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Wednesday, 29 November 1944

Dr EVATT - I submit that the House should accept this bill which gives effect to an agreement entered into by the Commonwealth Government and the Government of Tasmania for the establishment in Tasmania of the aluminium ingot industry. In many instances, the attitude of honorable members opposite has been one of qualified support for the bill, but, in other instances, it has been one of complete negation, and some of the arguments used, I submit, if given effect to, would only result in the indefinite postponement of this project. In 1941 the Menzies Government, which was supported by both parties now in opposition, decided that the aluminium ingot industry should be established in Australia. Now, in order to delay its establishment by the Curtin Government, it appears that some honorable gentlemen opposite desire a further investigation.

Mr Fadden - The right honorable gentleman will recognize that three years have elapsed since then and that the whole situation has changed.

Dr EVATT - Yes. I quite admit that the need for ingot aluminium is not what it was then, but any one who believes that after this war, we shall be able at once to beat our swords into ploughshares, is very much mistaken. We should like to be able to do so, but we must be prepared to defend this country'. We were caught napping in this war. But we must not be caught again. We have made this agreement with Tasmania after investigation by one of the greatest experts in the world, Sir Ronald Charles. I suppose that he is associated with one of the aluminium companies. If an international cartel controls the production of aluminium, the main experts available will be under its control. I know nothing about Sir Ronald Charles except that he was selected by the Menzies Government to advise it.

Mr Calwell - That is enough !

Dr EVATT - I want honorable members to understand that he reported to the Menzies Government in favour of the establishment of the aluminium ingot industry in this country. It was not just a Cabinet secret; it was announced to the world, and negotiations were entered into with, or invited from, private interests in this country; but, apparently, nothing came from them. We intend to carry out the agreement with the Tasmanian Government. Already there has been delay and we want to get on with the job quickly.

Mr White - What is the Minister's objection to an inquiry by the Tariff Board ?

Dr EVATT - My only objection is that it would delay action considerably.

Mr White - Only by a month or two.

Dr EVATT - We want to carry out the agreement that we have made with the Government of Tasmania.

Mr Fadden - The Government entered into that contract before bringing it to Parliament.

Dr EVATT - Certainly. We could not make a contract in the House. It must be made subject to the approval of the Parliament. That is why the proposal has already been delayed. We have made available to the 'Government of Tasmania certain internee or alien labour for the development of the Butler's Gorge hydroelectric project; we are absolutely bound to go on with this, and we intend to make a success of it to the benefit of Australia, including Tasmania.

Mr Holt - What about the international aspect?

Dr EVATT - Two or three honorable gentlemen opposite have constructively dealt with that aspect and I shall come to it later. We are satisfied that we have the raw material, the power, and all the other requirements for the establishment of the industry. We are not rushing into the matter. The commission to be set up under the bill will have all the evidence at its disposal and will determine step by step what is to be done in the establishment of this project. At one time during this war, the Commonwealth had only three weeks' supply of aluminium. The Opposition has made much of the fact that the supply position now is not what it was, but that situation cannot endure. The emphasis laid on the international combine or cartel shows that that vital supply could be kept away from this country at any stage by the financial interests controlling that cartel. If this hill be passed, the Commonwealth will have sufficient time to consider every aspect of the industry, including its development past the ingot stage, and to ensure its working in the most economic manner. Good quality bauxite is available in adequate quantities accessible io transport, and the necessary power at reasonable cost comparable with thai in other parts of the world will also be available. The cost of labour too is favorable. The previous Government set up a Commonwealth Copper and Bauxite Committee which reported the existence of adequate bauxite deposits in Australia. Then it had the report made by Sir Ronald Charles, the British expert. The Menzies Government also announced that it had decided to establish the aluminium ingot industry in Australia. After that, private enter-prise showed little or no desire to establish the industry, and failed to do so. This Government is convinced that if we left the development of this industry to private enterprise, there would be no aluminium ingot industry in Australia. We are not prepared to have further delay. The honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) went to considerable trouble to obtain the information which he presented to the House. I think he himself knows that that information had little to do with the establishment of the aluminium ingot industry and concerned more the process that will be adopted in the development of the industry. I think that the honorable member would be the first to admit that some of the information which he used must have been supplied to him by a party with business interests in this concern - a party interested, not only in- the process of manufacture, but also in the prospect of the sale of bauxite from certain leases. I do not complain of that.

Mr Anthony - Is there only one set of business interests with access to the Government ?

