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Tuesday, 18 May 1920

Mr McWILLIAMS (FRANKLIN, TASMANIA) - You give, the company a majority of four on the directorate, and say that if oil is not being sold by it at a fair and reasonable price, the door of the Customs House will be opened to admit competition. It is reasonable to argue that Lord Inchcape, who has engineered in Great Britain a combine with an American shipping trustmay, in Australia, engineer another combine with the American Oil Trust. What conditions in the agreement would prevent him from doing that?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - The conditions in the agreement with the parent company, and the conditions in this agreement, would prevent it. Lord Inchcape does not control the parent company. The honorable member holds him up as the controller of the whole concern, but he is not that.

Mr McWILLIAMS - The agreement with the parent company has no bearing on the question. The Petrol Commission has shown that the rate of freight - not that charged to the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, but that charged to the British Government - is £15 10s. We know, of course, that the oil is carried in tank steamers which cannot take return cargo, so that a profit has to be made out of vessels that travel one way empty.

Mr SPEAKER - I remind the House that the question before the Chair at the present time is that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee; but we are really having another second-reading debate, after the motion for the second reading of the Bill has been carried. Honorable members may not continue a discussion in the nature of a second-reading debate, nor may they, refer to notices for the amendment of the schedule to the Bill, which have been distributed, and of which I have just received a copv. These cannot be discussed until the Bill gets into Committee. They do not come before the House at all.

Mr McWILLIAMS - You are more fortunate than I, Mr. Speaker, because I have not seen the notices of amendment to which you refer. I regret that you did not an hour ago make your discovery of the character of the debate, because I am replying to statements which fell from the Prime Minister.

Mr SPEAKER - The general purport of the Prime Minister's speech was an argument against the reference of the Bill to a Select Committee, on the ground that he had endeavoured to meet objections raised during the second-reading debate by drafting certain amendments which, would be proposed in Committee, and incidentally, he referred to some of those amendments. But it would be improper to allow, at this stage, the discussion of those amendments, they being purely matters for the Committee of the whole House to consider.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - It is new to me to ] learn that a reply is not allowed to any statement that may have been permitted.

Mr SPEAKER - A certain amount of latitude is always given to a Minister in charge of a Bill in the explaining of its provisions, and when, during a debate, suggestions have been made for the improvement of a Bill, the Minister in charge of it is entitled to indicate what he proposes to do to meet those suggestions. That is what I understood the Prime Minister to do. He may have been led by interjections to go more fully into matters than he would otherwise have done; but it would certainly be irregular to allow now a general discussion, on proposals which will properly come up for discussion in Committee of the whole House, and which can there be discussed in every detail.

Mr West - On a point of order -

Mr SPEAKER - No question of order arises out of a statement from the Chair.

Mr West - I merely wish to say that you are m error.

Mr SPEAKER - An honorable member may not canvass in that irregular way the decisions of the Chair.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - I accept your ruling, Mr. Speaker. The statement of the Prime Minister that the only information that could be obtained by a Select Committee would be the evidence of interested parties is at variance with what I know. My object in pressing for a Select Committee is not to hear what may be said by the representatives of the American Oil Trust- if I were on the Committee I would not want them to be summoned - but to get the evidence of experts. This agreement has been drawn up, presumably, by the persons who- drew up the shipping agreement and other agreements under which the Commonwealth has been so unfortunate. In regard to all these agreements, the Commonwealth has been let down badly, and has lost, I think, most of the cases that it has entered into. It is not clear what the agreement means. If, as the Prime Minister has stated, the Commonwealth is to be the sole arbiter of the price at which oil shall be sold in Australia, the monopoly which some of us fear will be prevented; but there is a yet greater monopoly to fear. The extent to which this company will control discoveries of oil in Australia and its Territories has not been made clear.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - It will not control them at all. You have been told that half-a-dozen times.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - I have discussed the matter with persons whom I regard as experts, and who, though not interested in this arrangement in any way, are distinctly favorable to it, and they say that the extent to which the company will dominate operations in Papua and German New Guinea is not clear. I think that it ought to be made clear.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - The statement that some one, who is not named, but who is favorable to the Bill, is not clear about the effect of the agreement, does not carry us anywhere.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - I have not the permission of the person whom I have in mind to give his name before the House; but I ask honorable members to remember that we are tying up the industry for fifteen years, and that an adequate supply of oil is essential, not only for city industries and pleasures, but also f ot rural occupations. I welcome the introduction of an oil refinery into Australia; but there are certain doubts in my mind which I wish to have cleared up. I do not wish to .place our oil- supplies in the hands of some outside combine, especially in view of the fact that the Commonwealth is now fighting a shipping combine, which is trying its best to strangle our line of Government steamers, and whose chairman has entered into an alliance with the Morgan 'Shipping Combine of America to dominate the shipping of the world. As this man is also at the head of the concern with which it is proposed that we should enter into an agreement for the supply of oil, I dread the effect of his influence on our oil supplies. Lord Inchcape controls the biggest combine in the world, the Shipping Combine that beat the -British, American, and Australian Governments. It is now fighting our Commonwealth line of steamers, and causing them to come out here half empty. It is. doing its best to prevent them from securing a ton of cargo. Therefore, it is our duty to see that the Commonwealth does not again enter into a contract fatal to its interests. I shall vote for sending the Bill to a Select Committee. No harm can be done by a short delay.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - The honorable member has already voted to kill the Bill.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - Rather than see the Bill pass in its present form, I would vote to kill it. It is in its present form that i must discuss it, because I have not seen any proposals for its amendment. I believe that, if passed as it stands, it would give a monopoly to the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. The operations of that company are not confined to Persia. It has interests in Mexico and other parts of the world.

