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Tuesday, 23 October 1973
Page: 2507


Mr FAIRBAIRN (Farrer) - The Opposition today has taken the strongest action that an Opposition can take in a parliamentary democracy. It has moved that the Government no longer possesses the confidence of the House and the Opposition has spelt out the ways in which it believes it has mismanaged the nation. The Government has sought, of course, not to answer those charges but to try to draw a red herring across the trail by referring to what the Opposition is alleged to have done in the past and what is alleged it will do in the future. However it is the Government that is under attack for its sins of omission and commission. It is the Government which has lost the confidence and support of the public for its actions. Disaster follows disaster for the Government in successive byelections and successive gallup polls.

No one believed on 2 December that the incoming Labor Government would fall apart at the seams so quickly. No one believed, not even I, that it would have been quite as inept and as bad as it has turned out to be. For this reason the Opposition has listed the major points on which the Government has failed. Any person who is not a dyed-in-the-wool Labor supporter would have to agree with these points. Let me refresh the minds of honourable members by restating them. The Opposition has moved that the Government no longer possesses the confidence of the House because of its mismanagement of the nation and, in particular, its failure to exercise proper economic management. No one would disagree with this. What a failure the Government has been. Inflation is more than 3 times higher than it was when the Government came into office a matter of only 9 or 10 months ago. Interest rates are at an all time high and yet the Government is meant to be a party of low interest. The Opposition, in its motion, mentions the Government's disastrous handling of the mining industry. I shall return to this matter later. It mentions also the Government's neglect of national security and defence. It has been recalled that the Labor Party has broken its promise to continue to spend 3.5 per cent of the gross national product on defence. We have had falling recruiting; there are fewer people in the Services; resignations have been received, particularly from senior officers who can ill be lost; projects have been cancelled, the DDL has been cancelled, the Cockburn Sound project has been cancelled, the Neptune replacement cancelled. Where are the fighters which the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) went overseas to look at but which he knew beforehand he would not buy. No new tanks will be bought. Even such petty little things as the sacking of local bands has occurred. There is to be no cadet corps. Troops have been withdrawn from Singapore and morale in the Services is at an all time low.

In its motion the Opposition also refers to the Government's failure to exercise influence in the management of industrial stability. We have heard already from my colleague, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch), who spoke earlier and who said that industrial unrest in this country has risen by 80 per cent in one year. The Government disregards the proper role of the States. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) this morning was trying very hard to justify the fact that he occasionally sees the Premiers but we know that the Government has ridden roughshod over many of the States on many occasions. The Government does not believe in State governments. It believes in a federal system with all power in the Federal Government. We have seen this attitude in the field of national development. The Government has overridden the States in education. It is bypassing the States by making loans to local government. It is interesting to note that the Prime Minister said how great conditions were between him and the State governments, especially when we hear of the Redcliffs affair, to which I shall refer later, but in respect of which the Labor Party leader of the Government in South Australia said that the Federal Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) was inaccurate and misleading.

The Opposition also criticises the Government for its management of the national Parliament - not only its management but also the fact that it is misleading the national Parliament. I hope that before I sit down I will be able to show some of the areas in which the Government has deliberately misled the national Parliament. Let me start by quoting an answer by the Minister for Northern Development and Minister for the Northern Territory (Dr Patterson) to a question asked of him by my colleague the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) before the Minister went overseas. Incidentally, I believe that we are lucky to have the Minister with us for a few days as he is going overseas again. The Minister said:

When this Government came to power some of the first things I called for were the progressive reports on the Federal evaluation of the Burdekin proposals. I got nothing.

Any person would think that this meant that the Federal Government had done nothing in this area. Surely the Minister must have been aware that between 1966 and 1971 hydraulic model studies of the Burdekin River at Burdekin Falls were carried out by the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority and later the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation to determine a river rating curve for high flows. I know that he is also aware, because he lives in the area, that between August 1967 and April 1969 there was an investigation by the SMA of 2 sites on the Broken River, the tributary of the Burdekin River. Those sites are located at Urannah and at the irrigation diversion site. Investigations for these sites were carried on to the stage of the completion of a preliminary design.

