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Tuesday, 18 May 1920

Mr HUGHES (Bendigo) (Prime Minister and Attorney-General) .. - The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Tudor) suggests by his motion a most 'unusual course, in order that we may obtain further information. The honorable member said a good deal, but very little about the proposed Committee, still less concerning the sources from which it would get its information. Committees aTe like human beings, neither good nor bad; they move m their appointed way, but the Father of all decides. Where this Committee is to get its information from the honorable member did not tell us. But I, when speaking on the second reading on Friday, told him where he would get it, that is, from those who know all about it. Curiously enough, a volcanic eruption of activity has taken place during the last few days. Meetings have been held in the capital cities of the Commonwealth, traders have been brought together, and, with singular unanimity, resolutions haqua Commonwealth is powerless, it is better that it should have some control over the price as well as an effective assurance of supplies, or whether we should go on and trust to the tender mercies of commercial companies who are domiciled in foreign countries. The honorable member has. spoken very harshly to me this afternoon about my attitude towards foreign companies. He has suddenly developed a. tenderness of heart -towards the foreigner, that seems a trifle inconsistent, comingfrom the lips of a Protectionist who first taught me to slip from that narrow footpath of Free Trade upon which my infant feet were firmly placed. I remember in the bygone days, when I was a convinced Free Trader, the honorable member coming forward with an absolutely appalling proposal, amounting, in effect, to about 40 to 60 per cent, duty «n hats. I have always liked the honorable member, and while, as a matter of principle, I was a convinced Free Trader, yet when he put these hats before me, I fell, and voted for his hats; I was prepared to crush at one fell blow the Austrian, the American, and the Englishman. What more could I have done to show that when it came to a choice between Australia and the rest of the world, I was for Australia? But now, when it is proposed to set up a. refinery in this country to refine oil, the honorable member says " No. Let the Standard Oil Company and the " Shell " group flourish in America or Holland, or wherever they are located." The honorable member has no ground for his feet to stand on. Let me take his points, one by one. He wants more information? He does not want more information. His trouble i3 that he has too much. He knows the facts. What are they? These companies, ever since they came to Australia in the dawn of the petrol age, as I have termed it, have- exploited it to the last penny. Not a trader in Australia dares to raise his voice against them. One trader wrote to me the other day, marking his letter " private and confidential," saying that he had been told to attend a meeting, and* at that meeting everybody had to sign this protest, to which reference has been made. He signed it. He had to do so, but he said, "I want to tell you that if you can get this agreement through, and the Anglo-Persian people are prepared to supply my wants, they can have my custom." This amazing activity of the companies throughout Australia against the Bill is the best argument why we should support it. We are asked to support an Australian industry, but the honorable member wants more time to support it. I have heard him get up and advocate the establishment even of such an exotic industry as the manufacture of matches in this country. He never lacks an argument as to why aru industry should be established and encouraged here, bub when it comes to something that is vital to the very existence of the Commonwealth, he wants more information. I have seen a whole Tariff bundled through the House with less information. Honorable members will have an opportunity of displaying their amazing knowledge on a Tariff very shortly, and there will not be one item in it on which honorable members will not want more information than is required in regard to this agreement. The honorable member, leaving the safe and pleasant path of generalities in which a man may wander at will, incurring no ill consequences, has committed, himself to a certain particular criticism of the Bill. He says, for example, that a monopoly will be established in this country. I have already said in the plainest possible terms that this will not be so, but he himself has said it in more emphatic terms this afternoon. He said that the point that struck him more than anything else in the speech of the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) was that the amount of capital these people were to put into the industry, together with that put in by the Commonwealth, would be insufficient to create a monopoly, because it would not supply one-half of the capital necessary for that purpose. Furthermore, it has been observed by honorable members on both sides of the House that not one-half of the petrol, kerosene, and lubricating oil required in this country can be supplied under this proposal. Therefore, the Australian market will be open to the whole world. That is the first answer to the honorable member's statement. The world can enter upon as good terms as ever, excepting that it will now have a competitor inside Aus- tralia, who, at any rate, will be some protection to us against that combined influence of commercialism outside to which we have been exposed so long. The honorable member also said something about freight. He affirmed that the AngloPersian Company will be able to make huge profits out of its freight charges, and he mentioned £1,200,000 in this connexion.

