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Wednesday, 7 December 1960

Mr DAVIES (Braddon) .- The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) said that he was not concerned with this matter.

Mr Turnbull - I did not say that.

Mr DAVIES - I wrote down what the honorable member said, and I think that what he said was correct. The honorable member knows, if he has listened to the debate, that my friend, the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) was concerned, and rightly so, about this matter. The Minister knows only too well of the case of a constituent of that honorable member who was anxious to set up an industry in his electorate. The present provision is that that man must be producing by the end of this year in order to qualify for the bounty. Of course, the honorable member's constituent is at present building the premises he requires. This bill was presented to us only last week, so how this gentleman, who is anxious to establish an industry in the Macquarie electorate, can be producing by the end of this year, when he is only building at present, beggars comprehension. I wish that the honorable member for Mallee had more comprehension of what occurs in this particular field, but of course he has not read the bill, and I know that it is likely that he has no mining industries in his electorate.

The Tariff Board has made certain proposals regarding the Government's obligation to people engaged in the production of sulphuric acid from indigenous, sulphurbearing materials. This bill contains the Government's proposals regarding iron pyrites. The Government has adopted the rate, proposed by the board, of £3 a ton of sulphur contained in the pyrites. This basic rate is to be increased or decreased by the same amount as the landed duty of sulphur - or brimstone, as it is popularly called - falls below or rises above the price of £16 a ton. I was interested to-night to hear from the honorable member for Lalor that the present price is £21 a ton. As the Minister stated when introducing the bill, the disabilities of iron pyrites producers vary with the cost of imported sulphur. The adjustment of the basic rate will relate the bounty to the cost of brimstone. As I said this afternoon, I am interested in the position at Mount Lyell, on the west coast of Tasmania. We ship 70,000 tons of iron pyrites each year, at a freight cost of some £4 a ton, to Melbourne, and at a price approaching the cost price of the pyrites. We ship to Commonwealth Fertilizers in Victoria - the acid manufacturers - who then share the existing bounty which is paid under the old provisions with the Mount Lyell company. As the Tariff Board stated in its report, this is the exception rather than the rule in Australia. The Tariff Board had this to say -

Under the present Act, the payment of bounty is made to producers of acid, although in the Board's assessment of the level of bounty, the cost disabilities of producers of indigenous materials are an important element. Assistance to the producers of pyrites is designed under the present single bounty to be given to them indirectly through the acid manufacturers.

This is the relevant part -

Only one acid manufacturer, Commonwealth Fertilizers, makes a direct payment of part of its bounty to its pyrites supplier. The company stated in evidence that arrangements are such between it and Mount Lyell that pyrites are supplied by the latter at a nominal price and that on receipt of bounty by Commonwealth Fertilizers a share is remitted to Mount Lyell.

This arrangement has worked very well in the past.

Mr Duthie - And they were not compelled to enter into that arrangement.

Mr DAVIES - That is correct. It is a working arrangement between the company that supplies the pyrites on the west coast of Tasmania and the company in Victoria that makes the acid, Commonwealth Fertilizers. We supply the pyrites to that company at practically cost price and, under the existing arrangement, a share of the bounty which is paid to manufacturers of the acid is remitted to the Mount Lyell company.

Under the proposal now before us, the Tasmanian mining company is to receive the bounty direct. We need some form of bounty because the sulphur content of the pyrites is only 50 per cent. This means that of the 70.000 tons that we export each year to Victoria only 35,000 tons is sulphur. The remainder is of no economic use. Under the arrangement, we qualify for the bounty in respect of only 35,000 tons, provided, of course, that the present export arrangements continue.

In view of this arrangement, I strongly support the principle of bounty payments for pyrites produced and sold in Australia, but I regret that the companies concerned, such as the Mount Lyell company, were not given sufficient time to examine the proposed measures and to study their possible effects on the arrangements with Commonwealth Fertilizers. This is yet another example of legislation being rushed through the House at the end of the sessional period. The companies concerned should have been given the opportunity to study the effects of the proposals. We in Tasmania regard Mount Lyell as being very important to the economy not only of that State but also of Australia. As I pointed out this afternoon, several towns such as Queenstown, which has 5,000 people, Gormanston and Strahan depend almost entirely for their existence on the Mount Lyell mine and if, as we fear, the production of copper at Mount Isa increases to such an extent that we shall have to export a great proportion of our copper and so not qualify for the bounty, we shall have to look to other bounties that we can obtain for by-products, such as pyrites, to assist us to keep the mine going. I stress to the Government that the Mount Lyell mine is of the utmost importance.

As the honorable member for Lalor has said, various balance-sheets are published and, on paper, the company seems to be in a very healthy position, but the Mount Lyell mine is barely paying its way although its subsidiaries are in a fairly healthy position. Sooner or later we fear that the shareholders will want the cream and not the milk and they will insist that the subsidiaries shall continue but that the mine shall go out of existence. If that should happen, the people of Queenstown, Gormanston and Strahan who depend on the mine will be in a sorry plight. The Government must consider this aspect very closely. 1 commend that part of the bill which provides for a bounty for iron pyrites according to the sulphur content. I sincerely hope that with the assistance of the bounty we shall be able to improve the financial status of the mine.

I do not agree with any honorable member who claims that we should concentrate on brimstone and do away with pyrites, not only for the reason that I have given already, but also because our brimstone supplies come mainly from South America. Should any world upheaval occur, that source of supply would be cut off overnight. If we are to maintain our production of sulphuric acid for various industries, and of superphosphate for our primary industries, it is essential that the raw materials should be at hand.

I congratulate the Tariff Board and pay tribute to its members for the fine report that has been presented. It is excellent. The board members are to be commended for the work that they perform, the trouble that they go to. and the vast amount of information that they collate for the benefit, not only of the Government, but also of the Opposition. It is to their credit that they have looked closely into this question of the manufacture of sulphuric acid from lead sinter gases. That is indicative of their interest in the welfare of this country and of the fact that they are keeping an eye on the economic aspect. I congratulate them.

I commend to the House the provision in the bill to which I have referred in the hope that it will prove beneficial not only to the Mount Lyell mine, which would be of the utmost importance if we were in trouble in relation to copper production, but also to the manufacturers of pyrites in Australia.

Mr Turnbull - Mr. Deputy Speaker, I desire to make a persona] explanation.

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