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Monday, 24 May 1965

Senator PROWSE (Western Australia) . - My participation in this debate on the Gold Mining Industry Assistance Bill is partly due to the fact that Senator Drake-Brockman has been given additional responsibilities in connection with the conduct of the business of the Senate and consequently is not able to make the contribution that he expected to add to the debate. At the outset I, like Senator Branson, wish to say how happy I am as a Western Australian to be paying a tribute to the Government for introducing this additional measure of assistance to the gold mining industry. My interest in gold mining is of a rather sentimental character, as both my father and grandfather were attracted, with many, many others, to participation in the industry before the turn of the century. I know very well just how much the industry has contributed to the development of Western Australia and of the Commonwealth. The incentive given to other industries is a material part of the contribution that the gold mining industry has made to Australia's present sound economy.

The needs of the gold mining industry in Western Australia were responsible for the securing of a water supply, and it is possible that the subsequent effects of that development upon the agricultural industry are still being felt. The initiative and enterprise of those pioneers of engineering in Western Australia who developed that system benefited the whole of the Commonwealth. The South Australian pipelines, for instance, were made possible because of the discoveries that were made in supplying water to the eastern gold fields. I mention this because certain economists lately have taken the view that in assessing the value of a particular industry we must narrow the field to consideration of that industry only. The gold mining industry is an example of how a narrow assessment of the return would lead us very far astray in understanding the true value of the industry to the economy.

The Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Henty) set out with clarity and directness what the Bill proposed. Senator Cant explained in detail the effect of the Bill, and I do not propose to weary the Senate with repetition. The need for revision and continuance of this legislation should be apparent to all who are aware of the fact that the price of gold is fixed at £15 12s. 6d. an oz. under the International Monetary Agreements Act. While the price has been fixed, costs have been rising. I do not know whether the figures which I am about to cite have been mentioned. In 1954-55 the consumer price index was 102.6. In December 1964 it had risen by 26.8 to 129.4. In the same period wages in Australia as a whole rose by 48 per cent, and in Western Australia by 46 per cent. Despite these increases, efficiency on the part of both management and workers enabled the industry to maintain a fairly constant output after 1953, in the vicinity of 1 million fine ounces a year. Output fell below that figure in 1963 and that, I think, was the warning sign that something more was needed and that the industry was beginning to feel the impact of rising costs.

The disappearance from the scene of two mines is greatly to be regretted. My Party has been deeply concerned about the necessity for maintaining communities which are playing a part in widening our area of development and settlement. In the ideal of a decentralised community the gold mining industry plays a very important part.

Both Senator Drake-Brockman and the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Anthony) recently visited Kalgoorlie to assess some of the claims which were being put forward on behalf of the industry. The concern which we have for the maintenance of this industry leads us to give very hearty approval to what the Government is doing. The Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) is to be congratulated on his forthright statement about the Australian industry at the recent conference of the Internationa] Monetary Fund. We need to be alive to the importance of the industry, not only on a sentimental basis but also on a real practical basis, because it is contributing to our overseas balances and doing something substantial in maintaining and expanding Australia's development. I heartily support the Bill.

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