Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 29 November 1944


Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) .- I support the amendment submitted by the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden). It has been established that this project has been commenced with an insufficient knowledge of the relevant facts, or it has been done under pressure from interested or sinister groups which are exercising an influence upon the Government. In either case, the searchlight of investigation should be turned upon the case.


Dr Evatt - To whom does the honorable member refer?


Mr ANTHONY - To the group named last night by the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden), a group represented by a gentleman named W. S. Robinson, who is head of the Aluminium Company of Australia. He is also, I understand, head of the British Aluminium Company. Limited. He accompanied the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) on his visit to America, and he has been identified with almost every political party which has been served by the financial group that he represents. I wish to give something of the background of this gentleman who seeks to control the aluminium industry of Australia, and to push the Government into doing something which, so far as I can judge, will be in the interests of the group which he represents. The Premier of Tasmania named him as the man whose advice on this project had been accepted, and whose recommendation had .substantially guided the Government.


Dr Evatt - That is not correct.


Mr ANTHONY - I give these particulars for the benefit of honorable members on the back Government benches, who have always declaimed against any government tie-up with big business. In this instance the Government is proposing a direct tie-up with the Baillieu group in Melbourne. I quote the following, from the Australian Who's Who : -

Robinson, William Sydney, Anglo-Australian Business man, member Evatt missions to London and Washington 1942-43.


Dr Evatt - He helped on both occasions to obtain a supply of aircraft for Australia.


Mr McEWEN (INDI, VICTORIA) - And we were very glad to get them.


Dr Evatt - That is so.


Mr ANTHONY - It is somethingnew for the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Morgan) to be defending the chairman of the Collins House group. The reference to Mr. Robinson continues -

Managing Director National Smelting Company Limited, the Zinc Corporation Limited,. Imperial Smelting Corporation Limited, Director Atlas Assurance Company Limited, Australian Ore and Metal Company, Gold Mines of Kalgoorlie Limited, Gold Exploration and' Finance Company of Australia Limited.


Dr Evatt - Bead it all. That is nothing against him. _ Mr. ANTHONY.- The balance of the biography mentions only -whom he married, and other personal and family details. However, it should be of interest to the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) and the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell) to know that Mr. Robinson is a member of the Union Club in Sydney, and of the Melbourne Club in Melbourne. Thus he appears to be a fitting associate for honorable members opposite. The Government's proposal has been forced on despite protests from many quarters, and. in spite of requests that it be referred to the Tariff Board for investigation. The proposal is being pushed from behind by these interests.


Dr Evatt - That is absolutely incorrect


Mr ANTHONY - It is being pushed by the Collins House group, through the gentleman who accompanied the Minister for External Affairs on his trip abroad, and is a business friend of influential members of the Ministry. He is attempting to accomplish something - I do not say improperly - for the benefit of himself and the interests he represents, and not necessarily for the benefit of the people of Australia. I learn from another authority to the effect that Mr. W. S. Robinson is a director of the Australian Aluminium Company Proprietary Limited, which was registered in 1939 with a nominal capital of £3,000,000. It is a subsidiary of the British Aluminium Company Limited (England), and Aluminium Limited (Canada) both of which are allied to Electrolytic Zinc and Metal Manufactures Limited, of which Mr. Robinson is also a director. The Minister for Munitions (Mr. Makin) is interjecting in defence of the Baillieu group, although in the past he has been loud in its condemnation... Now, he and his colleagues seek in some way or other to confer benefits upon this group.


Dr Evatt - In some way or other?


Mr ANTHONY - Yes, and I want to find the nigger in the woodpile.


Dr Evatt - There is no nigger and no woodpile.


Mr ANTHONY - If there is no nigger the Government should not hesitate to authorize the investigation called for in the amendment. If the Government fails to do so, it can only mean that there is- something sinister which will not stand investigation.


Mr Frost - Does not the honorable member's main objection to the proposal arise from the fact that the industry is going to Tasmania?


Mr ANTHONY - That is an unworthy interjection. I am not concerned as to where the industry is established, and I have no axe to grind. I am looking at this matter from the national point of view, and I do not want to see public money expended upon an enterprise which experien.ee may show should never have been begun. The adoption of the course proposed in the amendment would delay the project hardly at all.


Mr Breen - Has not the project the recommendation of a good business man in Mr. W. S. Robinson ? That should be an assurance that there is nothing socialistic in the proposal.


