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Thursday, 11 April 1957

Mr LUCHETTI (Macquarie) .- I support the remarks of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James), who pro* posed this subject for discussion as a matter of urgent public importance. I congratulate him on the presentation of the case that he put to the House. The Minister for Supply(Mr. Beale) has not answered the honorable member's arguments, and 1 am extremely disappointed that the Minister, in discussing this matter, did not offer any ray of hope, made no reference to brighter prospects for the future of this industry,, and did not indicate how the mining towns; villages, and districts are to be stabilized. The honorable member for Hunter painted a tragic picture of the circumstances of workers engaged in an important industry. In view of the importance of the coal industry to the people of Australia, especially in the difficult days of war, and in the post-war period, one would have expected the Minister for Supply, more than any other Minister, to indicae what is to be done to maintain the industry and to take care of those people who, the Minister said, have adopted a better attitude, and in his own words, " Have increased coal production in such a splendid fashion ". What is to be their reward for that work and service? Is it to be subjection to a continual process of sacking until the industry ceases to have any importance in Australia?

The Minister stated that there is nothing seriously wrong with the industry, and that we shall soon overcome our difficulties. In that statement, the Minister disagrees quite considerably with the view of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), who, in reply to a question on notice asked by me, stated yesterday, referring to unemployment in the coal industry -

This has happened already, it will continue to happen and some displacement of the workers concerned will be unavoidable. I am well aware that such a situation creates an upheaval in the lives of the miner displaced and of his family.

The Prime Minister admits that. He admits that there have been mass dismissals from ihe industry and that dismissals will continue. This is not the fault of the workers in the industry. Some 1900 fewer men than were engaged in the industry two years ago are now employed, but despite the reduced employment, production has continued to soar. One would think that, out of gratitude to a body of workers who have served the nation so well, the Government would so plan the economy, either through the Minister for Supply or the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner), as to preserve the industry, if not to make spectacular development, at least to meet future needs for coal occasioned by Australia's development. Who among us who sit in this house would suggest for a moment that Australia has already reached the zenith of its development and expansion? Surely we who are trying to plan a greater, better, and more prosperous Australia must think in terms of economic expansion! This Government apparently considers that Australia can absorb vast numbers of people. If we are to take into our community large numbers of immigrants and greatly expand out population in building a greater Australia, surely we must stabilize a vital industry such as the coal industry in order to enable it to play its part in this development.

We should view the matter from another stand-point also. The important coalproducing centres that have played their part in the nation's development, and have provided the fuel for the generation of heat and power in both war and peace, ought to be maintained on a stable basK I say to the Minister for Supply and th:Government that it is this Government'* responsibility, through the agency of the Joint Coal Board, and with the support oi the State governments, to try to overcome this crisis. One reads from time to time of the Government's attitude in planning the development of Australia. I ask it, in its planning for development, to save the mining towns. On the northern coal-field^ of New South Wales practical action ineeded now. It is not enough to allow i> to wait for the future. If the town of Cessnock is to be saved, it must be saved now. Its salvation cannot be left to the future. This is not a matter of planning new settlements as part of some visionary scheme. It is a matter of preserving the rich coal resources of the northern coalfield and the other coal-fields of New South Wales, enabling them to meet the present needs of the people of Australia, and keeping them available for greater production when the need arises in the future, because, as I have said, Australia has not reached the zenith of its development.

In the Lithgow district, employment in the coal industry has been reduced by 1,350 men, and mines are continuing to close. One colliery, which employs 216 workers, will close its doors permanently on 30th June next. The Government should take up the challenge presented to it by this state of affairs, instead of attacking the miners for what it alleges they have done in the past. That is no answer to the problem, because it has been admitted by the Minister for Supply that, in recent times, the record of the miners has been remarkably good, and that production has greatly increased. In the first nine

Weeks of this year, the average weekly production increased by 39.000 tons. The situation presents a challenge to the Government. What is it going to do about ft, for it is largely responsible? In the first place, clear-cut promises were made to the members of the miners' federation, and others engaged in the mining industry, that if they would apply themselves to the task of producing coal their jobs would not be in jeopardy. All that I ask this Parliament, and the Ministry, to do is to honour that promise and obligation. The community owes a debt of gratitude to miners, and to mine workers generally, for the part thai they have played. That gratitude could be expressed by doing something practical to safeguard the mine-fields and the mining industry.

What is required? Surely it is simply a matter of getting on with the extraction of by-products from coal. There is undoubtedly a shortage of coke in this country, and New Caledonia cries out for coke, to use in its nickel industry. The Australian Government could help to set up a byproducts industry . for hydrogenation, for low-temperature carbonization, and for the production of coke and other synthetics. All these things are important and should engage the attention of the Government. If the Ministry is not prepared, as it should be, to develop this industry and look after the miners, I ask it, please, to get on "with the job of providing alternative employment. Many men who have applied themselves earnestly to acquiring great mining skills are approaching retirement, and cannot be expected to look for work in other fields. It may be said that very few miners are registered as unemployed. I believe that to be true, but the miners are very independent and will seek jobs in other fields. Is it right that they should be compelled to leave their homes, their friends, and the amenities and services that they have enjoyed? If that happens the Commonwealth and the States will have to develop new Communities, new schools and new shopping centres and the mining towns will be deserted and neglected.


Order! . The honorable member's time has expired.

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