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Wednesday, 20 April 1966

Mr POLLARD (Lalor) .- Six months or more ago in this Parliament I directed the attention of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) to the activities of the chemical fertiliser companies of Australia. I pointed out that takeovers were going on, mergers were being consummated and, in general, there was a strong tendency towards the concentration of the whole of the chemical fertiliser industry in Australia in the hands of a few interests.

I gave the illustration of the activities that preceded the takeover of Cresco Fertilisers Ltd. by W. G. Grace and Co., one of the largest gas, oil and fertiliser producers of the United States, in competition with Esso. I pointed out that share prices for Cresco shares had increased from about £2 10s. to about £5 per share and I suggested that unless extreme care was taken by the Commonwealth Government, and by the State Governments, to the extent that they were empowered, the inevitable result of all these operations by the chemical fertiliser producers would be a substantial increase in the price of chemical fertilisers to the Australian primary producers. The Minister was courteous, and was good enough to send me a letter in respect of my representations. He did not express any great fears and suggested that competition would keep everything in the garden rosy. Since then there has been one rise in the price of superphosphate in Victoria of 7s. a ton.

Mr Mackinnon - That was due to a rise in the price of the rock.

Mr POLLARD - I will deal with that in a moment. I know that the honorable member for Corangamite is an apologist for the big fertiliser combines. More recently, there was a rise of £1 a ton in the price of superphosphate. The honorable member has suggested that the reason for the price rise was an increase in the price of phosphate rock.

Mr Mackinnon - One of the reasons was

Mr POLLARD - I anticipated that the honorable member would baree in to defend these people. He will suggest that another reason for the rise was an increase in the price of sulphuric acid, lt is perfectly true that the prices of phosphatic rock and sulphuric acid have increased, lt is perfectly true also that', as a result of the action of the Australian Labour Party in incorporating in its election policy in 1961 a. promise that if returned t'o office it would pay a superphosphate bounty of £3 a ton, the Government parlies, after criticising our proposal, subsequently promised a bonus of £3 a ton on the production of superphosphate. The inevitable result was, as we had suggested, a tremendously enlarged demand for and use of superphosphate in Australia. Inevitably, as the honorable member for Corangamite knows, being one who is skilled in matters of banking and commerce, when production increases in an industry the overhead costs tend to reduce. I made bold to say on a previous occasion that if this Government was game enough to set up a committee to ascertain whether the increased production counterbalanced the increased costs of phosphatic rock and sulphuric acid, it would be found that' they probably balanced exactly and that there was no justification whatever for the loading of the increased price onto superphosphate and other mixed chemical fertilisers. I have prepared a brief on this subject which I will unload in this

Parliament when the time is appropriate. lt shows that the movement in Australia for the merging of the chemical industries is of an insidious character and can have no other result than the bleeding of the primary producers, and when you bleed them you bleed the whole of the Australian economy.

The situation today is that very largely the control of Australian chemical fertiliser interests is in the hands of American investors; and worse still, there has even been an encroachment into the fertiliser industry by Japanese interests. After all, this is not an industry that requires a great degree of technical skill. People like Cuming Smith and Co. Ltd., Wishart and Co. and Nobel (Australasia) Pty. Ltd. 40 or 50 years ago were satisfactorily manufacturing superphosphate and other types of fertiliser in Australia, and it is all hooey to say we have to have Japanese and American techniques before we can produce the requisite artificial fertilisers for the use of the primary producers of this country.

As a result of all these mergers, Amalgamated Chemicals Ltd. has been swallowed up, Cuming Smith and Co. Ltd. has been swallowed up, Cresco Fertilisers Ltd. has been swallowed up and Australian Fertilisers Ltd., A.C.F. and Shirleys Fertilisers Ltd. of Brisbane, and practically the whole of the fertiliser manufacturing industries of Australia, are in the hands of a very small group indeed. There is one co-operative organisation standing outside. If it were not for that organisation the Lord alone knows what the primary producers of Australia would be paying for their fertilisers.

A more interesting development has taken place recently. It is well known that the gas in the gas deposits off the coast of Victoria is saturated with a high petrochemical content. It is also well known that under the Bolte Government, because of the reluctance of this Government to assure Victoria of the requisite finance to take over, manage and operate the whole of the gas and oil deposits off the Gippsland coast, the petro-chemical processing industry in Victoria - and to the extent that it will be piped to other States, the industry in the rest of Australia - will be eventually lodged in the lap of private enterprise, operated in the main by Japanese and

American capital. Then the farming community will be for it. When that happens somebody will be able to say: " I told you what would happen under Tory government in Australia .

This is only one aspect of the problem we are facing. My immediate representations are these: By virtue of the vastly increased demand for superphosphate and mixtures of an associated character there has been this enormous demand and the Australian fertiliser industry, as at present constituted, is unable to supply the orders of the primary producers within a reasonable period of time. Worse still, the very large consumers are able to get their requirements. There is always a tendency on the part of a seller to supply the very large purchaser. The result is that I have received a number of complaints from small farmers, who after all comprise the largest portion of the farming community. It is for them that the struggle is greatest. If one of these farmers wants two, three, four or five tons within a month he cannot get it. He will be lucky if he gets his order within six months. Alongside of him on the larger holdings he sees the large bulk distributors busily engaged spreading superphosphate. By virtue of their superior purchasing power they apparently find no difficulty whatever in getting supplies from the superphosphate companies. Perhaps this is a natural trend on the part of these great monopolies, these instrumentalities manufacturing fertilisers, which are almost completely dominated by American capital.

I ask the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) - and I have no doubt that the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr. Swartz) who is at the table will convey this message to him - to intervene and request the fertiliser companies to establish a priority list so that the orders that are flowing in now from potato growers, cereal growers and others will be at least partly fulfilled. If the companies cannot supply these growers with their complete orders they should at least see that they receive some portion of them. This is a wry serious matter. The Government wants primary producers to produce for export.It points out that the economy of Australia is based on the prosperity of primary producers, yet one of the largest manufacturing instrumentalities in Australia is, from the point of view of justice in distribution, incompetent, and one type of fertiliser and chemical user is being favoured at the expense of others. I earnestly ask the Minister to do something about this matter.I promise the Parliament that 1 will make some revelations later, that will shock the people of Australia, about the concentration of power in the fertiliser chemical industries of Australia. From being originally in the hands of Australian manufacturers it is now in the hands of American and Japanese interests to the detriment of Australian primary producers.

Question resolved in the affimative.

House adjourned at11.6p.m.

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