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Tuesday, 18 May 1920

Mr WEST (East Sydney) . - I listened attentively to the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) this afternoon, and came to the conclusion that he was entirely governed by sentiment, due, no doubt, to the fact that for the- last four or five years sentiment has entered so largely into all Government undertakings. But the time for that sort of thing has passed. Our financial position is such that sentimental considerations must be put on one side. We must endeavour to do something practical. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) has moved torefer the Bill to a Select Committee, for the purpose of eliciting further information with regard to the agreement, and during the debate this afternoon, by a marvellous piece of conjuring, the amended schedule was placed in honorable members' hands. I was so surprised and annoyed that in speaking plainly I gave utterance to words at which you, Mr. Speaker, took offence. It is not in my nature to insult anybody, but I think the circumstances warranted a strong statement. I am informed, on credible authority, that the Anglo-Persian Oil Company's crude oil is not a first-class article, or at least that there is better. And, moreover, I believe that the AngloPersian Company draw their chief supply from wells that are not under the protection of the British flag, so that it is possible that foreign Governments may be in a position to place an embargo on the output.

Mr Marr - What country do you refer to?

Mr WEST - I refer to Russia, for one. Those who are interested in this matter have written to me on the subject, and in interviews with me have made statements which, I think, warrant honorable members in giving more mature consideration to this agreement before it is ratified. I . can understand the Prime Minister's confidence because of the environment in which he has moved in Great Britain during recent years. But he appears to have lost sight of the fact that he is now in Australia, and that we are dealing with what is purely an Australian matter. If this agreement is heaven-born, thennot much harm can be done if it is scrutinized by members of a Select Committee, to make sure that it contains nothing that is likely to be detrimental to Australian interests. I do not know whether members realize their position as representatives of the people.' I regard myself as a trustee of the public interests, and as such I want to make sure thatthis agreement is quite in order before I attach my signature - for I regard my vote as my signature - in ratification of it.

Mr WEST - When dealing with the question of the . freight on the oil from the wells to the refinery, the Prime Minister, in reply, to an interjection made by the Leader of the Country party (Mr. Mcwilliams), said that under the agreement the rates must be fair and reasonable. The determination of what i9 a fair and reasonable rate to charge for anything depends upon whether one is a buyer or a seller. We ought to have more information on this subject. If the company fixed upon exorbitant freights, it seems to me that under this agreement we could not object to them, and that the Government would be powerless to take action if it were dissatisfied with the way in which the oil was shipped to the refinery. -It is all very well to say that we could use our own steamers, but the wells from which the oil is at present being obtained are in other countries over which we have no control, and we might not be permitted to use our own vessels.

The schedule to the Bill is so full of anomalies that it might well be described as " A Schedule of Anomalies for the most part Telling against Australia." We ought to exercise the greatest caution' in accepting an agreement involving, as this does, a gigantic financial deal and binding us down for fifteen years. We have no idea what Australia's future oil supplies may be. The whole position is so uncertain that there ought to be no hostility to the proposal to appoint a Select Committee to ascertain who are the moving spirits in this enterprise, and whether a better agreement could not be drafted. If these oil people are the monuments of perfection they claim to be, and are so anxious to help Australia, they have nothing to fear from the appointment, of a Select Committee.

I received this morning the following telegram from Sydney: -

At meeting of New South Wales oil trade hold Sydney to-day, following resolution passed: - "In view far-reaching effects of proposed agreement between Commonwealth Government and Anglo-Persian Oil Company, the oil trade - some thirty firms - urges upon members the necessity of the matter being referred to Select Committee of the House for further serious inquiry on behalf of the oil trade."

Sir Granville Ryrie - We have all received a copy of that telegram. The Standard Oil and "Shell" companies are responsible for it.

Mr WEST - I represent the most important constituency in the metropolis of Sydney, where this meeting was held. The people concerned are citizens of repute, and are surely deserving of some consideration. They are evidently dissatisfied with the agreement, and do not approve of the Commonwealth binding itself in this way for fifteen years. The original agreement, as brought before the House, was found to be so dangerous that a caucus meeting of Ministerial supporters was held, and drew the attention of the Government to certain defects in it, with the result that a further agreement was drawn up and put before the House in some mysterious way. -In business phraseology* it seems to be suggested that the Government have "fallen into a trap." The Prime Minister this afternoon indulged in a flood of eloquence-

Mr Maxwell - Was it oily eloquence?

Mr WEST - He seemed to be steeped in oil. He has become so elastic and pliable as the result of the company he kept while in England, that one wonders whether he is really W. M. Hughes, Prime Minister of Australia, or quite another man. The right honorable gentleman adduced no argument in favour of the (ratification bf the agreement. In effect, what he said was that, as Lord Inchcape, the Duke of So-and-so, and several others were connected with the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, and they were such jolly good fellows, we ought to sign the agreement. I hope that honorable members will not be influenced by sentimental considerations, but will deal as practical business men with this question, which is deserving of the best that is in them.

The Prime Minister, in supporting the agreement this afternoon, suggested that it was loaded with benefits for the Commonwealth, and in his enthusiasm he waved his arms as wildly as if he were conducting a musical entertainment. I hope that the House will recognise the wisdom of sending the whole matter to a Select Committee for inquiry. If that is done, and the Committee recommends the ratification of the agreement, no one will be better pleased than I shall be. My own belief is that inquiry will show that it should not be adopted in its present form. We are the custodians of the public purse, and should be watchful of the people's interests. If any honorable member were asked to sign a contract for the sale of his house, he would seek advice before doing it. Yet we find some honorable members prepared, without any inquiry whatever, to approve of an agreement involving a commodity that is the bread and butter of industrial life'I hope that my appeal will not be in vain. The proposed inquiry would not occupy much time.' It would be unnecessary for the Committee to go to the United States of America to prosecute its investigations. It would simply examine the agreement with the object of ascertaining whether it was in the best interests of Australia, and would inquire as to who were concerned in the enterprise. We want to know if this agreement will be a benefit, not to

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