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Wednesday, 11 April 1973

Mr VINER (Stirling) - by leave- The speech of the honourable member for Hawker (Mr Jacobi) was most interesting for the many assertions that he made which were completely without foundation. I was interested to hear his assessment of the reserves which Woodside-Burmah is supposed to have on the north-west shelf.

Mr Connor - The ex-directors have been talking, lt is leaking like a sieve.

Mr VINER - I would be even more interested to know what qualifications the honourable member for Hawker possesses which enabled him to give the assessments that he did of the reserves. The public record of the company that is exploring the north-west shelf shows that it has maintained a standing befitting a company of its international repute. When it was pressured both publicly and by the former Government to make an assessment of reserves of the North Rankin field in December last it did so although it did not at that time have an assessment by international independent consultants. It expressed that reluctance quite properly. Subsequently it sought and obtained an independent assessment on the basis of which it had to downgrade the reserves for that particular field.

The honourable member for Hawker purports to put his figures on the reserves for the other fields that have been explored by Woodside-Burmah. For my part - and I am sure I speak for investors in Australia and all members of the House - I would place greater reliance on a firm of international repute independently consulted by Woodside-Burmah before it seeks to say what its reserves are. That is' what the company has done most recently in respect of the other fields. It has said that it will wait until that independent assessment is made before it will publicly put a figure on the reserves. That is a proper and responsible action to take and nothing that can be said by the honourable member for Hawker or by the Minister for Minerals and Energy can take anything away from that statement.

The honourable member for Hawker expressed great concern for our national interest. 1 represent a Western Australian electorate. With equal vehemence I would express concern for the people of Western Australia as to the proper assessment of the reserves on the north-west shelf and the effective and proper exploitation of those reserves.

Mr Garrick - 'Exploitation' is a good word.

Mr VINER - It all has to be exploited in its own way. On the north-west shelf it must be exploited and the income that will come from those reserves will be applied to the benefit of Western Australia as well as to the nation. We in Western Australia have as much interest in what happens on that shelf as the Minister expressed for the country as a whole. I turn now to some of the points made by the Minister in his statement and the documents he has tabled in this House in order to show that what he has said is completely without foundation. I refer firstly to the document marked H', an outwards teleprinter message from the Minister's Department. Paraphrased, he said that not as much information has been supplied by the title holders as his Department considered ought to be provided. Then there is a most interesting part in the teleprinter message which was sent to the Western Australian Under-Secretary for Mines. The Under-Secretary was asked to send a letter to all the exploration companies in Western Australia calling upon them to provide information which the Minister said had not previously been provided. Then this astounding request was made, being an extract from the letter that the Minister wanted the Under-Secretary for Mines to write to the exploration companies in Western Australia:

I have now to ask for an immediate explanation of the reasons for your failure to comply with the direction and my subsequent requests for the information. Consideration of action under the conditions of the permits and the provisions of sections 122 and 105 of the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act will be deferred for 48 hours to provide an opportunity for the receipt of your explanation and your advice of the steps being taken to comply with the direction.

I am advised that the Designated Authority for Western Australia, the honourable Mr Don May, a Labor colleague of the Minister, refused point blank to send that letter. He refused point blank because he knew that the companies in Western Australia had provided all the information that was required by the Designated Authority and it would have been an affront to the Designated Authority for him to have sent the letter commanded by the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor), a command with which no sensible person would have complied. Fortunately Mr May. the Designated Authority, refused to send that letter.

Document T in the papers that have been tabled is a follow-up from the Permanent Head of the Department of Minerals and Energy. lt contains the heading 'Missing Information as of Today'. There is a heading for WoodsideBurmah and a heading for Wapet, as Western Australian Petroleum Pty Ltd is commonly known. The latter company has never been mentioned by the Minister and one might ask why. As Wapet has exploration permits for a greater area than Woodside-Burmah one might also ask why the Minister and his supporters behind him single out Woodside-Burmah. In addition to those 2 companies there are Coastal, BP Abrolohos and ESSO. The information which was alleged not to have been supplied was firstly some cores and cuttings from 4 wells. In the teleprinter message to which I have referred a statement appears between brackets that the company rang to say that it was dispatching those cores and cuttings that day. It did so and the Minister received the information he was requesting. The next items are most interesting. They show the complete lack of foundation for the complaints that the Minister has made against the companies. The next item states:

Secondly, no 3-monthly progress reports have been received. Thirdly, no 12-monthly comprehensive reports have been received. Fourthly, progress electric logs have not been received within the specified time.

