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Tuesday, 6 August 1946

Mr ABBOTT (New England) . -The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) apparently believes that no honorable "members on this side of the House are prepared to support the amendment. Well, I support it, and I propose to show how fallacious was the argument of the honorable member in opposing .the amendment. The subclause provides that the board shall have power to regulate the.' price for the purchase or sub-purchase of coal, and the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) has asked that this power be subject to appeal as prescribed. The Minister in charge of the bill has' refused to accept an amendment to this effect. Evidently, the Government believes itself to be omnipotent, and to, be incapable of making - a mistake. It will not listen to argument nor accept any amendment.

I listened carefully to the 'speech of the honorable member for Dalley, who based his argument on the ground that the coal-owners could charge whatever price they chose for coal, and. from that he went on to say that the board should have power to fix prices. He used a charming- expression when he said that the coal-owners would " sock " the public in order to recoup themselves for the concessions which they made to their own subsidiary, companies. This was a fine example of parliamentary language from the Speaker of the House. Most Speakers are content to remain Mr. Speaker, and do not take part in debates. The honorable member for Dalley also said that the board would be better qualified than the Prices Commissioner or any appeal body to fix the price of coal, and. that there should be an over-all price, as otherwise- the owners could smash this legislation. .Those' remarks show the honorable member's supreme ignorance of economics. It is not the mine-owners who fix the price of coal ; that is done by the buying public, and the users of coal. It is they who, ultimately, determine the price of coal.

Mr Conelan - What rot!

Mr ABBOTT - Listen to the whitehaired sage from Brisbane who, apparently, is well versed in all the principles of economics ! Let us see what happened in regard to coal prices in New South Wales during a period of ten years. According to the report of the Board of inquiry appointed by the Government of New South Wales, consisting of Mr. Justice Davidson, Mr. >S. McKensey and Mr. F. Lowden, the .price for coal at the pit's mouth in 1928 was 17s. 6d. a ton. In 1929, it had fallen to 16s. "6d. a ton. In 1930 it was down to 15s. 5d. and in 1931 to 13s. 8d. I ask honorable members to mark what dreadful rises of price were perpetrated by these " atrocious " coal-owners, who were castigated by the honorable members for Dalley and Hunter. As a matter of fact they should have been raising the price of coal, smashing the coal industry and sucking the life-blood out of the public. But what happened? In 1932 the price of coal at the pit mouth was down to 12s. 2d., in 1933 to lis. 6d., in 1934 to 10s. lid., and in 1935 to 10s. 6d. In 1936 there was a "heavy" rise of 2d. to 10s. 8d., and in 1937 these desperadoes increased the price to lis. Thus, over a ten-year period, except for two small rises totalling 6d. a ton, there was a consistent fall of the price of coal. Yet the honorable member for Dalley says that the coal-owners would endeavour to force the price so high that the public would be unable to pay, and that they would wreck the Government's scheme for the rehabilitation of the industry. The answer to these charges is contained in the figures in Mr. Justice Davidson's report. The honorable member for Dalley spoke of the necessity for appointing the coal authority to fix the price of coal. It has been clearly shown that it would- be against the interests of individuals and corporations to allow such an authority to be the final arbiter of its own decisions. I have no time for the doctrine expounded by honorable members opposite of one law for the coal-miner and another law for other sections of the community. This Parliament should hold the scales of justice evenly. There should not to be an appellate jurisdiction for one section of the community and not for another. What has been our experience of government-controlled mines? In the conclusion arrived at by Mr. Justice Davidson, whose report on the coal industry has not yet been printed - we have to .take it for granted that the extracts issued by the Government are not watered down or censored versions - we learn that he had this to say about the New South Wales coal-mine -

It cannot be claimed that the State mine at Lithgow, Since its foundation, in 1916, has been a notable success.

Originally it was not well laid out. The first working places are approached by a transport road more than 88 chains in length from the shaft.

When, after being in operation for eleven years, control was transferred to a board, the sum of £271,941, forming portion of the total debt of £581,941, had to be written off as a loss.

Later in the report Mr. Justice Davidson said -

If the purpose of opening the mine was to avoid exploitation of the Government Railway Department in prices by private owners oi collieries, that purpose is not being achieved. The department is paying 2s. 6d. to 2s. 9d. per ton more for coal from the State mine than the price at which coal of equal quality could be obtained, from private producers in the vicinity.

The case of the Coalcliff colliery has been referred to frequently during the debate on this measure. The latest figures show that during the period in which the mine was operated by the Commonwealth Coal Commissioner, the loss on that colliery amounted to approximately £70,000. However, I am willing to use the earlier figures mentioned by Mr. Justice Davidson -

Operations at the Coalcliff colliery from the 9th March, 1944, to the 31st December, 1945, resulted in loss to the extent of about £37,000.

Thus, through inefficient operation of the mine, the Commonwealth Coal Commissioner incurred colossal losses. How then could such an authority dispense evenhanded justice to owners and workers alike? As the result of the losses on the Lithgow mine, the price of coal to the New South Wales Railways Department was increased, not by the rapacious coalowners, but by the grasping State government raising the price by from 2s. 6d. to 2s. 9d. a ton more than the price quoted by private .producers in the Lithgow district. Obviously the coal authority could not dispense even-handed justice to the owners . and ' thus admit its own inefficiency. The interests of the public will never be conserved as long as justice is meted out to one section of the community and denied to another.

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