, in the economic sphere, gold was as important to Western Australia as sugar is to Queensland. If the sugar industry were destroyed, the whole Commonwealth would suffer, and the effect upon Queensland in particular would be almost disastrous. Queensland representatives in this Parliament would be. the first to make a most emphatic protest against any threat to the sugar industry. I can well imagine that the Leader of the Senate, as a good Queenslander, would have been thrown into a frenzy if any government of the political colour of the Opposition had threatened the security of the sugar industry. I am sure that he will agree that my claims regarding the gold-mining industry are worthy of careful examina tion. Representatives of Western Australia again waited upon the Treasurer during the last sittings of Parliament in order to repeat our request that the goldmining industry should be protected, because rumours of restrictions upon gold production were still circulating. The Treasurer then informed us that a committee of experts, comprising a representative of the Department of Trade and Customs, a representative of the Taxation Department, and a representative of the Treasury, was investigating the position of the gold-mining industry in order to ascertain its needs of fuel oil, flotation oil, cyanide, quicksilver, and the many other commodities that have to be imported for the purposes of gold production. He indicated that, when the departmental committee had completed its survey, the Government would be in a position to make a pronouncement of policy. We accepted that assurance, because, only a few days previously, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Trade and Customs intimated that the Government did not intend to cripple the gold-mining industry. Naturally, people employed on the gold-fields regarded that intimation as reliable.

Senator Keane - We said that no new mines could be opened.

Senator ALLAN MAcDONALD -The statement was .that, although no extension of the industry would be encouraged, there would be no restriction of existing operations. In view of this assurance we considered that every thing in the garden was lovely. But, lo and behold, a bombshell has been exploded on the gold-fields. The Leader of the Senate has no knowledge of it, but every body employed on the goldfields knows that their -future is in jeopardy. Something is wrong somewhere. The Treasurer has been most discourteous to the parliamentary representatives of Western Australia, especially Western Australian senators. He should have consulted us before any overtures were made to the industry by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie. We represent the gold-fields just as much as the honorable member for Kalgoorlie does.

Senator Keane - Most of the large mines are in his electorate.

Senator ALLAN MacDONALD - We represent the -whole State. We are just as concerned about the future of the industry as is the honorable member for Kalgoorlie. The Prime Minister should have consulted us before action was taken, and he should have appointed a Minister of the Crown, instead of a private member of Parliament, who could have intimated the Government's intentions to the industry without holding surreptitious holeandcorner meetings about which no announcements were made in the press. The procedure that has been followed requires the closest scrutiny. I raise my voice in protest, and I have no doubt that other Western Australian senators will also do so.

Senator Fraser - The honorable senator raised his voice at the Kalgoorlie Town Hall.

Senator ALLAN MacDONALD - I shall continue to do so as long as Western Australia suffers from any injustice. This matter is of particular importance to Western Australia at present, in view of the announcement that the Government intends to reduce wheat production in that State by one-third. The first rumour that we heard in Canberra was that there was to be a 75 per cent, reduction of wheat production in Western Australia. This caused such an outcry that the rumoured reduction was decreased to 60 per cent., and since then the Government has announced a reduction of 33^ per cent., which means that all marginal areas will go out of wheat production. If all goldmines within a range of 360 miles of the coast are to be forced out of production, there will be no reason for anybody, with the exception of a few caretakers and others, to be employed in the hinterland of Western Australia; people will flock to the coast. The suggestion, which was made to shopkeepers and others in Kalgoorlie, that the Government would ensure that the families of miners transferred to the Labour Corps would not be allowed to leave the goldfields, was all " bunkum The Government cannot control even the coal-miners in New South Wales, who are now working under the best conditions that they have enjoyed during the last 40 years, so how could it ask miners to live apart from their wives and children, particularly in view of the present threat of invasion ? That proposal waa preposterous, and it was foolish to employ such language in dealing with members of the Chamber of Commerce who represented the shopkeepers and other property-owners on the gold-fields. I suggest to the Government that it should make a close scrutiny of what has been done, and of its intentions in that matter. I was taught very early in my career that the law of supply and demand is one that cannot easily be overcome. The fact remains that gold is of the highest value, particularly under war conditions, and the more gold Australia can produce the better it will be for us. Gold is still valued at £9 12s. an oz., after the deduction of the Commonwealth gold tax. If gold had deteriorated in value to such a degree as was suggested to people on the gold-fields, it would not command its present price. If it has no economic value, as suggested in some quarters, the Governments of the Dominion of Canada and of the Union of South Africa, as well as the United States of America, would not be increasing their production of gold as they are to-day. Even at the instance of the Government of the United States of America, I do not see why the complete cessation of gold production in Australia should be ordered. Man-power is available in many other industries of less importance than the goldmining industry. All that the goldproducers of Kalgoorlie ask is that they be given treatment similar to that received by those engaged in other industries. There are no more loyal employees in Australia than the goldminers. This is proved by their enlistments in the Australian Imperial Force. The industry asks for equity, not obliteration. During my visit to the Western Australian gold-fields, the impression was gaining ground that the mines would be closed in less than three weeks, and on that account I felt compelled to send the following telegram to the Prime Minister from Kalgoorlie on the 21st March : -

After consultation with people vitally concerned with the fate of the gold-mining industry, I feel certain that protests will be made at this important Western Australian industry being singled out for complete sacrifice. I strongly recommend that any proposed action by your Government towards diverting man-power bc suspended pending receipt of representations from the industry and the local governing bodies.

I understand that the local governing bodies, representatives of the goldproducers, the Kalgoorlie Chamber of Commerce, and others, intended to wait on the Premier of Western Australia either yesterday or to-day. Prom what I learnt in Kalgoorlie, they proposed to enlist the support of the Premier of that State in approaching the Prime Minister, asking him first to back up his public statement that the industry would not be placed in jeopardy, and, secondly-

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator has exhausted his time.

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