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Thursday, 2 May 1957

Mr POLLARD (Lalor) .- It is appropriate for me to say that, before I rose in my place, the Minister for Defence Production (Mr. Beale) said to me across the table that we, as an Opposition, were not opposing the bill; in other words, that the Labour party was not opposing this measure.

Mr Beale -I asked the honorable member.

Mr POLLARD - The Minister asked me, and I said that my attitude would be disclosed. When he said that, it occurred to me that there is a general opinion among the public that an Opposition, no matter what party it may be, always opposes measures brought down by the government of the day.

Mr Osborne - That is pretty true of this Opposition.

Mr POLLARD - That is not so. If the records of bills brought before this House were perused, it would be found that whether the Opposition is Labour or Liberal-Australian Country party, there is overall general agreement in principle on at least 50 per cent. of all measures introduced.

The Opposition supports this measure, which is a bill to amend the Sulphuric Acid Bounty Act 1954, just as in 1954 it supported, with some criticism, of course, the measure then introduced by the government of the day. The bill appears to be relatively unimportant; it is a small one, but examination reveals that it deals with a most important factor in Australia's welfare. This community could not exist satisfactorily in a civilized society as we know it without sulphuric acid. That means that we, as Australians, are confronted with two problems. Sulphuric acid is readily available to some other countries because they have in their own lands substantial quantities of sulphur, which is the base material generally from which sulphuric acid is manufactured. Australia has no deposits of raw sulphur. Consequently, we are absolutely dependent on other countries unless we use alternative materials which are available in this country. It is not generally known that 95 per cent. of the world's supply of brimstone, which is raw sulphur, comes from the United States of America.

Mr Beale - From Mexico now.

Mr POLLARD - And from Mexico. Some small supplies have been available in the past from Sicily. It is as well to look at the form in which raw sulphur, or brimstone, is obtained from the Americas and, for that matter, from Sicily. In America, supplies of the raw material are available in what are known as the sulphur domes of America. Bores are put down to very great depths. The rocks contain sulphur in almost pure form. Surrounding the casings that are put down in the earth are steam jackets and at the surface immense plants pump steam into the bowels of the earth, melting the sulphur, which in due course flows up through another pipe into dams on the surface. We are not lucky enough to have sulphur available in that form. Sulphur and its manufactured product, sulphuric acid, being so necessary, it is essential that we adopt all means available for the production of sulphuric acid in this country. Fortunately, we have available to us very large quantities of pyrites, a by-product of the metalliferous industries. By encouraging the production of sulphuricacid from pyrites, we shall ensure eventually that we are 100 per cent, independent of imported supplies of sulphur and, consequently, sulphuric acid.

As far back as 1923, steps were taken by this Parliament to provide for the payment of a bounty on the production of sulphuric acid in Australia. With the experience of the war, of course, it became obvious to governments that much more drastic steps should be taken to ensure that eventually we were 100 per cent. independent in this respect. It is pleasing to know that to-day we have reached almost 90 per cent. independence of outside supply. That has been done only by the enterprise of Australian manufacturing industries.

Mr Falkinder - Private enterprise!

Mr POLLARD - The honorable member for Franklin says " private enterprise ". If he will search his memory he will realize that the task was of such great magnitude and quality that it required socialistic enterprise to enable private enterprise to function in the production of sulphuric acid. Private enterprise was not prepared to take the risk of investing vast sums of money in the manufacture of sulphuric acid from pyrites. Consequently, private enterprise approached the Government and said, in effect, " The production of sulphuric acid in this country will involve a capital expenditure of anything from £10,000,000 to £12,000,000. We are prepared to try it but we are not prepared to risk our capital. In fact, we cannot raise the capital. If the Commonwealth will give us a guarantee on bank overdraft, we are prepared to install the necessary plant and equipment to produce sulphuric acid in Australia." The government of the day, by a socialist act, undertook to guarantee the overdraft to enable the construction of these vast plants, which have been almost completed. They are now at the point where, before very long, we will be almost independent of imported supplies.

Not only has that been the case, but, indeed, private enterprise was not prepared to produce in competition with supplies that might be brought from overseas at a substantially lower price than that at which sulphuric acid could be produced in Australia. Therefore, it was necessary for the Parliament in 1954 to pass legislation to provide for a more generous bounty than had hitherto obtained. The Government guaranteed a bounty of £600,000 on the production of sulphuric acid from pyrites but not from any other material, and limited that bounty to payment on sulphuric acid used only in the production of superphosphate in Australia. The Government has now found it wise to extend the payment of the bounty to the production of sulphuric acid not only for the manufacture of fertilizers but also for the use of industry generally in the various productions for which sulphuric acid is used. The uses of sulphuric acid range over a very wide field and have a particular application to the production of textiles, tyres, chemicals and many other products essential to the welfare of this country.