Mr Nicholls - It is the tail end of the American Oil Trust.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Yes, say that. Anything goes.

Mr Hector Lamond - I suppose that is why the American Oil Trust is fighting this company.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - I am not aware that the. American Oil Trust is fighting it.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I hope that the parent company is interested in oil deposits in various parts of the world.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - I have given notice of an amendment which I hope will be accepted if the Bill is not sent to a Select Committee. I want to make it perfectly clear that there shall be no monopoly. Clause 14 of the Schedule means nothing. It provides for the opening of the door of the Customs House; but an arrangement may be made between the Oil Trusts to prevent competition. The amendments spoken of by the Prime Minister may remove some of the objections to the Bill, but the measure, as it stands, does not make clear the position of the Commonwealth and of the company in regard to discoveries in Papua and British New Guinea. So far as I can understand the whole of the operations in exploiting the oil resources of Papua are to be handed over to this company.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - No; not under this agreement.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - The Minister for the Navy (Sir Joseph Cook): has said that the previous agreement will prevent that, but when I asked him whether the two agreements were to be taken together he said that they were.. There really can be no doubt that the two agreements must be taken together,, and that the other agreement is incorporated with that now under consideration.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Certainly not.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - Then i ask the right honorable gentleman to say who will carry out the oil exploring, operations in New Guinea under this agreement.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - This company.

Mr Mcwilliams - Of course it will. That is what i said, but the Minister for the Navy contradicted me.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - But solely as our agents, and with not one-fourth proprietary interest in the concern.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - They can do practically what they like.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - They cannot do what they like.

Mr McWILLIAMS - It means, in plain English that the Commonwealth Government and the British Government are subscribing each a certain amount of money, which is handed over to this company.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - It is not handed over to this company. Again the honorable member is wrong.

Mr Hector Lamond - It is a pity the honorable member has not read the agreement.

Mr McWILLIAMS - i have read it very carefully.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - All payments under this arrangement will be made by the British Government.

Mr Mcwilliams - is that not exactly what I have said? The British Government and the Australian Government have entered into a partnership under which each is to expend a certain amount of money in boring and exploring for oil in Papua. The Minister for the Navy says that it is not true that we have handed over to the Anglo-Persian Oil Company the expenditure of this money, but that the British Governmentwill hand over its expenditure to that' company. What is the difference?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - That is not so.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - The Prime Minister said that we know nothing about oil, and that these people are experts, and that . it will be to our advantage that they should carry out these operations. The Minister for the Navy now tells us that they are not to do so.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - i did not say anything of the kind. I said that they were agents of the British Government and of the Commonwealth Government.

Mr McWILLIAMS - Lord Melbourne on one occasion, when a Cabinet meeting of which he was leader was about to break up said, "Well, it does not matter a hang what we agree to, but let us all say the same thing." I advise the Minister for the Navy that it would be well if all the members of the Government said the same thing in connexion with this Bill.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - And I advise the honorable member to read the agreement.

Mr McWILLIAMS - Honestly, I do not think the Minister for the Navy . can have read it. I have read it very carefully over and over again.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - The honorable member has read the agreement with only one idea in his mind, and that was to find every fault he could with it. That is perfectly plain.

Mr McWILLIAMS - It wouldbe very much better if the right honorable gentleman would keep his temper.. I repeat . now that under the two agreements the whole of the operations that are to be carried out for the development of the oil resources of New Guinea are to be handed over to this company, and I have the strongest objection to its 'personnel. I say here and now that the great reason for my doubts in connexion with the company is the fact that that master of Trusts, Lord Inchcape, is associated with it. I shall vote tohave the Bill referred to a Select Committee.

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