What answer was sent back by the Western Australian Under-Secretary for Mines? It is a most illuminating statement and it fortifies what I have said, that the assertions made by the Minister are completely without foundation. The reply states:

These companies have been allowed under section 2 on page 43 of the schedule of requirements to submit half-yearly rather than quarterly reports.

So the Designated Authority gave permission to the companies to supply half-yearly reports in lieu of quarterly reports, but the Minister is alleging that the companies have not provided quarterly reports. The fact of the matter is that the Minister did not do the job he should have done; that is, to find out from the Designated Authority what was going on. The Western Australian Under-Secretary for Mines went on to say:

They have not been requested to submit annual reports as these are not mentioned in the schedule.

By 'they' he meant the companies. Yet the Minister through his Permanent Head asked the companies to supply annual reports. The Under-Secretary for Mines also said:

We are kept fully informed of exploration through reports on specific projects and have presumed that this was satisfactory to National Development as tha non-receipt of periodic reports had not previously been mentioned to the Mines Department.

So the Designated Authority in Western Australia was affirming in unequivocal terms that the exploration companies named by the Minister bad kept the Designated Authority fully informed, and here we have the Minister before the House trying to tell the House and the people of Australia that information had been kept from him.

The Minister and the honourable member for Hawker put great weight upon clause 13 of the Commonwealth-State agreement, but if that was read and - 1 venture to suggest - understood by the Minister he would see that the assertions that he is making are completely false and without foundation, because the clause states that a State government will, when so requested by the Commonwealth Government, ensure that copies of returns, reports, maps and so on are supplied. It refers to a State government, not a company. A State government will supply the information to the Commonwealth, not a company. Tt is the obligation of permit holders under the Petroleum (Submerged Lands) Act of 1967 to supply the required information to the Designated Authority, and that is the appropriate Minister in the governments of the States. If the Commonwealth wants information the first place it can go to and the place to which it ought to go is the Designated Authority. The Minister, in the manner which has become so well known to this House and to the people of Australia, has tried to bluster his way through and to condemn companies for not supplying him with information, when those companies have supplied all the required information to the Designated Authorities. If the Minister has any quarrel at all it is with those Designated Authorities.

So we come to this absurd situation that for some reason which has not yet become known to this House the Minister persists in condemnation of particular companies. The honourable member for Hawker has said that Woodside-Burmah in particular has refused to provide the information stating what its reserves are, and he seeks to castigate multinational companies. Presumably he places Woodside-Burmah in this category, and yet Woodside-Burmah is the only Australian based company in the consortium of companies exploring on the north west shelf. Then the honourable member for Hawker seeks to say that the company will not divulge its reserves. The Minister has made great play - and the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) as well - of the fact that the Commonwealth has control of exports. What is more logical if a company wishes to develop its resources than to obtain an export licence. If it is seeking to obtain an export licence obviously, in terms of the present Government's policy, it must establish that it has sufficient reserves first to satisfy the requirements of Australia. On that basis a company would inflate its reserves. It would not state its reserves at a conservative figure. The logical approach is to inflate the reserves. So the assertion of the honourable member for Hawker and the Minister is just palpable nonsense.

So the whole approach of the Minister in this matter is, as the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn) has said, a storm in a teacup. It is more than that, lt consists of assertions made without foundation. I invite honourable members to read the documents that have been tabled, which show that there is just no foundation whatsoever for what has been said. It does the Minister no good, when he is seeking to establish and outline a national policy with regard to minerals and energy, firstly to cast about for epithets and find an adjective instead, calling businessmen in the mining industry hill billies. He has not applied an adjective to those in the oil exploration industry, but no doubt he will find one and it will be found to be equally empty. But what I would say to the Minister is this: The oil and gas exploration industry in this country is so important to Australia's destiny and is so important to the destiny of Western Australia that it serves his country and it serves my State ill for him to continue in the way in which he is going. What he ought to be doing is talking to the industry frankly and in a friendly fashion. He obviously knows nothing about the industry. Those in the industry do. They have the expertise and he will learn from them if he goes to them. But what instead has the Minister done? He declined an invitation, for example, to speak to the industry at the recent Australian Petroleum Exploration Association conference which was held in Canberra only last week.

Mr Connor - I make my statements in the House not to pressure groups.

Mr VINER - What I am inviting you to do, Mr Minister, is to talk to those upon whom you must rely, and until you recognise that fact you will make no progress in the establishment of a national policy.

Mr Keating - Have they got you on a retainer?

Mr VINER - I am interested in the destiny, as I have said, of Australia and my own State, and I do not see that destiny in the unsafe hands of the Minister in view of the way in which he goes on.

Motion (by Mr Hayden) proposed:

That the House take note of the Ministerial Statement.

Debate (on motion by Mr Nicholls) adjourned.

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