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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 2051

Mr FITZGIBBON(10.40) —I rise tonight to expose the Opposition's lack of sympathy for the people of the Hunter Valley, particularly its coal industry workers. The Opposition is preaching such nonsense as the total deregulation of the coal export market, which would have disastrous effects on the Hunter Valley coal mining industry. It would lead to mine closures, it would harm the economy of the valley cities and towns and it would throw thousands of miners on to the unemployment scrap heap. We learnt about the sympathy for the miners held by the Opposition in last week's Australian Financial Review, which disclosed some of the policies which would be pursued by the Opposition should it ever be sufficiently fortunate to regain government. One of its plans is the abolition of the Joint Coal Board. I pursued the matter with the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) and with various government officials. I can give a categoric assurance that, in spite of the Opposition's attempt to put the boot into the miners, the Government has no plans to abolish the Joint Coal Board.

The Joint Coal Board is a joint authority established by parallel legislation of the Commonwealth and the New South Wales governments. The two governments reviewed its operations in 1984 and chose not to vary its powers. It was, however, agreed that the Joint Coal Board should be reconstituted to comprise an independent Chairman and members representative of the interests of those employed in the industry and of New South Wales coal companies. The present Chairman and a member representative of employees were appointed in October 1984. Steps are under way at present to appoint a member representative of New South Wales coal companies.

The Joint Coal Board makes a substantial contribution to the coal industry, which is Australia's largest export earner. Its functions include mining, engineering, geology, supervision of the opening and closure of mines, the provision of workers compensation insurance in the New South Wales coal industry, the promotion of coal exports and the collection of data on the coal industry on a national basis. The Joint Coal Board has been deeply involved in the establishment of the Hunter Valley Coal Chain Council. It promotes the use of coal in developing countries through a training scheme in Newcastle and operates a welfare fund for the benefit of the New South Wales coal mining communities. Various charitable organisations, schools, libraries, police boys clubs-all kinds of worthwhile organisations within the Hunter Valley-have benefited from donations made by the Joint Coal Board.

Aside from these considerations and the Government's wish not to introduce an element of instability into the industry, the Hawke Labor Government would find it difficult to withdraw unilaterally from the joint arrangements with New South Wales. Both the Commonwealth and New South Wales governments have undertaken not to take action without the prior concurrence of the other to repeal or amend any of the legislation establishing the Joint Coal Board. So I can give the miners of the Hunter Valley, the south coast and other areas this very clear mess- age: Under a Liberal government or a coalition government not only would they have an attack on their rights and working conditions but they would also have put into effect such disastrous policies as the abolition of the Joint Coal Board and the total deregulation of the coal export market. This Government will not have a bar of those two proposals. I am quite sure that when it comes to the next election, whenever it is, the coalition parties can expect very little support from the coal miners, particularly in the Hunter Valley.