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Monday, 24 May 1965

Senator BRANSON (Western Australia) . - As the Senate has a very busy period ahead, I shall be brief. As a Western Australian 1 believe I must say how delighted I am with the Government's decision to provide for the gold mining industry the assistance detailed in the legislation before us. In saying that, I believe I may speak for every person on the Western Australian goldfields. Senator Cant said that the Opposition does not oppose the measure. He mentioned a figure of £550,000 as the amount of the subsidy at present. He went on to say that he believed it should be increased. I shall remind Senator Cant and anybody else who is interested of the submissions made by the Chamber of Mines to the Government. A summary of that submission states -

The industry submits that the following steps should be taken: Liberalise and extend the operation of the Goldmining Industry Assistance Act for an indefinite period.

I think that the Government has been wise in making the assistance available for a period of five years because the industry can plan ahead. It can calculate the assistance it will receive over that period, and to me it seems to be a much wiser course than providing assistance for an indefinite period. The summary continues -

Increase the maximum subsidy under the formula to £4 an ounce.

That is the provision requested by the Chamber of Mines. To say that more assistance should be given to the industry is to imply that the Government has not gone as far as it could have. This is unfair, because the Government has granted the two requests I have quoted from the submissions of the Chamber of Mines. The summary continues -

Increase payments under the Act to small producers from £2/8/- to £3 an ounce.

That is exactly what has been done. The summary goes on -

Delete section 12 of the Goldmining Industry Assistance Act.

This section, which it was felt was working against the industry, has been deleted. The Chamber of Mines also suggested the subsidisation of exploratory diamond drilling on a £1 for £1 basis. That is being done.

The Government has approached this matter in a very realistic way, appreciating the importance of the industry in so many directions. I have been fairly closely in touch with management in Kalgoorlie, particularly, through the Chamber of Mines over the past few months, because all were conscious of the fact that this arrangement had to be renewed after 30th June. I believe that the people of Kalgoorlie will be breathing a little easier now that this decision has been made. I refer not only to those who are directly associated with the gold mines but also to the hundreds of people who make a living in the business world on the gold fields. It is always a pleasure to talk to management representatives at the Chamber of Mines, whose approach to their work and to members of Parliament is made with old world courtesy. They are most genuine people and I have the greatest of admiration for them.

Senator Cantreferred to the fact that management had done a magnificent job in holding costs in this industry. The mines just had to hold costs because they have been working on such a small margin. Gold has been a wonderful standby to Australia over the years in respect of our overseas reserves. It has done a particularly good job in decentralisation, certainly in my own State. I was born in the East Murchison and I know the area fairly well. I venture to say that the pastoral industry there would not have been opened up nearly as early, had it not been for the first prospectors finding gold, the gold mining industry developing, and around it growing the rather wealthy pastoral industry that is there today. We should also remember that last year gold mining produced about £15 million worth of overseas credits. Senator Cant referred to this, I thought appropriately, in dollars.

The closure of two mines in Western Australia was a blow, because between them they were producing about 100,000 oz.; the effective loss of annual export income was about £1.5 million. In Western Australia only three gold producing centres of any size remain - Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Norseman and Mount Magnet. The mines employ 3,730 people and they are entirely responsible for supporting an aggregate population of 25,250. The annual wage bill of the industry is about £5,278,000. Some of the major mines have been encountering increasing difficulties in maintaining levels of production. Consequently, their profit margins have been seriously eroded. The decline in prosperity has accelerated during the past 12 months due to the cumulative effect of a number of factors. Senator Cant referred to some of them. They include the increase in the cost of labour and the shortage of experienced employees for underground production. This is quite a real problem, which was alleviated a little during the Mount Isa strike but not as substantially as the industry would wish. Another factor is the loss of production consequent upon the granting of an extra week's annual leave to employees. The industry itself had to bear this when it was still working on the subsidy that was agreed to some three years previously. Another factor is the necessity to adopt more expensive ore production methods at depth.

I believe that this measure will help to keep these mines on their feet and will also give the industry towns, particularly Norseman, Kalgoorlie and Mount Magnet, greater confidence. There was evidence that people were starting to lose heart. This Bill will alter that tendency quite a bit. I would not conclude without paying personal tribute to a man who I believe has done a great deal for the mining industry in Western Australia. I refer to Mr. George Jennings, Secretary of the Chamber of Mines in Kalgoorlie. He is completely dedicated to his job. From the type of submissions that the Chamber makes where it wants some sort of assistance, I infer that he must have a big hand in the preparation of them. In most cases the representations that the Chamber has made have been successful I support the Bill.

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