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Wednesday, 17 December 1941

Mr FRANCIS (Moreton) .- Repeated appeals have been made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) and other Commonwealth Ministers for increased output of coal in Australia, and to that end the Menzies Government appointed a coal commission to supervise the acceleration of production, transport, distribution and allocation of coal to the various war industries. The regulations have been amended by the present Government, but so far as Queensland is concerned that commission has proved utterly useless. The Queensland coal mines could increase their output by thousands of tons of coal a week, but at present the men in most of the mines are working only part time. Other mines are closed down for lack of orders. Nothing has yet been done to increase the output of the mines that are in production and to re-open those which are closed down. The coal-owners of Queensland are not only willing but also anxious to mine more coal so that Australia's war effort shall be improved. The industry is asking the Government to ensure that a market is provided for the coal they can produce.

Queensland is divided into three coal-mining areas. In the north, from Mount Mulligan to the Collinsville district, the industry is able to supply the trade in that area, and the miners are working full time. The central district extends from the Styx to the Blair Athol district. The Styx mine, which is owned by the Queensland Government, is operated for the full five days a week. In the central district, the Cambria mines are working fairly regularly. The Windsor mine has not been operated since the 24th October last, and is wanting orders. The Blair Athol mines have been working intermittently. The Burrum, Howard and Torbanlea district mines are practically closed down until after the holidays, owing to lack of trade. Previously they were working only intermittently. In the West Moreton district, which is the largest district in Queensland, the mines are working only intermittently, and have been operated on that basis since they supplied from three to four months' stocks to all the big Queensland industries, including the railways, the gas companies, the Brisbane Electric Light Company, and the Brisbane City Council. .Some of the large mines have already closed down for the Christmas holidays, and it is not known when they are likely to resume operations. The Darling Downs mines, on the OakeyCooyar line, work only about twelve to sixteen hours a week. Tannymorel and Injune work on an average four days a week. In view of the fact that the southern States are crying out for coal - apparently they will use only Maitland coal - the Coal Commission, which was appointed to control the industry, should not allow the position to be controlled by the consumers, but should decide what coal they may and may not use. On several occasions, the circumstances of the industry in Queensland have been brought to the notice of Mr. Mighell, the chairman of the Coal Commission, and, although he has been sympathetic, he has always stated that the proposals of the Queensland industry could not be considered on account of the cost of production, freights, and shipping difficulties. He has said that any method of bringing coal from Queensland to the southern States, other than by sea transport, would be too costly, and that the claims of the Queensland industry could not be considered.

Recently, the industry received a telegram from the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) asking it to produce more coal, as the various industries needed an increased supply of coal. It is clear that the Prime Minister has not been apprised of the position in Queensland, where both the mine-owners and the miners are anxious to do their best to produce coal. Up to the present time, not one ounce of Queensland coal has been taken to the southern States. All of the mines of southern Queensland, from which 60 per cent, of the coal of the State is produced, are working only intermittently. At the New Chum colliery, 110 men have been working only two days a week. The mine has been closed down since the 5th December, and the men are still idle. The mines in southern Queensland could produce 3,000 tons, or more, of coal a week. As the mines are idle, the employees, particularly those who have no family obligations, would be quite prepared to go south in order to assist in the production of coal. The Coal Commissioner should organize this. As I have already said, the mines in the Howard district, because of lack of orders, are closed down over the Christmas holidays, and for an indefinite period thereafter.

The industry has asked the Coal Commission to allow Queensland to supply all railway trade from West Maitland to South Brisbane and from West Maitland to Wallangarra. New South Wales railway officials have told the commission that they will not use Queensland coal. Honorable members are aware that the Kyogle-South Brisbane railway is one towards the cost of which the Commonwealth pays substantial sums annually. Queensland and New South Wales have met their share of the cost of this railway. The Commonwealth has had to meet not only its own share but also that of all of the other States which would not, for the time being, stand up to their own obliga tions. Accordingly, the Commonwealth should see that Queensland coal is used on this railway.

Mr Watkins - Is Queensland coal suitable for railway purposes?

Mr FRANCIS - Yes. It is the only coal used on the Queensland railways. In my State, the trains are run to time, but the train on which I travelled through New South Wales in order to attend the present sittings of this Parliament was four and a half hours late on its arrival in Sydney. The Prime Minister, or the Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Beasley), should not hesitate to declare that the coal produced in Australia shall be distributed where it is required, since it is essential to the war industries. The coal mines in and around Sydney should supply the coal required in southern New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria, whilst Queensland should be permitted to provide the coal needed in northern New South Wales. The coal supplies of Australia should be properly organized, and the work of organization should be carried out by the Coal Commission, yet not an ounce of coal from Queensland is used in connexion with the war effort.

As thousands of coal miners are working only part time during the present national crisis, it is clear that the coal resources of Australia, particularly those of Queensland, have not been utilized as they should be. I appeal to the Prime Minister and to the Minister for Supply and Development to see that the coal resources of Queensland are properly utilized, particularly as the mine owners and the miners are anxious to render the best possible service to the nation. The Coal Commission should be called upon to say why it has not organized the industry so that coal supplies for northern New South Wales are obtained from Queensland. The standard gauge railway from Kyogle to South Brisbane has been showing a considerable loss, and, as the Commonwealth is responsible for a considerable part of the financial outlay incurred in its construction, it should have a voice as to whether the utter disregard of Queensland's interests should be continued. In the interests of the war industries and of the mine owners and miners in Queensland, I appeal to the Government to call upon the Coal Com- mission to investigate this matter immediately, so that an all-in war effort may be obtained by the proper development of the coal resources of Queensland.

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