Apparently, it is the desire of the Government under this bill - and we do not quarrel with it - to extend the application of the bounty to cover those other purposes for which sulphuric acid is manufactured. The amending bill provides for that to be done. It is proposed - and I think it is a wise proposal - that if the demand for and the production of this commodity is such that £600,000 would be insufficient to cover the cost of the bounty payments, there shall be available an amount sufficient to cover the extra cost involved. That is to say, manufacturers will not be faced with the position that they increase their production and thereby suffer a reduction of the bounty payment per ton of sulphuric acid. We do not quarrel with that proposal, but ] should like to say that, in view of the fact that vast sums of money are involved, the House should have been furnished with a great deal more information than was given in the Minister's second-reading speech. We know that the principal act contains a provision that a manufacturer shall not be entitled to payment of the bounty at the full rate if it is shown that his profit exceeds I2i per cent. I want to know: Has there been any case in which manufacturers of sulphuric acid were, as a result of the efficiency of their manufacturing processes

Mr Osborne - That limitation is noi affected by this bill.

Mr POLLARD - I did not say that it was.

Mr Osborne - Why should it be covered by this bill?

Mr POLLARD - In view of the fact that this subject is related to the profits made by the firms concerned and that their profits will be made safer than ever before by the payment of the extra bounty, I am asking the Minister whether there has been any case so far in which the manufacturer's profits have risen to 12i per cent. I think that is a relevant question. This bill will give a greater security to the manufacturers, and there may be cases in which the limit of 1 2i per cent, has been reached. I notice that the two Ministers are having a private conference on the other side of the table, but when they have finished-

Mr Osborne - Have we to listen to every word?

Mr POLLARD - I do not want the Minister to listen to every word. I should be just as happy if he left Parliament altogether. As soon as any question is raised that irritates the Minister, he becomes upset and annoyed. That is why I should not mind where he went. I know that, to a very great extent, this matter has been investigated by the Tariff Board. Tariff Board inquiries were made in 1952 and I believe that they are proceeding again. To that extent we have some protection. I think it was in 1954 that I criticized the proposal that manufacturers should be allowed a profit of 12! per cent, before the bounty payments to them were altered in any way. This new enterprise is receiving the protection of U:e people of this country. It is an enterprise in respect of which the people are paying a bounty which may reach £1,000,000 a year, and have given a guarantee at the bank to the extent of £10,000,000, but it is proposed that the manufacturers shall bc allowed to make a profit of 12i per cent, before their bounty payments are reduced in any way. In the circumstances, that is an excessive margin of profit.

However, that will not prevent the Opposion from supporting and consenting to this measure. I am glad to see that the position continues under which, as I understand it, the British Phosphate Commission will still be the importing medium, and in some cases the distributing medium. It is to be responsible for the distribution to superphosphate manufacturers--

Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).Order!There is too much audible conversation at the table.

Mr POLLARD - it seems to me that conversation is going on all around, but 1 do not mind it in the slightest. These are important matters. It is good to know that the Government has had the foresight to encourage this essential Australian industry.

Mr Beale - Good government!

Mr POLLARD - No. It is only a display of the minimum of common sense that sometimes comes the Minister's way.

Mr Beale - I will settle for that!

Mr POLLARD - The Minister for Supply is obviously pleased that he is not receiving the opposition that he expected. It is true that in many of these matters the Opposition adopts a constructive attitude and is wholeheartedly in support of government measures. When I was a member of the Labour government, I found a similar attitude in the Opposition of that time. I say that because an opinion appears to be held by the public that such is not the case.

I leave the matter at that. I can only hope that before very long Australia will be entirely independent of imported supplies of brimstone - in other words sulphur. I shall leave it to my colleagues who will speak on the measure to make a detailed examination of its provisions from various other angles. 1 trust that we shall make a success of this enterprise. 1 feel sure that ihe undertakings mainly engaged in the industry - which include one of the great concerns in this country - will bring the enterprise to complete success, in the interests of the people of Australia, and that in due course it will no longer be necessary for the Government to subsidize these manufacturers, as it has been doing recently to the tune of more than £400,000, with a limit of £600,000. I hope that the limit will not rise lo more than £1,000,000 before the manufacturers are able to produce this important commodity without the assistance of the people's backing.

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