Mr Tudor - That was the value of the crude oil at 6d. per gallon.

Mr HUGHES - Naturally the freight would be more than the value of the oil. The honorable member affirmed that the value of the crude oil is such that we cannot even bring it here and refine it locally. He said that we cannot even do that, because the raw material would be too expensive, and the freight would be too heavy. But he did not say one word about the freight upon refined products. Does he think that these gentlemen bring their refined oil products here for nothing, and distribute them to the people as a gift from God ? He said that the AngloPersian Oil Company was charging £15 15s. per ton freight from somewhere in Persia to Great Britain. I do not know where he got his figures.

Mr Tudor - From the report of the Petrol Commission.

Mr HUGHES - Anybody would think that the Petrol Commission was a competitor with the Almighty, and that we had to accept as gospel everything that it says. But it does not follow that what that Commission says is true.

Mr Mcwilliams - Is the Prime Minister prepared to say that its report is not true?

Mr HUGHES - If I thought that it would interest the honorable member I would not mind doing so. As a matter of fa-ct, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company carries its own oil, in its own steamers, and it consigns that oil to itself and to nobody else. It does not carry oil to Great Britain for anybody else ; it does not carry any oil except in its own ships, and it carries no oil but its own. What benefit it derives from charging itself £15 15s. per ton freight upon that oil, I leave it to the honorable member to determine.

But this has no relevance whatever to the point under discussion. If the AngloPersian Company is likely to charge too much by way of freight, we may then get freight wherever we are able to procure it. The honorable member said that there are no vessels available to carry oil from overseas. Then all I have to say is that we shall have to find oil in Papua. In the meantime we shall get oil at a reasonable rate, and freight at the world's rate. If we do not like the world's rate, we can get freight of our own. The honorable member stated that the Commonwealth will have no voice in the matter of the price at which oil will be sold here. I do not know why he said that in face of the amended schedule, which distinctly sets out that " The refinery company shall sell its oil products at such prices as are fair and reasonable."

Mr Tudor - In what section of the agreement does that provision appear? I have not seen it.

Mr HUGHES - I have said that the Commonwealth will determine what is a fair and reasonable price. I do wish that those honorable members who are thirsting for information would, by their demeanour, exhibit more of those indications of a genuine desire for information.

Mr Mcwilliams - You have not the information that we want.

Mr HUGHES - Pray do not let me interrupt you. These asides with which the honorable member is accustomed to enliven the dull, prosaic tenor of our debates are so very delightful, and help us so much to get on with the public business.

Mr Mcwilliams - They are generally true, whereas the Prime Minister's statements are not.

Mr HUGHES - In the amended agreement it is laid down quite clearly that 'the Commonwealth will decide what price is fair and reasonable, and, after all, that is the thing which really concerns the people of this country.

Mr Tudor - That provision is . not contained in the agreement which has been handed to me.

Mr HUGHES - The honorable member made allusions, in a way that was very improper, to a meeting which, took place upstairs. He is the last man in the world who ought to object to such meetings, because everything that he says and does is determined by what takes place at meetings held upstairs or downstairs.

Mr Tudor - No. We meet on the ground floor.

Mr HUGHES - The honorable member will be down in the cellar if he goes an as he has been doing.

Mr Tudor - That is not original. The late Sir George Reid said that about us.

Mr HUGHES - In speaking of a meeting at which he says this matter was discussed, the honorable member affirmed that certain alterations had been made in the agreement. He was annoyed that they had been made, because they cut the ground from under his feet; yet he now says that he cannot see them anywhere in the agreement.. What am I to do to please him? When I make alterations in the agreement they do not suit him, and he cannot find them. The honorable member, in speaking of this bowelless combine, which in its utter disregard for foreign companies is going to crush them out of existence, rather overstepped the limits of accuracy, because it is set down in paragraph 14 of the bond that the protection to be given to the refinery company is contingent upon its selling oil at a fair and reasonable price. When it ceases to do that, the protection accorded to it wholly disappears. I wish that a similar provision could be applied to all kinds of protection - every item of the Tariff. I do not think there is one honorable member who would cast a vote against a proposal of that sort. When local manufacturers or traders, whoever they are, exploit or take advantage of the community under the protection given them, there ought to be some kind of punishment, and that is here provided for under the provisions of this agreement.

