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Wednesday, 3 June 1942

Mr NAIRN (Perth) (5:33 AM) .- My opportunities in these days to address honorable members are confined to occasions when the House resolves itself into committee, and I therefore take advantage of the consideration of this bill in the Committee of Supply to make some observations concerning the gold-mining industry of Western Australia. I appeal to the Government to lift the threat which it has apparently made to the continuance of this industry. I shall not need to discuss the subject at great length, for a representative deputation from Western Australia, which included the State Premier and persons closely associated with the gold-mining industry, waited on the

Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) and the Minister for War Organization of Industry (Mr. Dedman) last week in regard to the matter. I understand that the deputation did not receive any satisfactory assurances. Apparently the Government has adopted the attitude that the goldmining industry cannot be guaranteed any measure of protection in present circumstances, and that in future men will be taken from the mines whenever it is expedient to take them. If that means that the principal industry of Western Australia, which is gold-mining, is to be sacrificed, an undue hardship is to be imposed on that State. When the war started, the gold-miners of Western Australia enlisted in large numbers. There is no more patriotic section of the people than the Western Australian gold-miners. It is estimated that the mines lost about half of their effectives soon after the war began. Apparently, it is now proposed to take even labourers from the mines, and to convert the tools and plant of the mining companies to war production. I trust that the Government will give some consideration to the consequences of dislocating an industry of this description which provides, in a direct way, for more than one-sixth of the population of Western Australia in normal times. Each year the gold-mining industry distributes about £3,000,000 in wages. The economic structure of Western Australia depends largely upon gold-mining, and if the gold-fields be destroyed as a market for the primary produce of the State, railway revenue will be impaired, receipts from the gold-fields' water scheme will diminish, and, in one way and another, the whole community will suffer seriously. I suppose it is intended to provide sustenance for the dependants of miners who will be removed to work in other localities, but many people who may not be directly associated with gold-mining will also suffer considerable hardships in consequence of of government policy in this regard, and they should be assisted. The fact should be remembered that if some mines are closed down - I have in mind particularly the larger mines - it is unlikely that they will ever resume production. The Lake View and Star mine, which is the largest mine in Australia, has shafts down to 4,000 feet. The spoil from mining operations has been dumped in underground workings, and the mine has to be carefully managed in order to prevent watering at the lower levels. I fear that if this mine be closed down, it will not be re-opened. About £1,000,000 a year is disbursed in wages by the Lake View and Star Company. The Great Boulder and Wiluna mines are of little less importance than the Lake View and Star mine, but no assurance has been given that the management of these mines will be allowed to retain sufficient men to maintain operations. Skeleton crews will not be sufficient for this purpose. If these mines close down, they may be finished for all time. Generally speaking, Western Australia has been rather badly treated in the distribution of Commonwealth moneys for the establishment of industries. That State has also been singularly unfortunate in that about £1,000,000 a year has been taken away from the State by means of the gold tax, irrespective of whether the mines producing the gold have been worked at a profit or not. Western Australia has been unfortunate, too, in that it has received only a small share of the Government's expenditure on war industries and the like. This may be due partly to the geographical position of the State, and to its lack of industrial equipment, but it is also due partly to the fact that Commonwealth officers charged with the duty of establishing war industries have naturally employed the resources with which they were familiar in the eastern States, and Western Australia's claims have been overlooked. Although some industries have been started in Western Australia since the outbreak of the war, I cannot see much prospect of them remaining as permanent industries after the war. A power alcohol distillery is to be established in Western Australia, and we hope that a munitions factory will also soon be in operation there. The State also has some prospect of developing a permanent potash industry. But, apart from these projects, I do not see much prospect of the war providing Western Australia with any permanent industries. The people of my State have responded magnificently to every patriotic appeal that has been made to them, but if they are to be deprived of the establishment of war industries on patriotic grounds, they are being asked to bear a little too much.

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