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Friday, 14 May 1920

Mr McWILLIAMS (Franklin) . - We are dealing with an exceedingly important question. A scientist said recently, " We are now passing through the coal and steel age. The immediate future will be the era of oil and cement." We know what oil means to Australia, because, as has been pointed out by other honorable members, this country has suffered seriously through the operations of a monopoly which, second only to the shipping trust, is the greatest monopoly in existence. I intend to vote to refer this Bill to a Select Committee, because the one thing needed in dealing with this agreement is expert evidence.

Mr Poynton - The honorable member will get his expert evidence from the Standard Oil Company and the Vacuum Oil Company.

Mr McWILLIAMS - The expert evidence I require is not as to the oil, but as to the constitution of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, and the extent to which Australia is being pledged under this agreement. An interjection made by the Prime Minister when the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) was speaking, shows the serious necessity for further consideration of this agreement. The Prime Minister said that because under this agreement the Commonwealth will hold a majority of the shares it will therefore have the controlling influence. The agreement itself deprives the Commonwealth of that control for the whole period of its operation, because one paragraph reads -

That of the total number of directors of the Refinery Company ( including the managing director; if he has a vote), three-sevenths in number shall be nominated by and represent the Commonwealth, and four-sevenths shall be nominated by and represent the company.

Therefore, the Prime Minister's interjection placed the position in a misleading light. As four-sevenths of the directors will be nominated by the company, the company will have the predominating influence.

Mr Poynton - The Commonwealth will always retain the right of veto.

Mr mcwilliams - That has nothing at all to do with the point I am now making. This matter must be considered in the light of the agreement itself. If we agree to give the company predominating control it will be impossible to alter or escape from that agreement. It is absurd for the Minister to interject that we can veto the conditions of our agreement.

What is the position in regard to Papua? We have known for some years that oil deposits exist in Papua, especially in German New Guinea. About eighteen months ago I introduced to the Minister a gentleman who had just returned from New Guinea, and who offered to select an area of land, float a company, and work the- oil deposits, paying the Government any fair and reasonable royalty that they might care' to impose. That offer was rejected on the ground that the Government intended to retain for themselves the whole of the oil-bearing lands of New Guinea. Then an agreement was entered into between the British and Australian Governments that each should contribute £50,000 towards the cost of prospecting for oil there. The prospecting operations were placed in the hands of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, but so far the reports to date show that company has not discovered any payable deposits.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - The company has only just commenced operations.

Mr J H Catts - They have been on the job for six months.

Mr Poynton - They have mot been on it for two weeks.

Mr Mcwilliams - How much money has the Commonwealth spent under that agreement with the Imperial Government?

Mr Poynton - Not any.

Mr mcwilliams - The company which has been appointed to prospect for oil in New Guinea is the company with which the Commonwealth is now proposing to enter into a second agreement. I placed the agreement which is contained in this Bill before a Melbourne man, who has, perhaps, as wide a knowledge of company flotation as has any m,an in Victoria, and he told me that he is by no means certain that under this arrangement the company will not dominate the whole of the oil production of the Commonwealth; certainly it will dominate the whole of the oil production in New Guinea.

Mr Poynton - We could let any other company start there to-morrow.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - But it could not bring oil to Australia to be refined.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - That is the point. If any other company found oil in Papua, it would be precluded by this agreement from bringing the oil to Australia to be refined.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Of course it could send the oil to Australia.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - The dumping clause of the agreement would prevent that.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Dumping against ourselves ?

Mr MCWILLIAMS - If there is one article in respect of which we could stand a little dumping at the present time, it is oil. When discussing the Tariff on one occasion, I said that I had never been able to discover that any dumping had taken place in this country; certainly, no evidence of it has ever been adduced. However, having regard to the honest difference of opinion in this House, and between experts to whom I have referred the matter - men who have spent all their lives in the promoting and formation of companies - and bearing in mind the greatness of the issue at stake, we should not pass a Bill of this character until we thoroughly understand it.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - The statements the honorable member has made are rub-, bish, no matter who is his authority.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - There is such a difference of opinion regarding the agreement, that I believe it would have a quicker passage through Parliament if we had a brief reference to a Select Committee, which in a few days could take expert evidence, than it will have without such a reference, and if the House is called upon to consider the amendments which I hope will be moved to safeguard our interests in several respects.

Mr.Corser. -What sort of expert evidence does the honorable member desire to get?

Mr McWILLIAMS - I desire to have the agreement interpreted by business men. This House has passed several agreements, and our experience in connexion with them has been decidedly unfortunate. Practically all the commercial agreements which were drawn by the Crown Law officers have let the Commonwealth down badly when they have been put to the test. The shipping agreement is a case in point. I am not prepared to take the responsibility of passing a measure which may involve tens of millions of pounds until I know more about it. I am not hostile to the Bill; I welcome it.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Why discuss tens of millions of pounds? The Bill involves only half-a-niillion pounds.

Mr McWILLIAMS - The Commonwealth is only to find £500,000 in connexion with this agreement, but how many millions of pounds may be represented by oil discoveries, which will be affected by the agreement?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Nothing can be done without the authority of Parliament.

Mr Poynton - Why did not the honorable member move yesterday to refer to a Select Committee the question of increasing honorable members' salaries?

Mr McWILLIAMS - When the Bill to increase the salaries of members comes before this House, I shall have something to say on that matter.

Mr Jackson - A reduction of the pre-, sent £600?

Mr McWILLIAMS - I was one of those who opposed the increase from £400 to £600.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - The honorable member will not " scab " on his mates ?

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