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Thursday, 15 November 1973
Page: 3390

Mr JAMES (Hunter) - I will endeavour to keep my remarks at the same tempo as did the honourable member for Chisholm (Mr Staley). I congratulate him on his submissions in the Grievance Day debate in which he put stress on inequality between men and women. But I think that the honourable member for Chisholm, in fairness, must agree that the Australian Labor Party has led the field in eliminating areas of inequality between man and woman in our country and in following the principles of the International Labour Organisation.

I want to make some submissions to the House today in the knowledge that what I say is now being considered by business and political advisers in Australia and Japan. It is my wish, and I believe that of the overwhelming majority of the electors of Hunter, that soon the proposals being considered by Japanese political leaders and industrialists will become a reality. I refer to the black coal industry, particularly on the Maitland coalfields and in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales, which since the early 1960s has been slowly dying because of the lack of markets for high quality gas coal and because of the intrusion of oil into the gas coal industry and the introduction of modern coal extraction machines that reduce the work force by onehalf to two-thirds, causing a great deal of chaos in the transition period. This has brought about an unparalleled gloom in the northern coalfields area, but owing to the initiative, forthrightness and honesty of the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) strong possibilities for the northern coalfields to live again might be a reality in the foreseeable future. Because of the Minister's frankness with them, the Japanese Government and industrialists are seriously considering investing in the process of obtaining petrol and oil from coal from the northern New South Wales coalfields, a course of action which was recommended to them by the Minister. They are prepared to act in accordance with the Australian Whitlam Government's guidelines that 51 per cent ownership of such an industry should remain in Australian hands. All Australians know that petrol and oil can be successfully extracted from coal, but up to the present time it has never been an economic proposition. At present there is a world energy crisis, of which all members of this House are aware. The Arab States, because of their conflict with Israel, are restricting the supply of petroleum products to unfriendly countries. It is the intention of the Arab States to raise substantially the price per barrel of Middle East oil and this, I hope, will revive the coal industry in my area with the initiation by the Minister of a modern plant to extract oil from coal.

I believe that the coal industry today stands on the threshold of a period of great challenge and opportunity. On the one hand, it is challenged by the nationwide problem of complying with stringent regulations regarding pollution. On the other hand, it is faced with the opportunity of creating a new source of synthetic liquid fuels to meet the growing world needs. Particularly in the United States new technology is becoming available which can realistically allow some countries, and particularly the United States coal industry, to achieve these objectives. The hydrogenation process, for instance, is an attractive new method for the manufacture of low sulphur liquid fuels from coal.

Air pollution laws in the United States have created problems for the United States coal industry. Low sulphur coal is demanded, and because the United States industry's coal markets have been threatened by its inability to supply coal that will comply with the stringent low sulphur coal specifications required in many and an increasing number of areas, there is emerging in the United States a brand new market which the Australian coal industry can develop realistically and profitably. The United States realises that its domestic needs for liquid fuels cannot continue indefinitely to be filled by domestic suppliers. Therefore the United States oil magnates have been turning their interests to coal for the purpose of supplementing their fuel and energy needs. One could measure Australia's liquid fuel needs by those of the United States, which expects to consume 2.2 billion barrels per year by 1980. In the absence of the discovery of new oil basins, coal remains the most natural alternative. I welcome the initiative of the Minister for Minerals and Energy in stimulating interest by the Japanese Government and industrialists in sharing in the development of northern coal for the creation of a modern plant to extract oil from coal. The cost of such a plant is estimated at about $400m, an expenditure which, at this time in Australia's history, would be too great for our nation to contemplate.

The Minister for Minerals and Energy has been the target of much unfair criticism in recent times. This criticism, in my view, has only projected his earnest in pursuing Labor Party principles. He has shown a determination to use Australian natural resources in the best interests of Australian people. This man, who has been depicted by the misleading media and anti-Labor politicians as a fumbling, irresponsible failure appeared on television recently, and he wiped the floor with his critics, slaughtered his opponents and finished with the greatness of Gala Supreme. Capable, informed and determined, he created an image of being the type Australia needs for the long hard task of winning back, and judiciously rationing with future needs in mind, control of vital national assets that anti-Labor governments have been losing to overseas interests.

I am proud of my Government's achievements in education, social services, giving local government direct access to the Loan Council and in establishing the Grants Commission which will relieve the financial burden on local government councils which have been starved of funds for far too long. Under the administration of Mr Whitlam bridges are being built between East and West. The countries of our region respect us more than ever. The most populous country on earth - China-now respects us and it has taken its seat in the United Nations. The Australian Government is using its influence on leaders of countries big and small. They have begun to turn their old divisions into co-operation. We are in the infancy of world order, but immense progress has already been achieved. If all leaders of nations and all men of goodwill will join their hearts, their wills and their efforts, surely permanent peace will at long last be given to all the peoples of this earth. I am a supporter of a Government which realises the problems of the Australian people, a Government to whom the burdened heart may pour forth its sorrows, to whom distress may prefer its suit, whose head is guided by justice and whose heart at all times is expanded by benevolence.

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