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Wednesday, 9 November 1938


Mr NAIRN (Perth) . -I congratulate the Minister for the Interior (Mr. McEwen) upon his excellent defence of the Government's policy. The House has undoubtedly given the honorable gentleman a most sympathetic hearing, and it appears to be convinced by his statements. I also might be convinced if L could feel satisfied with the authority upon which the Minister based his defence. As I understand it, the honorable gentleman relied almost entirely upon the reports of the Commonwealth Government Geological Adviser, Dr. Woolnough.


Mr McEwen - That is not so.


Mr NAIRN - Well, that is whatI have gathered from the Minister's speech.


Mr McEwen - The State Geologist of Queensland concurs in every opinion expressed by Dr. Woolnough. .


Mr NAIRN - I might feel more convinced, too, if it were not for the remarkable fact that Dr. Woolnough's opinions are extraordinarily different from those expressed by Australian geologists and mining men over a long period of years, and, particularly, if they were not in such direct conflict with the opinionof such an eminent authority on iron as Mr. Essington Lewis, general manager of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. It appears to me that Dr. Woolnough set out with the intention to arrive at a certain result. His opinions on this subject might be classed with the opinions of many experts on different subjects with whom I have come into contact in the course of the years. When an expert's opinion is challenged, and he is asked to review it, it is an extraordinary fact that he generally sets out with the definite purpose of obtaining every possible scrap of evidence that will reinforce the views which he originally expressed. Moreover, Dr. Woolnough's opinions as to the extent of our iron ore deposits have been progressively reduced. His first report on the subject was comparatively mild ; but his latest report practically pulverizes the ideas of other Australian geolo- gists and mining men concerning our iron ore resources, for in setting down our usable and readily available resources at 150,000,000 tons he has plumbed the depths.


Mr McEwen - Dr. Woolnough said that the quantity might be as low as 150,000,000 tons, but was quite likely under 200,000,000 tons.


Mr NAIRN - That opinion is in direct conflict with the opinion of Mr. Essington Lewis, who, to me, is a much more acceptable authority than Dr. Woolnough. Mr. Essington Lewis' opinion is the result of long experience, and not of merely casual observation.


Mr McEwen - Is Mr. Essington Lewis a geologist?


Mr NAIRN - No; he is more than a geologist. As general manager of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, he has had a. great deal to do with the development of the iron ore deposits at Iron Knob. When he expresses an opinion on the subject, he is speaking about something of which he has direct personal knowledge. The annual report of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited for 1935 stated -

The Iron Monarch is640 feet abovethe plain, its base being-1½ miles in diameter. The bulk of the ore above plain level is estimated at more than one hundred million tons. The estimate for Iron Duke, 18 miles south, is equally as great. The estimate of the period likely to elapse before underground mining will be necessary is given as being beyond this century, based upon the present rate of consumption. [ Quorum formed.]\

Surely that statement ought to be thoroughly reliable. I have: heard it mooted lately that another company proposes to develop other iron ore deposits on the Middleback Ranges, and intends to provide £1,000,000 for the purpose. We must also remember that Australia possesses the acknowledged valuable iron ore deposit at Yampi Sound. I much prefer the opinion of Mr. Montgomery, formerly State Mining Engineer of Western Australia, to that of Dr. Woolnough, on this subject. The honorable member for Swan referred in some detail to Mr. Montgomery's estimates. I feel that we are justified in asserting that, having in mind the deposits at Iron Knob, and Yampi Sound, we have probably 300,000,000 tons of first class iron ore available for immediate development above ground and high-water level. Of course, we must bear in mind that, so far, there has been no real exploration of the iron ore occurrences of the Commonwealth, the reason being that hitherto iron ore has been too cheap for us to devote much time to it.

The proposal made to the Commonwealth Government in respect of Yampi Sound was that the export of 15,000,000 tons of iron ore, at the rate of 1,000,000 tons a year, should be permitted. Even if Dr. Woolnough's figures were accepted, the iron ore at Yampi Sound would not be exhausted for over 50 years. Of the acknowledged resources of first class iron ore in Australia, an export of 15,000,000 tons would represent only about 5 per cent. I invite honorable members to contrast our attitude in respect of iron with that adopted by America with respect to oil.- At one stage alarming reports were circulated that the oil wells in the United States of America were rapidly becoming exhausted, but, in spite of such fears, the people of that country realized that the export of oil was a profitable trade and refused to curtail it in any way. I fail to see any reason why we should expect a shortage of iron for our requirements, Iron has been used for thousands of years - as far back as Tubal-Cain, of Genesis. It was used freely in the earliest ages, and at no time in its history has the world experienced a shortage. That probably accounts for the cheapness of iron. On the other hand, however, there is a prospect that the demand for iron will diminish, because the tendency in modern times is to rely more on the use of lighter metals, and, it may be, that iron will share the fate that has befallen coal. At one time the fear was expressed that the coal deposits of Great, Britain would soon become exhausted with the result that opposition arose to the export of coal. As the result of the discovery of other kinds of power, however, coal has become comparatively a drug on the market, and to-day England, like Australia, has more coal in reserve than it can use. In hoarding up our resources of iron, we may hoard up something for which, in the not far distant future, we shall have comparatively little use at all. The existence of the deposits at Yampi Sound has been known for half a century, and at various times efforts have been made by specu lators to induce others to exploit them. Those efforts were unsuccessful, and there was no suggestion of prohibiting the export of iron from Yampi until, at last, a company was formed which was prepared to do something, not merelyin the way of speculation, but actually to utilize the deposits. Immediately thai company showed that it meant business, and proceeded to go about its work, propaganda of the kind usually associated with commercial rivalry was disseminated in the eastern States, and, ultimately, pressure was brought to bear upon this Government to frustrate it. Although the Government had for eighteen months permitted, and, indeed, encouraged this company to go on with its proposal to work these resources, it finally yielded to that, pressure and imposed this embargo.


