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Wednesday, 9 November 1938


Mr DRAKEFORD (Maribyrnong) . - The Minister for the Interior (Mr. McEwen), in opposing the motion moved by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) has in his usual eloquent and persuasive maimer endeavoured to convince the House that the Government has acted in the right way. Whilst I support the action of the Government in imposing the embargo, I blame it for the difficulties which have been created. The Minister succeeded in showing again what is known to every independent thinking man, namely, that the Government has been, as it usually is, asleep and neglectful of Australian interests. The whole of the information which the Minister has given to us to-night, except for the detailed investigations which have been made by the Commonwealth Geological Advisor, Dr. Woolnough, since the embargo -was imposed, was available for anybody to study calmly if he thought fit to do so. The State of Western Australia undoubtedly has a grievance because of the delay which took place before the Government awoke to its responsibilities. The Minister has given honorable members particulars as to the dates when the extent of the Australian resources of iron ore was brought under its notice, but it is quite evident that ample information was available on which it should have acted when the position was brought to the notice of this Government as early as 1935. It was then apparent that foreign interests were seeking a foothold in Australia, and the information that the Government had available did not make it necessary for an investigation to determine the extent of the Commonwealth's resources of iron ore. I claim that had the Government, or those responsible within the Government, taken the trouble to look up information then available, the fact would have been discovered that the utmost limit which could have been given reasonably to the quantity of iron ore available in Aus-, tralia - that is ore which could be economically worked - was 313,000,000 tons. That quantity was fixed upon by an authority who probably knows as much as, if not more than, any other authority in the world about iron ore. He is Mr. P. Clements, M.I.C.E., M.I.M.E., M.I.E.E., general manager and director of the Park Gate Iron and Steel Company, Rotherham, England. Mr, Clements was the Bessemer Gold Medallist for 1936 of the journal of the Iron and Steel Institute of Great Britain and he is eminently qualified to express an opinion on the subject. I know that he could not have made a personal thorough survey as is being done by Dr. Woolnough, but he probably thoroughly examined and applied all the reliable information that was then available. From the lengthy and detailed statement which the Minister for the Interior has furnished to the House, it seems that the estimate of Mr. Clements must be reduced and that our iron ore resources amount practically to nothing. Indeed, if the Minister had spoken for another quarter of an hour in the same strain I think the House would have had to draw the inference that there is no iron ore left in Australia at all.

I agree with the "Minister that then, was need for the consideration of our present position in respect of iron ore, and 1 regret to learn from his speech that the quantity of iron ore estimated to be available is considerably below the provisional estimate that was made eighteen months ago. That makes me all the more surprised that the Government was not alert to the rights of Australia and did not begin early enough to take the necessary action to protect them.


Mr Makin - The Government had ro be flogged into action.


Mr DRAKEFORD - Yes, it. had to be flogged. J. venture to suggest thai composite governments such as this one have always to be flogged in the direction of progress. Because of the incompatible elements of which they are composed, they, naturally, cannot make progress unless they are forced to do so by members of this Parliament or by public opinion.

I maintain that the Minister in dealing with this matter ignored one phase of the amendment moved by the Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde). The Minister suggested that the words conrained in the amendment -

The ban on the export of iron ore from Australia imposes upon the Commonwealth Government the obligation to ascertain definitely the amount of iron ore resource:! available within the Commonwealth- could not apply to the Government because that obligation was already being met. T am glad to have that assurance, but the amendment continues - with a view to their early development in the interests of Australia.

Something more than a mere examination of the resources available in Australia is needed. There is an obligation upon the Government to develop our iron ore resources in our interests.

A great injustice is being done to Western Australia, because the Commonwealth Government, after encouraging it to believe that something could be done ro develop the Yampi Sound resources, gave no indication that steps in that direction would be blocked suddenly, when it became alive to the situation and imposed the embargo. Something should he done by this Parliament to compel the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, that great organization which appears to have a monopoly in Australia, to develop its lease at Yampi Sound, or to encourage some other local company to do the work which is waiting to be clone, but the Government has done nothing in either direction. As the result, the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) has moved -

That Statutory Rules 'is on. Oft and 80 of 1938, amending the Customs Regulations, he disallowed.

The honorable member's action is understandable in view of the delay which took place in prohibiting the export of iron ore from Australia, delay for which this Government was entirely responsible. 1 do not think that it can shift its responsibilities, no matter how hard it tries to Jo so, on to the shoulders of any other authority. The Government's inaction has -justifiably given rise to a spirit of disappointment and resentment in Western Australia. As far back as September, 1936, the Government encouraged those interested and the general public to believe that there was little, if any, chance of a restriction being placed on the export of iron ore. The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) said that the control of the development of the deposits in Western Australia was a matter for the Government of that State. He indicated that the Commonwealth Government had power to prohibit or to refuse a permit for export, but said that the Government felt no more justified in prohibiting the export of iron ore to Japan than in prohibiting the export of wool! The ridiculousness of that statement is shown by the fact that, whilst we can produce large quantities of wool every year, we know that, if we export our iron ore, we can never replace it. That is just an example of how this Government looks at things until it is startled into life again by the Opposition. When attention was drawn to the matter in. August, 1937, the then

Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Pearce, expressed the view of the Government in a way which would encourage the interested parties and the public to take the view that the Commonwealth Government had no fixed opinion on the matter, because he -said -

The Commonwealth Government is aware of no reason w.hy it should interfere.