Mr ANTHONY - The interjection indicates that honorable members opposite have made a complete volte-face. I am not questioning the ability of Mr. Robinson as a business man. I confess, however, that I am afraid of his excellence as a business man in that he may look after his own interests, and not necessarily be so concerned about the national interest. If there is anything in the repeated allegations of honorable members opposite that big business interferes too much in politics, then this matter certainly calls for investigation. What is the position of the aluminium industry al the present time? It is true that about three years ago, when the party, of which I am a member, was in office, aluminium was in very short supply, not only in Australia, but also in other countries. We were calling in pots and pans and all aluminium utensils. In the United States of America, the Government was doing the same, as were the authorities in England and ils Germany. There was a world shortage, but owing to the enormous productive capacity of the United States of America and Canada the shortage has been overtaken, and there is now a stockpile of aluminium in the United States of America and Canada which is an embarrassment to both those countries. The situation which existed when we were in office, making desirable the establishment of an aluminium industry in Australia, no longer exists. Here is an extract from the Chemical Market Review of the 25th September, 1944, issued by the Republic Corporation of New York City -

Officials do not know where to turn to make use of all the aluminium now being produced. In spite of recent production curtailment orders, the output of aluminium remains many times greater than in peace-time.

Whether these are facts remains to be established, not by statements made in this House, because the House cannot fairly determine the rights of a proposition like this. We endeavour to secure information wherever it is obtainable; we listen to statements by Ministers and experts who have made great research into a particular subject, but we have no opportunity to interrogate witnesses, collate information and present it as the Tariff Board has done for many years in respect of other industries. Therefore, it is important, if the sum of £3,000,000 is to be expended, to know first whether the industry is necessary from the point of view of the defence of Australia, as has been stated by Ministers, and secondly, whether it is economically sound and practicable or whether we would be wiser to buy aluminium from Canada, the United States of America or Great Britain. For £3,000,000 Ave could lay up a stockpile of aluminium which would probably last us for a couple of wars. But I am not suggesting that we should not go on with this project. I am not in a position to know, and I venture to say that most honorable members are similarly insufficiently informed. When the establishment of new industries was projected years ago, the Tariff Board was appointed to determine the very questions that honorable members have not the means to examine for themselves. The very cogent amendment moved by the Leader of the Australian Country party indicates that we should do something in that direction. We should first examine, if we are going to manufacture in Australia everything that Australian workmanship and ingenuity can devise, how our overseas markets will be affected. We must reciprocate in some form or other. We cannot expect to sell our wool, butter and meat - and apples from Tasmania - unless we are prepared to buy from countries with, which we trade some of the commodities that they want to sell. Therefore, examination must be made of the commodities which can be best made in Australia and those which it would be best, from the point of view of economics and international trade, to buy from those countries with which we have trade relations. It is most vital from the point of view of the primary industries of Australia, and it is largely because of that I have risen to speak on this project, which calls for the expenditure of £3,000,000 and is likely to have some very great effect upon our trade relations with other countries. It should not be entered into lightly, and certainly should not be entered into at the behest of some group which may have an axe to grind. I do not attribute altruistic motives to the gentleman whose record I have given.

Mr.Lemmon. - The honorable member is squaring off now.


Mr ANTHONY - I am not. I do not give the Collins House group credit for altruistic motives. I think there is some self-interest behind this, and I want to know why the Attorney-General takes so much notice of those gentlemen. It may be a compliment to the gentlemen concerned or even to the Attorney-General himself that he does so, but it requires examination to determine whether the Attorney-General has not been over-influenced by the Collins House group and by the Baillieu group. This is not something to be lightly treated. I charge that Mr. W. S. Robinson, who went abroad with the Attorney-General and who was with him week in and week out and month in and month out in England as well as America had no official status.


Dr Evatt - He was an official member of the mission, and was appointed by the Prime Minister.


Mr ANTHONY - So far as I am aware, he did not occupy any official position. He was appointed by the Prime Minister or the Attorney-General to accompany the latter on his trips abroad.


Dr Evatt - The Prime Minister appointed him. I did not know him until I met him on the plane.


Mr ANTHONY - The AttorneyGeneral could just as easily take Sir Alfred Davidson away with him and say that he was a government appointee.


Mr Fadden - " Laz " would take him.


Mr ANTHONY - Yes. This gentleman insinuated himself into the confidence and counsels of the Government just as he insinuated himself into the confidence and counsels of the Menzies Government. He will "have a go" at anything. Apparently, he will tie up with whatever political party is in power.


Mr Frost - So that is what the honorable gentleman has against bini. It is just political !


Mr ANTHONY - No. I am suspicious of this project because of the influences behind it. That is why, during the eloquent speech of the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) last night, I interjected that this project called for not an inquiry by the Tariff Board, but a royal commission. Now that the Minister assisting the Treasurer (Mr. Lazzarini), the author of Money Without Tears, is about to interject, I should like to know where the money is coming from. Are the taxpayers to be further taxed or is the money to be diverted from loan moneys, and if so are the people to be invited to contribute to war loans and have some of their contributions used on such a project as this which has never been examined by any competent authority in this country?


