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Tuesday, 11 May 1965

Senator ORMONDE (New South Wales) . - The purpose of this Bill is to amend that part of the Coal Industry Act which deals with the banking operations of the Joint Coal Board and the Board's power to borrow money on overdraft. Due principally to changes that have taken place in the mechanics of Commonwealth Bank procedures, the change of titles and, I would think, the Government's amendment of the banking legislation since 1946, the year in which the Joint Coal Board was established, the character of the Commonwealth Bank has changed a great deal. I think the Minister for Defence (Senator Paltridge) will agree that because of these changes the Board has been operating in breach of the amended banking legislation. I do not know how serious that breach has been but this Bill proposes to legalise any breaches that have occurred or, at least, to cover them. When the Board was established it was required to open and maintain accounts with the Commonwealth Bank. In those days the Commonwealth Bank and the trading banks performed functions which were different from those that they perform today. They operated in a completely different way. The need has arisen, therefore, to put these things in order.

Because this is really a machinery measure and its purpose is as I have stated, the scope of my remarks is limited, but I think I am entitled to mention that the Bill is designed to legalise something that was originated by the Chifley Government. Honorable senators need not stretch their imagination too far to agree that 20 years ago, when discussing a bill of this kind, they probably would have argued that the Coal Board's business should go through the private banks and not through the Commonwealth Bank. This is a development that has occurred over the years and, of course, it is a very favorable one. I am very pleased that we can support a bill of this kind. 1 wonder, Mr. President, whether I may step outside the bounds of this debate just a little. The Joint Coal Board borrows and spends money for the purpose, among other things, of obtaining markets for coal. It has been very successful in this activity. I imagine I am justified in referring to this matter just briefly. I have referred to it in this chamber many times, and I shall continue to do so. I am glad that Senator Sir William Spooner is in the chamber at the moment. I do not want to quote what he has said, or to paraphrase it, but I know that he shares my thoughts on this subject. A great danger faces the coal industry, particularly if the defence situation is as the Government says it is. We have been told that conditions to the north of Australia are quite serious and that we must do something to protect this country. I assume that that means that we must protect Australian industries, too.

The coal industry has had to develop an export trade, because the oil companies are adopting all sorts of methods to steal from the coal industry its internal markets. They are the safe markets. Therefore, I suggest that in the present military situation the coal industry is in a particularly serious position. Each year we export to Japan 2.726,000 tons of coal, to New Caledonia 134,000 tons, to Fiji 6,000 tons, to Ceylon 17.000 tons, to Pakistan 23,000 tons, to Hong Kong 11,000 tons and to Korea 70.000 tons. All those shipments of coal go to areas that are in extreme danger militarily at the present time. If, for some reason or other, those shipments could not be delivered, the Australian coal industry could find itself in a very serious situation almost immediately. Probably the Government is quite genuine in saying that we have" a lot to fear to the north of Australia. That is exactly where nearly all our external coal markets are. Nearly three million tons of coal go into that area each year. 1 should say that if the war situation were to worsen the first cargoes to be stopped would be coal cargoes from Australia to South East Asia. In those circumstances, the coal industry would be seriously hit, but the oil industry would be afforded protection. It would have the local market.

I note that the Minister for Defence is looking across at me. Probably I have spoken about something that I was not entitled to speak about; but the position confronting the coal industry is so serious that I believe I should again draw the attention of the Government to the fact that week by week and year by year the oil industry continues to filch the markets of the coal industry. We support the Bill.

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