The excuse made by the Minister for the Interior to-night was that the Government was not at that time in possession of information which would have justified it in taking action; yet we know that the Government could have been in possession of authoritative estimates which showed that the supplies of iron ore were limited. If the Government were assured that there was only 313,000,000 tons of iron ore available, would it in 1936 have permitted export to take place? That question demands an answer.

When I raised this matter in 1937 it was received with incredulity by members of the Country party. They ridiculed my estimate that Australia would soon be absorbing 2,000,000 tons of ore a year as not being worth considering, but we have since learned that the amount of iron ore which Australia uses annually has increased much above 2,000,000 tons, and it is possible that, before long, we shall be needing 5,000,000 tons per annum. If it be true, as was suggested by the Minister, that iron ore resources in Australia do not exceed 200,000,000 tons, they will not have a very long life on an annual local use of 5,000,000 tons of iron ore. The Government has fallen down on this job as it has fallen down on other jobs. There was plenty of information available at each of the dates mentioned by the Minister on which the Government could have acted, but it failed to obtain it, and it caused the belief to develop that the deposits at Yampi Sound could be exploited, and the ore extracted and exported without damage to our position. lt neglected its duty, and that neglect, in the first instance, has given rise to an expression of sentiment, both in this Parliament 1111(1] in ihe Parliament of Western Australia, which indicates - I am sorry to find that it is so - an extension of the feeling against the Commonwealth at a time when everything possible should be done to allay such hostility. How can we make progress towards a more united Commonwealth when these things are done?

There is at least one newspaper in Australia, the Melbourne Age, which did not hesitate to point out the danger of allowing the export of iron ore to proceed. It gave particulars and information based on an interview with or an article by Dr. G. B. Pritchard, a wellknown authority, who was lecturer in geology and metallurgy at the Melbourne University and head of the School of Mines at the Melbourne Technical School. The estimates by Dr. Pritchard were, as a matter of fact, more conservative in regard to Yampi Sound than those of Mr. Clements, and they seem to have been based on good grounds. The Government, as the result, of questions and criticisms, awoke from its sleep and decided that it was time to do something. The article and the publicity helped to concentrate attention on the position. It was followed up in Victoria by another person - a layman, but one who is wellinformed on the question. I refer to Mr. J. Bell, a constituent of mine. He is a blast furnace man, but he spends hours in seeking information as to Australian resources, not only of iron ore but also of other raw materials.


Mr Brennan - A practical man?


Mr DRAKEFORD - Yes, one who has rendered valuable service and whose opinions are backed up by those of experts who have technical knowledge.

One of the aspects of this matter that warrants consideration is the claim made by Western Australia.I think that we have to take a. broad national outlook and not just a State view, but I realize that the Government of Western Australia has grounds for complaint, because it was encouraged in the belief that it could continue to make arrangements with a foreign company to come to Australia, and then, after a large amount of capital had been invested in the project, found that an embargo was to be placed on the export of iron ore.


Mr Makin - The whole business was mis-handled.


Mr DRAKEFORD - Yes. I impress upon honorable members for Western

Australia, however, that we could reap no real gain from foreign nations exploiting our iron ore. In what way would the Western Australian Government or the Commonwealth Government gain any advantage by permitting foreign nations to exploit the best iron ore resources in Australia ? In what way would the export of iron ore to foreign countries mean the development of agricultural or pastoral industries in the north-western area of Western Australia? It seems to have been claimed by the State Premier and other members of the Western Australian Parliament that as iron ore would occupy only a small space on vessels carrying it to Japan, the remainder of the space could he filled with cattle from the north-western districts. It seems to me that there is very little in that claim. Even store-bred cattle cannot be exported from Canada to England, so what chance would there be of exporting wild cattle from Western Australia to Japan?


Mr Gregory - -We take cattle from Derby to Fremantle; there would be no difference in sending cattle to Japan.


Mr DRAKEFORD - That trade would not be economical. My statement is made on views expressed by such an authority as Mr. Cramsie, who said that the transport of stall-fed cattle between Canada and England was unprofitable because of the wastage of condition on the voyage. If that wastage took place on the voyage between Canada and England, it is ridiculous to suggest that wild station-bred cattle could be carried satisfactorily from Australia to Japan. The Minister has indicated that something will be done by way of compensation. There may be some justification for compensation being paid to the State of Western Australia, but before any payment is made to the company or other private interests concerned, the nature and extent of the work carried out by it at Yampi Sound should be ascertained.


Mr Gregory - Only preliminary work was carried out.


Mr DRAKEFORD - If,on the other hand, it is claimed that a great deal of work has been done there, why did the warden at Broomerecommend twelve months ago the cancellation of the leases for non-compliance with labour conditions? I hope that any claim by the company for compensation will be investigated carefully before public money is paid out, but I also hope that the claims of the State of Western Australia will receive sympathetic consideration. The idea of sending cattle to Japan in the vessels conveying the ore, as a means of developing trade between these two countries, however, is impracticable.


Mr Gregory - I did not suggestit.







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