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Wednesday, 12 April 1972
Page: 1489

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I direct a question to the Minister for National Development. Has the Government so far failed to take any initiatives under the Joint Coal Board Act to prevent the closure of Clifton and Bulli No. 2 underground coal mines in New South Wales, which threatens retrenchment of hundreds of coal miners and serious damage to the economy of the region? Will the closure of these mines be followed by flooding, resulting in the irretrievable loss of the resource and development? In view of this crisis and the prospect of other closures, will the Minister formulate national guidelines for the production and marketing of coal so as to minimise the adverse effects of cut-throat competition between the overseas owners of New South Wales underground mines and the open cut mines of Queensland?

Mr SWARTZ (DARLING DOWNS, QUEENSLAND) (Minister for National Development) - The question of the closure of, firstly, one mine and now a second mine has been raised with me in this House by the honourable member for Macarthur, the honourable member for Cunningham and now by the honourable member for Hughes. Of course, this matter is one of great seriousness to the area concerned. When we received advice that there was a possibility of the closure of these 2 mines we did, through the Joint Coal Board, start some inquiries, and also I took the opportunity to discuss the matter with my colleague, the Minister for Mines in New South Wales where, of course, the principal responsibility for production lies. But the overall position in relation to the production of coal in New South Wales and Queensland is a matter that is entirely within the control of the States concerned and, of course, there is an oversight by the Joint Coal Board in New South Wales and the Queensland Coal Board.

This matter having been raised, I did study the situation regarding long term contracts and I found that there is not the element of competition that perhaps has been suggested by some of the Press statements that we have read although, obviously, costs associated with open cut production are lower than those associated with deep underground mining. There are some problems which are being considered at the present time by both the New South Wales and Queensland governments. But I know that there is close consultation between the Joint Coal Board in New South Wales and the Queensland Coal Board on these matters. There is also, I think, fairly close consultation between the Ministers concerned in New South Wales and Queensland.

Certainly we have had discussions with the governments concerned. The Commonwealth did undertake a short time ago a survey of the total coal reserves in Australia and I published the results of that survey fairly recently. We have also conducted another study of the present overall situation in the coal industry and I have stated publicly that in the very near future I will be submitting for consideration by the Government on an information basis a paper relating to the present situation in the industry. But at the present time the whole problem relates to the overall export situation. There has been a downturn in steel production throughout the world and this has affected our exports of coal, principally to Japan. The situation is being watched very closely. We are in constant consultation with the departments concerned and will certainly do everything within our power to see that the situation is improved in the future. In addition to this I may say, for the information of the House, that the honourable member has asked me to meet a deputation from the Miners Federation this afternoon on this very matter and at a later hour during the afternoon we certainly will be discussing the matter further.

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