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Thursday, 27 September 1973
Page: 1626


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Martin (BANKS, NEW SOUTH WALES)

Order! As it is now 2 hours after the time fixed for the meeting of the House, the debate on the motion is interrupted.

Motion (by Mr Connor) agreed to:

That the time for the discussion of notice No. 1, General Business, be extended to 12.45 p.m.


Mr MCVEIGH - I think we all hold in utter contempt the remarks of the Minister for Minerals and Energy concerning the Democratic Labor Party. It ill-behoves him to criticise in this forum a Party which has played a significant part, with honesty and integrity, for the betterment of all people who live in this country. To counteract his charge I say humbly and sincerely that Australia is better for having known the Democratic Labor Party.

The present Government's policy about fuel and energy is quite specific. The Australian Labor Party platform states that Labor will establish a national fuel and energy commission to devise and implement an integrated and co-ordinated national fuel and energy policy. I think that no one takes great issue with that. We are all concerned that the generations that follow us have the same access to fuel and fuel reserves as does the present generation. It is a matter of great concern that we should plan to conserve reserves for the use of those who follow. This concept is by no means a new concept. The need for co-ordination was recognised by the previous Government and the previous Minister for National Development, the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn), and positive moves were being made towards planning how future energy needs were to be met. One of the men who was at the forefront of thinking about energy policy for the future was the late Sir Harold Ragett. In his book published in 1969 he emphasised the need for a co-ordinated energy policy, which took into account all major energy sources - coal, oil, natural gas and uranium. Sir Harold Ragett pointed out that the Australian fuel and power scene had changed very much over a period of 15 years. Australian resources are very much larger than had been thought previously. Oil and uranium have been discovered in relatively significant quantities.

However, even as late as 1969, Sir Harold Ragett did not mention the grave energy crisis which the great industrialised areas of the world are facing. An energy crisis must have an effect upon Australia when its full impact is felt in Europe, the United States of America and Japan. There will be increasing pressures upon Australia in future years to sell gas, coal and uranium. The need for a coordinated plan is becoming more urgent as time goes on. Let us consider now what President Nixon said in April 1973 about the problems of the United States. What happens there today becomes our problem tomorrow. He said:

Our energy demands have grown so rapidly that they now strip our available supplies, and at present rate of growth, our energy needs a dozen years from now will be nearly double what they were in 1970.

Clearly, we are facing a vitally important energy change. If present trends continue, we could face a genuine energy crisis.

Since President Nixon's speech the situation in the United States has worsened because of the threatened witholding of oil by the Arab countries. The significance of this as far as Australia is concerned was spelt out in great detail by the proposer of this motion, the honourable member for McMillan. The United States is turning towards coal, of which she has vast quantities, to take some of the demand which would have- been met by oil. But in this area she is also in trouble, because, as Mr Nixon has said:

We have vast quantities of coal, but the extraction and use of coal have presented such persistent environmental problems that, today, less than 20 per cent of our energy needs are met by coal and the health of the coal industry is seriously threatened.

These are the things which initiated the idea in the mind of the honourable member for McMillan many years ago when he was in the Victorian House of Parliament and which he is pursuing in this forum. Fortunately Australia has time to lay down plans for her future energy needs. However, that time is rather limited. On the present known reserves and with an accelerating usage rate, the oil resources in Australia might last for 20 to 25 years, that is, assuming we find more. I think it is pertinent to remind the nation of the thoughts expressed by the honourable member for Farrer. There has been a decline in oil prospecting in this country and the Government has a responsibility to realign its thinking in this matter. These are matters of great importance. The Government must realise that the only way in which oil search, will be accelerated is by giving an impetus and an incentive to free enterprise to set up drilling camps in desert areas and to drill in off-shore areas with the prospect of financial reward if they are lucky enough to strike an oil flow. We have sufficient natural gas to take us well into the first half of the next century and probably beyond. If we go in for nuclear power during the 1980s and retain our present reserves, or at least control their export, we will have sufficient fuel for electricity to see us through the first half of the 21st century. Reserves of brown coal are substantial, amounting to 85,000 million tons in Victoria, but only 10,000 million tons would be recoverable with current technology and economics.

It is also worthy to print out that in the State of Queensland the known reserves are 3,400 million tons. It is good quality coal, some coking and some steaming coal. In my own area of the Darling Downs there are vast areas of coal in what is known as the Millmerran basin and also in the basin east of Warwick. It is good to recount that at the present time the Queensland Government is considering, among other matters, the allocation of some Millmerran coal for the purpose of supplying the fuel needs of a new power station to be set up. This is the type of decentralisation that we should be encouraging to get away from the established coalfields out into other areas where deposits of good quality coking and steaming coal are known to exist.

I come back to the point of the motion moved so ably by my colleague the honourable Member for McMillan, particularly as it applies o brown coal in the State of Victoria. It is true to record that the world has some techniques for getting oil and synthetic products out of black coal, particularly in Germany. The position in Victoria will create a great deal of interest in the years to come. For the information of members of the House, there is a quickening of interest in the use of Victoria's huge brown coal reserves as a raw material for making synthetic oil. The multi-million dollar technique is known as hydrogenation - adding hydrogen to the coal to bring it to the hydrogen-carbon mix of the oil and natural gas hydrocarbons instead of having coal's preponderance of carbon. While the technique is simple in theory, it has only recently become the subject of the sustained research needed for practical use and is still prohibitively expensive. But, as my colleague the honourable member for McMillan pointed out, with the world's developing energy crunch and the sharply rising price of crude oil internationally, interest has grown in making use of coal as an oil source. One of the cheapest sources of hydrogen for hydrogenation is methane, the main component of natural gas, and in present conditions this gives an extra advantage to the Gippsland and the Latrobe Valley area - about which the honourable member for McMillan spoke so eloquently - with its proximity to the Bass Strait fields. However, hydrogen can be obtained more expensively from water, air and other substances but its use is still in need of much more research.

I am pleased to be associated with my colleague the honourable member for McMillan in the outstanding contribution and display of statesmanship that he has exhibited in this House. I congratulate him, not only for his concern for his own generation but for his concern for the future of those who will follow us. It would be good if honourable members opposite occasionally forgot about the present and looked to the future, as did my colleague. I congratulate the honourable member for McMillan on his sincerity of purpose, his honesty of presentation and his concern for those who will follow him.


Mr Hewson - Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Martin

Order! Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?


Mr Hewson - Yes, by the Minister for Minerals and Energy. The amendment he moved to my motion is a piece of political trickery. For him to have moved that amendment is damning my motion with faint praise for the Australian Labor Party.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! In what way does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?


Mr Hewson - I can assure honourable members that I have never read Labor's blueprint for the Latrobe Valley which presumably was drawn up from the speeches I made in the State Parliament between 1964 and 1970. I have no need to read it because it was not news to me.







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