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Tuesday, 18 May 1920

Mr GREGORY (Dampier) .- I cannot agree with the statement made by the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Nicholls) that honorable members have not had time to peruse the agreement. But I agree with him that it might be here for a very long time, and yet many of us would not fully grasp the meaning of its contents, or what it may lead to. It is an extremely intricate document, and I fail to understand the need for urgency, or the occasion for the fulminations of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) this afternoon when he seemed to assume that there was something wrong in the attitude of honorable members who urge that the Bill should be sent to a Select Committee. In this House we have passed various kinds of legislation, and we have heard many statements made that would not stand the light of day. We are now dealing with a very important agreement, and I defy half-a-dozen honorable members to say honestly that they have fully grasped its contents. It deals with, something entirely new. None of us have had any knowledge of oil refining. Can it be contended that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) or any honorable member is urging anything on the House in the interests of the Standard Oil Corporation or people dealing in oil? The charge of the Prime Minister in that regard was a monstrous one; it was, as I felt, an imputation against those who, when something novel is brought into the chamber, have a perfect right to be fully satisfied that they grasp its contents, and thoroughly understand what they are giving away. I cannot understand the urgency for the establishment of a refinery. We are told there is to be a bonus of £50,000 for the discovery of oil in Australia. .But there is no need to give a bonus. The men who discover oil in Australia will make a fortune. An honorable member was discussing the question with me a little while ago, and insisted that the Anglo-Persian Oil Company's association with the Government in boring for oil in Papua was part and parcel of this agreement. It only shows how little honorable members know of the matter. The Anglo-Persian, Oil Company are simply acting as agents of the Commonwealth in boring for oil in Papua, and that arrangement has no connexion with the Bill before the House.

Mr Maxwell - A Select Committee would not be required to point that out.

Mr GREGORY - A Select Committee may be necessary to point out what we are giving to this company.

Mr Richard Foster - Where would a Select Committee find oil experts in Australia, except the American representatives?

Mr GREGORY - We might get good information from that source. The honorable member, as a business man, knows perfectly well that he has no special knowledge of oil refining, or of the oil industry.

Mr Richard Foster - I have distributed copied of the Bill among halfadozen of the keenest men in Adelaide, and they tell me that it is good business.

Mr GREGORY - I have discussed the matter with the honorable member, and he knows I have found very little in it which is objectionable.

When the honorable member for Mac quarie (Mr. Nicholls) was speaking, and was about to quote one of the clauses of the agreement, I drew his attention to clause 14, paragraph c, in which it will be seen that if other persons wish to import crude oil to Australia, and start a refinery here, the Anglo- Persian Oil Company has a guarantee from the Government that legislation will be brought down imposing a special duty on any imports if it should be shown there was anything in the nature of unfair competition.

Mr Maxwell - This Parliament will be master of the situation.

Mr GREGORY - I am looking at the matter in the interests of the people who are using oil, and I do not wish to see something established here which may mean very dear oil for them. Until we discover oil in Australia, we must get our crude oil from the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. They may charge a higher price for their crude oil, and for the cost of refining than the cost of other imported oils; but if some other firm proposes to start a refinery in, Australia, bringing oil here for that purpose, and charging halfthe price which the Anglo-Persian Company may be asking, this Parliament is pledged under the agreement to pass legislation imposing a duty on crude oil coming into this country if there is unfair competition.

Mr Atkinson - Parliament will need to be shown that it is unfair competition.

Mr SPEAKER (Hon W Elliot Johnson - Order!

Mr GREGORY - Mr. Speaker,would I be in order in reading a paragraph of the agreement?

Mr SPEAKER - No. I ask the honorable member not to take notice of interjections.

Mr GREGORY - I have no desire to transgress the rules of the Chamber, but I would like to point out the danger of our being called upon to pay a higher price for this product, and that there is need for the House to become possessed of the fullest information, before accepting this agreement.

I do not think there is much justification for the Bill, because I cannot see what we are to gain by having an oil refinery here. Enormous gain would result if sound, practical efforts were made to prove the existence of oil in Australia. For a great number of years, we have been spending money in Papua with bad results, because the work has been undertaken by the Government, instead of endeavouring to carry on the work under a political Minister. I commend them now for taking steps to utilize the services of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, who have special experts and geologists who thoroughly understand the business. I am also pleased that, instead of adhering to the terms of the memorandum., which provided for retaining the field of exploration to Government efforts, such a policy has been renounced, and the Government are now prepared to allow outsiders to prospect for oil in that field. Before we talk about establishing a refinery, we should give every assistance to people to prospect, not only in Papua, but also on the mainland, to see if oil can be developed here. Once we discover oil in Australia, we shall soon have a refinery established. I think) the Government would be justified in giving a bonus or financial assistance such as is given to the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, for the purpose of endeavouring to establish such refineries here, but our first step should be to do all we possibly can to . discover oil. Some of my constituents recently paid a very large fee . to one of the best oil experts in Australia for a geological report on certain portions of Western Australia, and he gave a very favorable report. Other persons are applying for land in. the Northern Territory, believing from reports and indications that it would be possible to obtain oil there. If these people are prepared to spend their money, and if it can be certified by a geological Department that the conditions are in any way favorable for the discovery of oil, the Government will be justified in spending many thousands of pounds in the purchase of drills, which could be lent out to parties, prepared to guarantee the expenditure of a certain amount of money in prospecting work. In my opinion, the offer of a large bonus is worthless. Let us give assistance to prospectors. However, as we are dealing with something novel, which carries with it many; important functions and conditions, and as I cannot see any justification for urgency, I strongly support- the motion to send the Bill to a Select Committee, so that we may be able to secure advice, and see that the measure gives the best possible protection to the interests of the people of Australia.

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