Dr EVATT - The honorable member was most emphatic that the industry should be established, and that the Government should take care not to be at the mercy of a world combine for the supply of certain parts of the process. He referred to natural cryolite. According to the information supplied to me, cryolite is also being produced synthetically. As the honorable member stated, the natural article comes from Greenland's icy mountains, but synthetic cryolite now seems to be made in all countries producing aluminium. In fact, the synthetic product which the honorable member showed to the House last night, was manufactured by Sulphates Proprietary Limited of Melbourne.

Mr Bowden - That is correct.

Dr EVATT - If that is an essential ingredient, it is well .that it is obtainable here. No one believes that if an essential ingredient is being produced by an Australian company, the Government will not use it, and that it will not be profitably employed in this industry.

Mr White - Why should not that company be able to make aluminium?

Dr EVATT - It may be able to make aluminium ; but the ingot which the honorable member for Gippsland showed to the House seemed to be slightly heavier than aluminium. I suppose that the material has a substantial percentage of aluminium in it.

Mr Bowden - It is the genuine article.

Dr EVATT - If the company has discovered a new process for manufacturing aluminium from the other products, it will be of great value to Australia, and the persons responsible for it deserve congratulations.

Mr White - How can the company compete with a government concern which will not worry about the cost of production?

Dr EVATT - It is a matter, not of competition with a government concern, but of paying for the technical process which the company apparently controls. If the material is not available from this firm, the manufacture of the relatively small quantity required, could be developed from other sources - from indigenous raw materials - without great expense or difficulty. Honorable members will understand that I do not claim to possess any special knowledge of these matters; I am only supplying to the House information furnished to me by the secretary of the department, who will be chairman of the proposed commission. The honorable member for Gippsland may rest assured that because of the vital importance of this industry, the Commonwealth Government will not allow itself to be dependent for constituent materials on any combine or . monopoly, either local or abroad.

The process to be used has also been mentioned in this debate. This is a matter for determination by the commission in the light of availability of raw materials and the economic factors involved. It will become the responsibility of the commission to see that the most effective method® of manufacture are adopted. I understand that the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Guy) claimed that magnesium was displacing aluminium to the extent of 98 per cent. My information is that his statement is incorrect.

Mr Guy - I did not make that statement. I mentioned that magnesium was being used as an alloy. I asked for an investigation to be made for the purpose of ascertaining the extent to which it was superseding aluminium.

Dr EVATT - At all events, my information is that the statement that magnesium is displacing aluminium to the extent of 98 per cent, L

Some of the suggestions of the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) were wide of the mark. He claimed that Mr. W. S. Robinson was the person who was advising the Commonwealth Government (regarding this project. Whatever may be the position in relation to Tasmania, I inform the House that Mr. Robinson is not concerned directly or indirectly with the Government's plans for the establishment of the aluminium industry. Neither Mr. Robinson, nor any of his associates and associations will derive any benefits.

Mr Anthony - The officer who made the report, is employed by Mr. Robinson.

Dr EVATT - If the honorable member's allegation that Mr. Robinson is associated with the international combine, were correct, the very opposite of what he suggests, would apply. It would not help him or an international combine to have the Government of Tasmania, which administers the affairs of that State, and: the Government of the Commonwealth, which has supreme power to control imports and exports, controlling the manufacture of ingot aluminium. The Commonwealth Government could prohibit the importation of aluminium into Australia. The Government would hold the whip hand over persons who have to use the raw material.

Mr Anthony - Is not Mr. Hey, who made the report, an employee of Mr. Robinson ?

Dr EVATT - The honorable member for Richmond stated quite correctly that Mr. Robinson accompanied me on missions abroad which I led in 1942 and 1943. He did so as the result of a decision by the Prime Minister and in his capacity of adviser to the Commonwealth Government, But his services had nothing to do with the production of aluminium, on which he is not advising the Government. It. is true that at one period Mr. Robinson placed at the disposal of the Menzies Government and the Curtin Government the services of two technical officers, Mr. Keast and Mr. Hey. I regret this unfair attack on Mr. Robinson, but it affords me the opportunity to say that in Great Britain and the United States of America he rendered great service to this country, particularly in the procurement of aircraft and other urgent supplies for war purposes. He has also served the British Government in the capacity of adviser, and when he returned from his mission, he was publicly thanked for his services to Australiaby the Prime Minister. He assisted us in 1942 when we were desperately short of aircraft, munitions and other supplies.

Mr Archie Cameron - Is the Attorney-General suggesting that Mr. W. S. Robinson had more influence with the British Government than didthe Commonwealth Government?

