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Wednesday, 5 September 1984
Page: 476

Senator COLSTON —My question is directed to the Minister for Resources and Energy. I refer to the findings of a recent Queensland Government inquiry into the future of the West Moreton coalfields. In particular, I refer to the findings that retrenchments from those coalfields are imminent unless the Queensland Electricity Generating Board continues to purchase West Moreton coal for the Swanbank power station. I ask the Minister whether his attention has been drawn to the findings of that report, whether he is concerned about those findings, and whether he believes that any action could be taken to alleviate the projected levels of job loss in the West Moreton fields?

Senator WALSH —My attention has been drawn to the findings and indeed, following action initiated by Mr Hayden, I have had two meetings with representatives of the mining unions. I have also contacted the Queensland Minister by telephone and am in the process now of preparing a letter for dispatch to the Queensland Minister. The principle finding of the report, as Senator Colston said, was that it appears likely that the only way in which significant retrenchments can be avoided is if the Queensland Electricity Generating Board purchases a greater quantity of coal from West Moreton than it presently plans to do.

Of course, there has been a long term plan by the QEGB to phase out the Swanbank power station, which has been the traditional market for West Moreton coal. However, there is an export sector. I have orally approached the Queensland Minister, and will do so in writing shortly, asking him to see whether the Queensland Government will consider doing three things. Firstly, will it consider not proceeding with the planned increase in December this year of $1 a tonne in the coal loading charge for West Moreton coal exported through Brisbane? Secondly, will it consider making some adjustment of the rail freight, further to the small adjustment recently made? Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, if the export market is to be developed more fully, there is the question of royalties. A royalty of 4 per cent is imposed on deep coal mines in the Ipswich area and a 5 per cent royalty is imposed on open cut mines. At least some, and I believe most, of that royalty does not, however, accrue to the Queensland Government but to private land holders.

Given that in that instance at least there would be no loss of government revenue if the royalty was waived, and it is not insignificant, being of the order of $2 a tonne, which could well make a difference between West Moreton coal being priced competitively on the export market and not being priced competitively, it seems to me that action waiving that royalty would be far more defensible on the part of the Queensland Government than allowing retrenchments of miners in that area to proceed unnecessarily. The royalty recipients, who I stress are mostly private people and not governments, if the mines close will not get the royalty anyway. I have had a number of representations from Mr Hayden. As I see it, there is little the Commonwealth Government can do other than to make representations to the Queensland Government. That indeed is what we have done.