The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) is very much 'concerned about Papua. He says he is not quite sure who owns the oil in that Possession. What has the agreement to do with the oil in Papua ?

Mr Tudor - Everything.

Mr Mathews - It has a great 'deal to do with the oil in Papua - it has all to do with it. .

Mr HUGHES - How is that?

Mr Mathews - Because Dr. Wade and those associated with him could stop production there if they wanted to. Oh, I know !

Mr HUGHES - Let me advise the honorable member to retire into that cave of silence which he keeps with sp much dignity and so much success. These outbursts into speech, in which the honorable gentleman is at once irrelevant, inaccurate, and not at all amusing, only besmirch bis fair reputation. Despite the interjection, this agreement has nothing to do with Papua. However, I may say - because one has to deal with things as they are - that the oil in Papua' belongs to the people of this country, and it is the intention of this Government that it shall always remain the property of the people of this country, to be sold neither to this refining company nor the Anglo-Persian Company, nor any individual whatsoever, but to be owned for ever as one of the vital necessities of the public and corporate activities of the Commonwealth. The price of crude oil is fixed under the amended schedule, and the price of the refined product is fixed, and both prices have to be fair and reasonable, with the Commonwealth as judge in both cases. Freights are to be supplied at our option, either by the Anglo-Persian Company or by whom we will.

The proposal that we should delay the passage of this measure in order that we may get more information fails; it must fail, because it is obviously a proposal emanating - though I do not suggest for a moment that that is why the honorable gentleman puts it forward - from those great interests which have too long dominated this country, and which see in the agreement a blow at their supremacy. What are the great points we have to decide? The first is, whether we shall 'have an Australian company or a foreign company here - whether we shall have oil refined in Australia or outside Australia, whether we shall give work to our own people or to the foreigner. The second point is, whether we shall have a company which, in its essence, is British, or one which, in its essence, is foreign; the third, whether we shall have a company which is not only British, but is also dominated and controlled by the British Government, as full partners with ourselves, or whether we shall still hand ourselves over, tied hand and foot, without any protection, to the foreigner ; and the last point is, whether, since we have to depend on the Navy for defence, we shall take hold of this great opportunity to protect ourselves, and secure ample storage for crude oil around this coast. These are the four points on which honorable members are to form their judgment.

One word more, and I have done. It is said that the Anglo-Persian Company has already, in anticipation of this agreement, bought land at Fremantle.

Mr Tudor - I know that the company has purchased land there; it has a site there and another at Port Melbourne.

Mr HUGHES - And the honorable gentleman, in order to support the statement, told u3 that he saw it in the newspapers.

Mr Tudor - There is no doubt about the company having a site at Fremantle; they have applied for a Bill to the Western Australian Parliament.

Mr HUGHES - Anybody who wants greater proof than that would be difficult to please. However, let me explain the position. What has happened is this: I am told that the Anglo-Persian Company has made, or is making, arrangements for leasing land in this country. But that has nothing to do withthis agreement. What is proposed is that there shall be storage for oil for the British Navy in certain parts, where the China Squadron, or any other, can oil if circumstances require. That is a very necessary thing, which is being done, not only here, but right throughout the Empire. That is the answer to the honorable member, and, I think, a good one. What we require is oil for our own Navy, and the chance to control supplies, control prices, and prevent the community from exploitation. We have ample information - us much information, at any rate, as we should be able to get from a Select Committee, which can hope for information only from one of two sources. We follow an admirable example - that of the British Government. The Leader of the Opposition said that the Commonwealth would be more concerned about getting profits .than in reducing prices; but in the next breath he told us that the Geelong Woollen Mills sell cloth at a much lower price than do private firms. Those two statements, when put together, seem a trifle inconsistent. We are more likely to get oil at a reasonable rate when the Government has control.

Mr Mathews - How?

Mr HUGHES - The Leader of the Opposition said that we have only three directors, while the company has four. But the Commonwealth qua Commonwealth, and not the directors, will decide what is a fair and reasonable price.

Mr Tudor - That is not in the copy of the agreement which I received.

Sir Robert Best - It is in the amended agreement.

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