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Wednesday, 25 March 1942

Senator E B JOHNSTON (Western Australia) . - I compliment Senator Allan MacDonald on bringing this matter before the Senate. He has raised it in the right place and in the right way. The people of Western Australia, par.ticularly those whose livelihood depends upon the gold-mining industry, have

I'very reason to complain at the lack of frankness on the part of the Government and its inconsistency in regard to this matter, at least up to the time when the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Johnson) held his semi-secret meetings in Kalgoorlie. When I came to Canberra a fortnight ago I received representations from various people on the gold-fields who expressed alarm at the statement that it was the intention of the Government to close down the industry. The matter was ventilated by Senator Allan MacDonald, with the result that the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) stated that the Government intended to permit, the industry to continue on its present scale, but that no new mines were to be encouraged. That statement relieved the minds of the people of Western Australia who are well aware that a large number of industries, of much less importance than the gold-mining industry, have not yet been incorporated in our war effort. I do not think that the Minister for External Territories (Senator Fraser) did himself justice when he referred to the eagerness of shareholders in gold-mining companies to maintain dividends. The crux of the matter is that a large population depends for its livelihood upon the industry. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane) said that it employed over 20,000 miners; and it is estimated that employment is given directly and indirectly to five people throughout the States for every miner employed in the industry. We must protect the livelihood of that big community. We must ensure that the industry is not destroyed. I remind the Minister that there is no secrecy about this matter. In last Saturday's issue of the West Australian the following paragraph appeared: -

After an extensive tour undertaken to acquaint the gold-fields people with the immediate need to divert the greatest possible amount of labour from the gold-mining industry to more urgent war work, Mr. Johnson, M.H.R., arrived in Perth on Thursday night.

I take it that that was the mission entrusted by the Government to the honorable member for Kalgoorlie.

Senator Fraser - No; that was not his only job.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - At any rate, the statement attributed to the honorable member for Kalgoorlie is inconsistent with that made by the Prime Minister about a fortnight ago that the gold-mining industry was to continue on its present basis, but that no new mines were to be developed. The same newspaper also published a report in which it attributes to the honorable member for Kalgoorlie the statement that " the need for the diversion of labour was keenly appreciated, and all seemed ready at any time to go anywhere, and do anything if it would further the war effort ". As all hon.orable senators representing Western Australia are aware, that is the spirit which r orme a tes every community on the goldfields in that State. It would be difficult to find more adventurous or more loyal communities in any other part of the Commonwealth. Apparently, the honorable member visited all the gold-mining centres with the exception of Mount Palmer and Southern Cross. Information in regard to what he said has been forwarded to me by people who were present at the various meetings. At one centre he said - I am convinced that my informant is reliable - that the Commonwealth Government, in conformity with the wishes of the Government of the United States of America, had decided to close down the gold-mining industry throughout Australia. That is the point which, very properly, was raised by Senator Allan MacDonald. The people of Australia, especially those engaged in this industry, are entitled to know whether or not it is the intention of the Government to close down gold-mining throughout the Commonwealth. The economic effects of such a step on Western Australia would be almost indescribable. The cessation of gold-mining would have a detrimental effect on big towns and centres of population, such as Norseman, the Golden Mile, Kalgoorlie, Coolgardie, Wiluna, Leonara, and many others. Such drastic Motion should not be taken by any Government, even for war purposes, except as a last resort.

Senator Large - Is that authentic?

Senator E B JOHNSTON - Yes, I have obtained my information from men who were present at the meetings. I am informed that the honorable member for Kalgoorlie said that sufficient men would be left on the gold-fields to protect machinery and secure the underground workings against floodings. That is to say, there would be a few caretakers to see that the mines were kept in operable condition. He is reported to have said also that compensation would be paid for the losses incurred in consequence of the suspension of operations, but by whom, in what way, and on what basis, was not explained by the honorable member. It was certainly not suggested by the honorable member that compensation was to be paid by the Government of the United States of America. The honorable member is reported to have said also that when the miners were taken away to other centres to engage on war work, their wives and families would remain on the gold-fields. Personally, I am inclined to doubt that the honorable member for Kal goorlie did say that. He is held in high regard by his constituents and knows the gold-fields communities well, and I am convinced that if the miners were taken to other parts of the Commonwealth, as soon as they obtained permanent employment and saved sufficient money, they would send for their wives and families. That, of course, would mean further dislocation on the gold-fields of Western Australia. Such a long and unnatural separation would not be tolerated. The gold-mining industry is the greatest primary industry of Western Australia, and is the greatest source of direct and indirect employment in that State. The closing of the mines would mean the ruination of towns and the depopulation of districts throughout the State, such as Kalgoorlie, Boulder, Coolgardie, Norseman, Wiluna, and the whole of the Murchison area with its scattered but important towns.