Mr McEWEN - The honorable member's statement that the Government yielded to pressure is entirely wrong.


Mr NAIRN - Perhaps, I should correct that statement and say that, at any rate, the Government changed its opinion. The Government has placed itself in the humiliating position of having to meet claims for compensation amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds. It was asked to permit the export of 15,000,000 tons of iron ore at the rate of 1,000,000 tons a year. It would have been eighteen months before any ore would have been exported. In any case, 15,000,000 tons is not an appreciable proportion of the total deposits of iron ore in Australia, and I am of opinion that the Government rather gave way to panic in going back on its previous decision. It has been said that this embargo has been imposed in the interests of our own iron industry which is at present controlled by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. I shall not yield to the temptation to say that that company is behind this move, because [ can find no evidence to support such a statement. Indeed, I have the greatest admiration for that company. However, the result of the embargo will, in fact, be to the benefit of that company, because it has a monopoly of iron in Australia. Taking a long view of this policy, I am quite sure that, despite the fact that under the embargo that company also is prevented from exporting iron ore, it will suit the interests of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited to prevent other people, who might feel inclined so to do, from developing the deposits at Yampi Sound, or elsewhere. I suggest that if this embargo is being imposed in the interests of industry in Australia, and if that company enjoys the monopoly to whichI have referred, it is the duty of the Government to sec that the company works the leases which it holds at Cockatoo Island, Yampi Sound. It is not right that any company should be permitted to hold leases unless it makes some attempt to work them. I point out that the taxpayers of Australia will have to foot the bill for compensation, and that, perhaps, is one of the most unfortunate results of the Government's action-. The people of Western Australia are extremely disappointed that this embargo has been imposed. They had hoped that this new industry would have been established in that State, particularly in view of the fact that it will be extremely difficult to develop the north-west by any means other than mining. Western Australia does not receive assistance from the Commonwealth proportionate to that which is given to the Northern Territory. We must also bear in mind that an empty northwest is a national danger, and, consequently, there are strong national reasons for populating that part of the Commonwealth. It would be more satisfactory to have a. sturdy population of miners established at Yampi Sound. There may be room for differences of opinion as to how we can best serve national interests in this matter. Many honorable members have suggested that Japanese interests should not be permitted to secure any footing in Australia. On the other hand, purely as a matter of national expediency, it may he better to adopt the policy of trading freely with our neighbours rather than provoking them by refusing to trade with them, or by refusing to supply to them raw materials which they require and of which we have ample supplies. More than in any other way the peace of the world is endangered by the placing of restrictions upon trade between nations. The interests of peace can best be served by insisting upon the principle that there shall be no hoarding of raw materials on the part of any nation. Much has been said concerning the necessity for a policy of decentralization in Australia. Australia may very soon have to consider its position in relation to the Mandated Territory of New Guinea. The adoption of this dog-in-the-manger policy in regard to raw materials will, more than anything else, provide grounds for the intervention of other countries. After all, we are only a small community. We cannot expect to hold valuable deposits like those at Yampi Sound, unless we are prepared to use them. Instead, the opinion is being put forward, I think with justification, that no nation is entitled to retain possession of large areas of land unless it can effectively occupy them, and countries like Australia will not be permitted to hold large and valuable areas unless they can defend them. If we are to defend Australia, and particularly north-western Australia, we must people that area, and the exploitation of the mineral resources there offers the best hope of establishing a population. In this regard, the Government seems to be actuated by those narrow and selfish motives which are, unfortunately, too much in evidence in Australia. I do not think that honorable members are looking at this matter from a national standpoint. It is unfortunate for those whose capital has been vested at Yampi Sound, that the deposits are not situated in New South Wales or Victoria. If they were. and the Government had proposed an embargo, honorable members representing the State affected would have combined in protest against interference with the exploitation of natural wealth.


Mr Jennings - Not necessarily.


Mr NAIRN - I am speaking from general experience. State interests are just as strong in the eastern States as in the west. It is most unfortunate that this industry, which is the most promising development we have had in Western Australia for many years, should be squashed by the Government in the alleged interest of Australia as a whole. It does not seem to me that there was any need to impose this embargo, in view of the limited quantity of ore which was to be exported. After all the quantity involved was only 15,000,000 tons. There was no clanger of the development of interests which might cause international complications at a later stage. The Government could have made it quite clear that, in allowing that quantity of ore to he exported, it reserved the right to restrict or prohibit exports at any stage, if necessary. Fifteen million tons is a mere trifle compared with the total iron ore available, and it would have been better, in the interests of Australia as a whole, if the embargo had not been imposed.







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