Dr Evatt - Did not the Menzies Government appoint Sir Ronald Charles to investigate it?


Mr ANTHONY - That was three or four years ago, and conditions have altered since then when we had only a few tons of aluminium in this country, and 'there was a world shortage of aluminium to the point at which to-day the producing countries do not know what to do with it. As a matter of fact, I was talking to honorable members who have recently been to Canada, and they told me that the stockpiles of aluminium there were such that the Government did not know which way to turn to get rid of it. In the United States of America, the Government is now appealing to manufacturers to manufacture all kinds of aluminium commodities in order to use the excess produc tion. This is what the Chemical Market Review of the 25th September last said -

Officials are urging the use of more aluminium In all types of products. Unless new uses for the aluminium are rapidly developed, the supply will continue to exceed demands. The War Production Board is encouraging the use of aluminium wherever possible. So far, however, there has been no large increase in orders for aluminium for use in civilian products.

So the position in America is that the authorities are trying to encourage the use of aluminium to get rid of their surplus. At the very time when that position exists in the world, when there is an acute shortage of labour, and when there are huge surplus stocks of aluminium in other places only requiring ships to bring it here, we are going to divert labour, material and money to an industry which could well be allowed to stand over until after the war. The Government has no regard at all for its responsibilities, particularly in view of the charges that have been made in this House in respect of this industry. I do not object to the industry going to Tasmania or anywhere else. As a matter of fact, if the industry is to be established in Australia the claims of Tasmania are very strong. So I am not biased. All I want to do is to ensure that when this industry is created its footing shall be on firm ground and that it shall not be simply a " stooge " for the Aluminium Company of Australia, the Aluminium Company of Canada, and the Aluminium Company of the United Kingdom, in all three of which Mr. W. S. Robinson has a very potent interest. If he is not chairman, he is a director.


Dr Evatt - That is slander.


Mr ANTHONY - What ?


Dr Evatt - The honorable gentleman has no right to say that he is controlling this government project.


Mr ANTHONY - I say that he controls the Aluminium Company.


Dr Evatt - But six or seven times the honorable gentleman has said that he will control this project,


Mr ANTHONY - This has been largely carried through because of thi influence of Mr. W. S. Robinson. I say this on the evidence of the Premier of Tasmania, which cannot be denied by the Attorney-General. If Mr. W. 6. Robinson is the influential figure behind this and is also the controller of the Aluminium Company of Australia and a director of the Aluminium Companies of the United States of America, Great Britain and Canada - the lot are associated - there is room to look at the project with suspicion. We want to know why he has influenced the Government as he has.


Dr Evatt - When the Menzies Government decided in 1941 to proceed with the establishment of this industry under private enterprise, was he connected with it?


Mr ANTHONY - Not as far as I am aware. I do not think so. In 1941, it was a matter of great urgency, because we could not get aluminium from the United States of America or anywhere else, and it was absolutely essential to go ahead with the production of aluminium then, just as to-day it is essential to go ahead with the production of synthetic rubber and other commodities vital to defence. We decided to go ahead because we were unable to obtain aluminium, which was essential, from the United States of America. If war comes again, we shall be dependent on other countries not for only aluminium but also rubber, oil 'and a number of other commodities which, regardless of what efforts we may make, we shall be unable to produce sufficiently. When we hear a quibble from the opposite side about our responsibility to make Australia selfsufficient in defence, we are bound to point out that if we cannot obtain aid from powerful allies, particularly the United States of America, and are forced to depend on our own resources, we shall not be able to stand very long against a mighty foe such as we are fighting to-day. Wo must have outside aid. Although we have performed mighty deeds in battle and prod-notion, our own accomplishments alone in this war have not saved us. Only with the assistance of Great Britain and the United States of America has it been possible for us to retain Australia. Our dependence on them will continue in the future. Unless by some marvellous stroke of fortune, we discover oil in Australia, we roust depend on other countries for it. In addition, we must rely on other countries for supplies of rubber. If the

Commonwealth Government had a project for the manufacture of synthetic rubber, there would 'be good reason to regard it as a matter of urgency. To-day, we require not aluminium, but rubber. Unfortunately, money, materials and man-power are being diverted to the establishment of a useless industry. At this juncture, the aluminium industry will be useless, as we have more aluminium than we can use, and we have neither the man-power nor the resources to waste upon the production of this metal.

I support the amendment. A strong case has been made for the investigation of the Government's proposal by the Tariff Board or a royal commission. The matter is not urgent; there is no necessity for haste. The Tariff Board could be requested to complete its inquiry within two or three months, and then the House would be satisfied that the proposal had been properly investigated.







Suggest corrections