Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 23 August 1960


Mr JAMES (Hunter) .- Mr. Temporary Chairman,as one of the newest members in this House, I make no apology for any humility that I may display during and I hope after the period of my initiation here. It may be a hereditary characteristic derived from a dad who gave a lifetime of political service to the people of Hunter and more than 50 years of industrial and political service to the greatest and most constructive political party in this country - the Australian Labour Party, the party to which I am proud to belong. From childhood, I was nurtured in the home of a miners' industrial representative whose main public consideration was loyalty to the class from which he came.

In my youth, I developed an understanding of the impact of economic recession and depression and especially of its adverse effects on the outlook and minds of those whom it hits so hard. 1 refer to the economic depression of the 1930's, which are better known as the hungry 'thirties, at the very beginning of which the northern miners of my electorate were belted into submission by the coal barons and vested interests controlling the coal industry, who compelled the miners to accept a reduction in wages. The men were locked out of the mines and for fifteen months justice wept for the men, women and children of the northern coal-fields of New South Wales, which are in the electorate that I am now proud to represent in this Parliament.

In the 1930's my dad was frequently away from home. Often, he went interstate to cadge from other branches of the miners' federation for the relief of the hungry masses in the midst of which I was reared. I well remember his frequent absences from our home. If I can only attain the same degree of loyalty, sincerity, honesty and deep human understanding that he displayed during his lifetime, I shall be contented when the time comes for me to leave this Parliament in the knowledge that I have done my best in the interests of the people that I represent.

I am grateful to the people of Hunter for placing their confidence in me and enabling me to represent them in this place. But that gratitude was tinged with regret that my coming here was occasioned by the departure from the political life of this country of Dr. Evatt, the former Leader of the Opposition, for whom I have great admiration. He had stepped down from the safety, security and dignity of the bench of the High Court of Australia in 1940 to serve the Australian Labour Party and the nation when, soon after, we were threatened with invasion by the Japanese.

This Budget makes no provision for the relief of the people of the northern coalfields of New South Wales and for the needs of the children there in particular. It does nothing that will help to keep families together, and the preservation of the family unit is important in the suppression of one of the greatest social evils threatening this country to-day - child delinquency. I want to bring to the notice of honorable members the present position on the northern coal-fields, which produce the richest gas coal in the world. That coal is recognized by the highest authorities as having no equal, and 90 per cent, of Australia's gas coal is mined on that field. In recent years, there has been wholesale retrenchment there as a result of mechanization and automation. Mainly for this reason many people have had to travel up to 75 miles a day from their homes to their new places of employment. This has been necessary because no industries were established on the coal-fields to cater for employees rendered surplus by the rapid advancement of mechanization.

The Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) proudly boasts that 45 per cent, more coal is being produced with 39 per cent, less labour. We all agree, and the miners agree, that the clock of progress in production cannot be turned back, and that mechanization and automation are here to stay. Not a single thing has been done by the coal barons, who have exploited and sweated my people for many years, to ensure the future economic security of the people on the northern coalfields. We have seen a number of instances of shocking mismanagement in underground mining. We have seen rip-out-quick methods designed to produce cheap coal. These methods have been followed by the coal barons for years, in their clutching greed for wealth. But not one single thing have they done for the miners beyond what they have been compelled to do by law. I remember that when I was a boy there were no bathrooms at the collieries for the use of the miners. The State Labour Government compelled the coal-owners to build bathrooms at the mines, so that the workers could wash off the filth that had accumulated during their working day.

Instead of providing for the future security of their employees, the coal-owners have amassed millions in profits which have been diverted and manipulated to such an extent that the taxation authorities of the country have been cheated of fabulous amounts of money each year. These practices have been indulged in to an increasing extent since the Adelaide Steamship Company, by questionable means, gained control of the J. and A. Brown company 30 years ago. Until the merger with Cale- donian Collieries Limited in March of this year, the Adelaide Steamship Company was in sole control of the J. and A. Brown organization. To-day we see the Adelaide Steamship Company merged with Howard Smith Limited, to give greater strength to the shipowners in their arbitrary demands for increased freight 'rates. Enterprises such as these have now gained sole control of this section of industry.

I had no particular regard for the J. and A. Brown company before the time of the take-over by the Adelaide Steamship Company, and I have much less respect for it now, because of the questionable methods employed to effect the merger. Advantage was taken of two senile brothers whose eminent forebears were the originators of the coal industry on the Newcastle field. I refer to James and Alexander Brown.

I maintain that the vast deposits on the northern coal-fields, and other deposits in different parts of Australia, do not belong to the steamship companies, to the J. and A. Brown company, or to any other companies or individuals. They are God-given assets, and they belong to the people of Australia. They are a national birthright, and I believe that some lasting benefits should have been bestowed on the people whose labour was used to work them.