Dr EVATT - What a question to ask! I did not say that. I stated that Mr. Robinson contributed to the success of my mission in obtaining those supplies. He is a gentleman who has been a lifelong friend of the Prime Minister of Great Britain, and he should not be slandered here. He is one of the persons who founded the Zinc Corporation at Broken Hill, and the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark) will support me when I say that he did great work there, and that the labour conditions in that industry are among the best in the world. Mr. Robinson was also a founder of the aircraft production industry in this country. Instead of being criticized as he has been by some honorable members opposite, he deserves the thanks of this Parliament for what he has done on behalf of Australia. The honorable member for Richmond, in his endeavours to discover something about Mr. Robinson, got a fairly old edition of Who's Who-

Mr Anthony - It is not such an old edition, because it contains a reference to Mr. Robinson's mission in 1942.

Dr EVATT - The honorable member for Richmond was corrected by his colleague, the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott). Mr. Robinson is no longer associated with the Aluminium Company.

Mr Abbott - But he placed one of his lads in the office.

Dr EVATT - Would that be a reprehensible thing? The establishment of this portion of the industry is a very necessary step in the post-war air defence plans of Australia. Under this legislation no private person or company will have any interest in the project. The extension of the project into States other than Tasmania for undertaking other portions of the process, or into the field of fabrication or to obtain bauxite, are all matters that will be investigated by the commission. It is true, as the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) suggested, that the aluminium cartel has been all-powerful in the past, and no doubt that is one of the reasons why Australia was left so short of aluminium in 1941. But there is no reason why that position should continue. I believe that some of the information furnished to some of the critics of the bill was supplied by overseas interests. The object of the Government in establishing this industry is to make Australia independent of outside sources of supply for its requirements of aluminium. The honorable member for Eawkner (Mr. Holt) referred to Australia's obligations under the Atlantic Charter.

Mr Holt - And the lend-lease agreements.

Dr EVATT - These international arrangements must be read very carefully. The documents and agreements are most important, but they do not prevent - and here I agree with the honorable member for Darwin (Dame Enid Lyons) - a nation like Australia from providing for its own defence in the postwar period. One of the post-war plans is for a world security organization, and in that connexion, the production and control of aircraft will be of fundamental importance. No doubt Australia will play its part in that matter. For that purpose, it seems best that Australia should no longer be dependent upon overseas sources for its requirements of aluminium. In war-time those supplies may be cut off.

Mr Holt - I admit those considerations; but does not the Attorney-General accept the wisdom of making our reasons public and widely known?

Dr EVATT - The Government is already doing that. It is the duty of Australia and New Zealand - the outposts of European civilization in the South-West Pacific - to make provision for the manufacture of their own aircraft. If that is to be done effectively, and we are to have proper insurance against a disaster such as the one which nearly befell us three years ago, the manufacture of aluminium in Australia is surely one of the steps that we should take.

The honorable member for Indi referred to some other companies. I do not think that it has much bearing on this bill to have a general discussion of the control of companies in other sections of the aluminium industry. But the facts are that the Australian Aluminium Company exclusively owns the GranvilleRolling and Casting Works.

Mr Abbott - What about the hammer ?

Dr EVATT - It is a very heavy hammer. A small annexe was established by the Department of Munitions, first for the re-milling of scrap aluminium. That is owned by the Commonwealth Government. A large annexe was established by the Department of Aircraft Production and it included the forge, the anvil, the hammer and all other equipment. This annexo was established during the term of office of the previous Government, but the whole of it is Commonwealth Government property.

I shall be glad if, at some future time, steps can be taken to extend this new industry, including the fabrication section of it. I ask the House to permit the Government toproceed with its plans. It will be the duty of the commission to exercise the greatest possible economy, and I believe that it will act so as to provide the Commonwealth and Tasmania with an industry of which all Australia can be proud.

Mr White - Why is the Minister afraid of a reference to the Tariff Board?

Dr EVATT - I am not afraid ; I am desirous that the Government shall be allowed to proceed without delay. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) has a Tariff Board obsession.

Mr White - I know of the good work that it has done, and I know that it is an expert body.

Dr EVATT - If any aspects of the project require investigation at a later stage the appropriate steps can then be taken. I am sure that the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Mr. Beasley), on whose behalf I am speaking, and who is entitled to credit for the planning of this project, will be happy if the bill has a speedy passage.

Question put -

That the words proposed to be left out (Mr. Fadden's amendment) stand part of the question.

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