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Tuesday, 9 September 1958
Page: 945


Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I know that my colleague, the Minister for National Development, who normally deals with the administrative aspects of this problem within the Commonwealth Government, has been in conference as recently as yesterday in New South Wales on this matter.


Mr Ward - Watching trends.


Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - We have done a lot more than watch trends. I believe it is generally known by honorable members that an important process of reorganization has been going on in the coal industry over the last three years in particular. It will not be denied that, up to very recent years, the coal industry of Australia, particularly in New South Wales, was in a very unhealthy condition, to put it mildly. For the first time, we are seeing, as a result of this process of re-organization, a coal industry centred in New South Wales with an assured future. It is a coal industry which, up to a very few years ago, was at such a level that we found it necessary to import coal from overseas for Australian needs. Now, the industry is able to achieve record production, increase man-hour output and export coal at the rate of 900,000 tons a year. That is quite a dramatic transformation in the situation within the coal industry.

It will not be denied, Mr. Speaker, that in that process, some thousands of coalminers have been displaced in the industry, but in order to meet the situation, an employment committee was set up which consisted of representatives of the Commonwealth and State governments, employers in the industry, the coalmining unions and the Joint Coal Board of New South Wales. That employment committee has had very considerable success in placing workers from the coal industry in other suitable employment. I think it is correct to say that in Cessnock, which has been the area worst affected, the number of coalminers receiving unemployment benefit is a little over 100 at present. There are still vacancies for some 160 coal-miners on the south coast of New South Wales. The State government, with increased funds made available by this Government, has been able to provide employment opportunities in the area. This Government is doing a lot more than merely watching trends. It is playing an active part in trying to assist the industry through this admittedly difficult process of reorganization - a process that is placing the industry on a very much more efficient basis and which is giving it a very much more assured future than has been the case hitherto..


Dr EVATT - I should like to direct a supplementary question to the Minister for Labour and National Service. Is the Minister aware that within the last twelve months something like 1,200 people have become unemployed on the northern coal-fields? In regard to the suggestion that Cessnock is suffering from only a small percentage of unemployment, is it not a fact that notices were issued to more than 500 men only last week? I put it to the Minister that the situation is one of deadly seriousness. The towns in this area will suffer. The whole situation has not been handled efficiently, and I ask the Minister to look into it.


Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I am not prepared to accept the charge, even from the prospective member for Hunter, that the situation is not being handled efficiently. Such a charge is a- reflection, not only on this Government^ but also on the New

South Wales Government, which is even more vitally interested. The New South Wales Government has available to it loan moneys beyond those which were provided last year, and I gather that it was able to balance its budget during the last financial year. I am not saying that by way of reflecting on the State government, because I believe that, in association with my colleague, the Minister for National Development, as the representative of this Government, it is making a conscientious effort to produce a satisfactory outcome. A major process of re-organization in an industry of such industrial significance is a difficult matter, and is one that requires the cooperative effort of all elements. The fact that comparatively few people are out of work and that so many have been absorbed in the growing industrial concerns of Newcastle and the south coast of New South Wales is evidence that the employment committee and the governments which are represented on it have made a very valuable contribution to obtaining a solution of these difficulties.







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