I have ascertained that in 1930 the profits of J. and A. Brown amounted to £470,000. The undisclosed profits that were made during the war and in the post-war years have been so fantastically large as to be incapable of estimation. In the mid-1 930's a progressive scheme for the long-term salvation of the coal industry on the northern fields, involving such proposals as fast transportation, coal washing, improved coal loading, river dredging and turn-round facilities in the port of Newcastle, were submitted by the then managing director of the J. and A. Brown company. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited agreed to co-operate, but the Adelaide Steamship Company rejected the proposals as impracticable, because it feared it might lose control of the coal market. Let me point out that in 1930 gas coal brought 10s. a ton at the pit top on the northern fields. It was landed in Sydney for 21s. a ton, in Melbourne for 35s. a ton and in Adelaide for 45s. a ton. Transport was by private line from the field to the port of Newcastle. The practice of imposing exorbitant shipping freight rates was in operation then as it is to-day, although I believe it is now much more harmful because it is approved by this Government.

The people of my electorate entertain genuine and justified fears for their future economic security and well-being. Wholesale retrenchments, forcing residents of the district to accept jobs in industries located in distant areas, are causing destruction of home units. In the 1930's I was a victim of similar developments. I had to leave home at the age of seventeen years and live in a room in Newcastle, 35 miles away, to work for the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. Thousands of teenagers were similarly affected, but they had no alternative, because they found it necessary to augment family incomes. Lack of parental control and guidance does irreparable damage to the social outlook of such young people, and we can expect to see the effects of such evils in the future.

Before coming to this Parliament a few months ago I was engaged for twenty years, as a police officer, on criminal investigation duties. In my work in that field I learned graphic details of thousands of cases of family units being broken up because of economic pressures. I plead with the Government to consider carefully this important aspect of the matter when it is investigating the establishment of additional industries on the northern coal-fields in accordance with its decentralization programme.

Let me also direct the attention of the Government to the possibility of large-scale gas production on the coalfields, the product to be piped for home or industrial use to distant parts of the country. This method is used in other countries. It is widely used, for instance, on the west coast of America. If it can be done there, it can be done here. The Government apparently has not given any thought to the possibility of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization carrying out tests to establish a fusion point for pitchblend. This is a useful by-product of gas coal and is an outstanding road-making material. It is at present being imported. A vast road construction programme is required for the development of the nation and the use of the by-product in this programme could mean the salvation of the gas coal industry. When the fusion point is found, the capital cost involved in production will be regained in a short period by the provision of roads and highways equal to any in the world. Pitchblend is more resilient, safer, more economical and lasts longer than concrete, and would save dollars now spent on the import of this material.

When the New South Wales Minister for Mines, Mr. Simpson, recently returned from Japan, he said that we could hope to export to Japan in the immediate future an additional 2,250,000 tons of steam coal. Mr. Simpson is an assiduous Minister for Mines, but, with the progress of automation and the vast resources available, we must realize that this export prospect is far from sufficient for the stabilization of the industry. Coal of the quality of that in the northern fields cannot be found anywhere else in Australia. But unless the Government urgently provides additional finance to the State for the purpose of encouraging, the establishment of industries in this area, the boosting of the export market and the development of lucrative by-products, the fear that the coal-mining industry will no longer be necessary will become a reality. The Government must be aware that many years will elapse before the production of power from nuclear fission will be as economical as the production of power from modern coal-burning plants.

I challenge the J. and A. Brown and Caledonian Collieries Limited to submit to a complete investigation of their affairs, particularly relating to diverted and undisclosed profits. I also ask the Government to investigate the report that expensive plant and machinery belonging to the Joint Coal Board is at present being used by the company. Such an investigation is necessary to end the mischievous rumours which have arisen since Mr. Warburton, who was secretary of the Joint Coal Board, became Assistant General Manager of J. and A. Brown and the former chief engineer of the board, Mr. Bill Seaward, became the superintendent of collieries for the company.

Additional evidence of the Government's slavish obedience to the dictates of big business can be found in the fact that at the vast Mortlake and North Shore gas works huge amounts of sludge and lowest grade oils purchased from overseas cartels are being retained at the expense of top quality coal gas, which could be produced at substantially lower costs for local consumption. The chairman of the Australian Coal Association, Sir Edward Warren, who was sole beneficiary under the will of the blind coal baron, Stephen Brown, boasts of an 11 per cent, drop in coal prices generally. However, he says nothing about the export of gas coal and does not offer any suggestions which would enhance the future of the northern coal-fields, which are in my electorate.

It is well known that as far back as 1936, a programme for the substantial development of the northern coal-fields was submitted to the government of the day. This involved the encouragement of industries, the pit-top gasification of coal and the piping of coal gas to the cities and neighbouring country towns. This suggestion should not have been considered on the basis of whether it was a profitable commercial venture but should have been undertaken as a means of providing for the needs of the people and industry generally at a low cost. The fear of economic insecurity and of the stagnation of towns continues to exist in the northern part of my electorate, and the Government should undertake a definite programme to stabilize the coal-mining industry or should make additional finance available to the State so that a constructive policy for the development of the area could be undertaken.