Senator Cameron - The petering out of gold has the same effect. (Senator E. B. JOHNSTON.- Yes, but the mines are not petering out. Some of the biggest and oldest established concerns still seem to have quite a long life ahead of them. I cannot imagine any thing more likely to result in a permanent abandonment of the gold-fields than the alleged temporary closing down of these concerns while they are still working. A large deputation from the local government bodies throughout the goldfields waited on the Premier of Western Australia yesterday in an endeavour to secure the support of the State Government to oppose the proposed closing down of the gold-mining industry which, I repeat, would have disastrous effects on the whole economic life of Western Australia. Repercussions would be felt, not only on the gold-fields, but also in all ports and cities, because gold production is the mainstay of Western Australia's economic welfare. It has been suggested that the decision to close down the goldfields is in accordance with the wishes of the Government of the United States of America, but I should like to know whether or not Great Britain has been consulted in this matter. I know that in South Africa, the gold-mining industry was approached by the Government of the United States of America with a suggestion that there should be a general closing down of the mines. Such action in South Africa would have meant the collapse of the entire South African economy, but the mines are still being worked, largely, I admit, by coloured labour. Also, we have heard no suggestion that the Canadian gold-mines should close, and their production is greater than that of Western Australia.

Senator Allan MacDonald - Russia has not ceased gold production.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - Of course not. We are all aware of the colossal quantity of gold that has been acquired by the United States of America, and I imagine that it would not be in the interests of the British Empire if gold production in Empire countries were restricted in any way.

Senator Fraser - The Government of the United Kingdom would not agree to the transference of the registration of a company to Western Australia.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - The burden which Great Britain is bearing probably did not justify the giving up of a source of revenue which in peacetime has been enjoyed unchallenged for decades. However, that is quite another matter. Surely no one could expect Great Britain to renounce a legitimate source of revenue at a time when its very existence is threatened. I believe that in normal times the transfer of that mine's registration to Western Australia would have been readily and properly approved. Many indications of indifference to the interests of Western Australia have been given by this and, in fact, by all Commonwealth Governments. We all know the feeling which was prevalent in Western Australia with regard to federation, when a referendum was taken a few years ago. I venture to suggest that there are many other industries of lesser importance from which man-power could be drawn before the gold-mining industry is destroyed. The people living on the gold-fields would expect, at least, equality of treatment with other industries in regard to any draft on its man-power.

I hope that the views expresesd by Senator Darcey to-day, and on many pre vious occasions, are not influencing the Government in this attack on the goldmining industry in Western Australia. Until now it has appeared that the Government has been willing to continue to finance the war by what may be called orthodox methods. That is evidenced by the recent war loan, the success of which indicates clearly that the people of Australia are behind the Government in its endeavours to adhere to orthodox financial methods. However, it is well known that the majority of the Labour party, led possibly by Senator Darcey, is opposed to the principle of a gold backing for our currency. On two occasions the Legislative Assembly of Western Australia has passed resolutions calling on the Commonwealth Government to finance the war, social services and public works by means of Commonwealth Bank credit, without interest, in order to avoid debt, but so far this Government has not been convinced that such a course is practicable. It seems that the majority of the Labour party has been persuaded to consent to the flotation of loans as a temporary expedient until some new excuse can be found for putting Senator Darcey's social credit into operation. I fear that the fact that the suspension of gold-mining would destroy anything in the nature of backing for our currency, is one of the main considerations behind the present proposal. It seems that Senator Darcey's work in this chamber and elsewhere is beginning to bear fruit, and is having an effect on the Government, as evidenced by its attitude to the gold-mining industry. I endorse Senator Allan MacDonald's protest and commend him for his action in bringing this matter forward. I repeat that the gold-mining industry is invaluable to Western Australia and to the Commonwealth.

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