The mining population in my electorate has always been made the industrial scapegoat by anti-Labour governments because it invariably presses for industrial and social improvements. The current fight is for a 35-hour week, which arises from the continued development of automation in industry. Why should the coal-miners be further punished by Government apathy, for the questionable industrial sins of past decades? Long before I entered the Parliament, I was an observer of conditions on the coal-fields. I realize that on occasions unwarranted industrial troubles have arisen on the coal-fields. I have a profound knowledge of the social philosophy of the miner, and I assure honorable members that these people have always had a genuine desire to promote industrial pro gress for the benefit of the masses to which they belong.

The cost of transportation is one of the major problems involved in the production, distribution and export of coal. For many years, I have held the view that a highly efficient transport system can be developed as a commercial enterprise in peace time in this area. I believe that war has gone for ever; that is my conviction. A vital transport system could be established ,by providing canals from an area immediately north of Maitland, which is in the electorate of the honorable member for Paterson (Mr. Fairhall), through the Hunter River, to Lake Macquarie, then to Tuggerah Lakes, Brisbane Waters and Newport, with the final link from Mona Vale through the Narrabeen Lakes to Sydney Harbour. If this were done, an additional benefit would flow to the community in my electorate. The harrowing flood distress constantly created in the Maitland and lower Hunter areas would be gone forever. I have witnessed many scenes of frightening misery, desolation and squalor in this unfortunate flood-bound area.

The cost of providing this system of canals would be insignificant when compared with the cost of other development schemes, such as the Snowy Mountains scheme. The canals would not only lead to the mitigation of floods but would also provide an excellent alternative transport system between the area I represent and Sydney. As long as I represent the Hunter electorate, I will fight for the establishment of this and any other practical scheme which would obviate chaos in the area. I will continue to fight for them as long as there is breath in my body and as long as my voice will ring out. The provision of this transport system should be undertaken as a national project of lasting benefit. It should not be left as the responsibility of any State government. A cursory study of the existing waterways will show that the construction of a few miles of canals would result in this transport system being established.

I attribute a great deal of the responsibility for the atrocious, wicked and sadistic kidnapping, which recently occurred in Sydney, to the Commonwealth Government. Why do I blame this Government?

I say that its hands are stained with the bipod of that innocent young boy of eight and a half years, Graeme Thorne. The New South Wales Police Force is 2,000 men under strength because of the State Government's lack of finance. It cannot bring up the numerical strength of that force to what is required. The members of the detective staff in New South Wales are among the most conscientious, publicspirited and highly skilled public servants in the Commonwealth. I served with them for twenty years, and I know that; but to-day they are being forced to run from one place to another with a spate of murders, stabbings, rapes and kidnappings being the order of the day. Unfortunately - I do not say this with any vindictiveness but simply to try to protect my former workmates - I feel that the Commissioner of Police, Mr. C. J. Delaney, has been misleading the Government of New South Wales by not giving it a true annual report regarding the volume of crime in that State. The people of that State have been lulled into a sense of false security as to the protection they are getting. One has only to pick up the daily newspapers in recent months to see that crime in New South Wales is beyond control. Yet some courts reflect the report of the Commissioner of Police to the Government.

Recently, in Newcastle a judge gave two hoodlums with a bad criminal record straw bail after a magistrate had refused it, and within 36 hours they were apprehended committing an identical crime, breaking into a bowling club. About a fortnight later, the same judge gave another young criminal with a very bad record bail of £500, a straw bail or a verbal bail, and he absconded and is now committing further crimes. Until this Government grants further moneys to the States with which to meet their commitments, there will be more kidnappings, rapes, robberies, safe crackings and breaking and entering. These breaking and entering crimes have virtually become a sport played by the great majority of the criminals in New South Wales. I urge the Government to try to do something towards granting the States more money so that the burden of crime in that State may be lessened and its people may have greater protection.

In conclusion, as I see federal politics as a disciplined man 1 believe in the principle that some must rule and teach while others submit and learn. But as I see things in this sphere, the Government is doing the ruling and the Australian Labour Party is doing the teaching. We advocated Summit talks five years ago, but they were not agreed to until international pressure told this Government that it should agree. I have no illusions about the Communist Party, but my opinion is that America was responsible for the aborting of the Summit talks by sending its spy plane over Russia a fortnight before the talks were to be held. I take full responsibility for expressing that opinion, because if I came into this Parliament to say things that are false and untrue it would be a pity that I ever got here. I hope that I shall always be able to see my way clear to adhere to the principles of the Australian Labour Party. We believe in peace, progress and prosperity. The Labour Party believes in the principle that none should be exploited and none should be denied.

Progress reported.







Suggest corrections