The Minister also would know that between August 1969 and January 1972 there was a reconnaissance of 60 miles of the upper Burdekin River by the SMA and later the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation to narrow down available dam sites to 2, at Greenvale and Lake Lucy. He knows also - I am certain he does, but I do not know why he has ignored it - that between April 1972 and December 1972 a preliminary investigation by the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation was carried out of one dam site on the Haughton River, which flows into the sea south of Townsville in the vicinity of the Burdekin delta. The Minister also knows that between February 1973 and August 1973, as a result of a decision by the previous Government and the Queensland Government, a reconnaissance by the SMEC was undertaken of 60 miles of the central Burdekin River to narrow the available dam sites down to 2 or 3, located possibly at Hells Gates, Mount Fullstop and Mount Foxton and that this work is still in progress. The Minister also knows that as a result of a decision by the previous Government and the Queensland Government between February 1973 and October 1973 a preliminary investigation by the SMEC has been carried out of one dam site on the lower Burdekin. The work on this site will be carried to the stage of completion of the preliminary design.

If those are the facts, and I am sure they are, why did the Minister answer one of the two questions he asked himself - namely: What did the previous Government do about the development of the Burdekin River for the last 23 years? - by saying 'precisely nothing'? That was a complete and deliberate attempt to mislead the House. Ministers of the Crown have a duty to ensure the highest degree of correctness and integrity in their replies. If they find that they have made a wrong reply it is up to them immediately to inform the House and to ensure that it is corrected. But will we see a correction of that statement? Not at all. Because it has gone over, the Minister thinks: Good. I hope they did not hear the explanation of it'.

I come now to the greatest disaster of all, that is, the area of minerals and energy. I was going to say that scarcely a week has gone by without there being some new example of the ineptitude of the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor), but I will have to reduce the period because a week is too long. I will have to say that every day his ineptitude comes forward. Let me give a few examples of how he is reeling from disaster to disaster like a punch drunk boxer. Firstly, there is the Don Dunstan affair and the Redcliffs petrochemical project. There is the uranium leases affair involving Queensland Mines and EZPeko. There is the national mapping affair. We have been told that the Government is not going to continue the system of letting tenders, which has worked very well for a long time past. It will have to take on another 75 cartographers - if it can find them - to do this work of national mapping. We have been told by a former member of Parliament that foreign control is increasing and that it is due mainly to the present Minister. We have the Sir William Pettingell affair in which Sir William Pettingell was called impertinent and in relation to which the Minister has said that a pipeline to Sydney will be completed by January 1976 but the people who are building the pipeline - East Aust. Pipeline Corporation - say it will be completed 6 months earlier. Who is correct? If there is to be that difference it will cost an extra $6m.

Not a day goes past without some sort of problem. Look at the Redcliffs project. Here is a case where the State Government, after discussion with the Federal Government, was finalising a project in which 30 per cent Australian equity was to be allowed. We are now told by Mr Dunstan that the project is in jeopardy. Mr Dunstan himself said that Australian firms did not have the necessary technology and that this $300m project will be in jeopardy unless the Minister for Minerals and Energy agrees to it. For it to proceed the Minister has to agree to it because it is dependent on exports and on capital imports, which he can block.

But here we see an incredible situation. I have been a member of this House for 24 years. I see an honourable member on the Labor side of the chamber look up. He came in at the same time as I did. Neither of us have ever seen a similar occasion on which a Federal. Minister had a motion of no confidence passed in him by a State Government. Every member of the Australian Labor Party in the South Australian Government voted in favour of that motion. It states:

That this House express deep concern at the actions of the Commonwealth Minister for Minerals and Energy in relation to the proposed Redcliffs petrochemical department, and urge the Government to take all possible steps to resolve the present threat to its establishment.

This was a motion of no confidence carried by Mr Dunstan and every member of the Australian Labor Party in South Australia. The Minister for Minerals and Energy went on to say that South Australia's gas reserves were doubtful, that they would not cover demand for more than 12 or 14 years. Mr Dunstan's comment on that statement was that it was both inaccurate and misleading. Again, what a statement be made by a responsible Labor leader and one of the confidants of the Prime Minister. We know that that statement of the Minister for Minerals and Energy was completely inaccurate. I have already said in the House that a firm from Texas certified that there is sufficient gas in the Cooper Basin to supply Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong for 30 years. The firm issued a certificate to this effect. Yet the Minister came in here with these completely inaccurate and misleading statements.

One wonders whether he can ever get a statement correct. We are fast coming to realise that any similarity between statements that the Minister makes and the true facts is completely coincidental. In fact what he should do is get the Bureau of Mineral Resources to write his statements for him and read them making certain that he does not change them. This is a case of intervention on the part of the Minister ostensibly to help to increase Australian equity. It reads oddly in the face of a recent statement by an ex-member of Parliament, who one cannot claim to be any supporter of ours, that foreign control is increasing. I refer to a statement by Mr Edward St John, Chairman of the Association for Retention of Australian Ownership. He told the Association's conference that the Minister for Minerals and Energy was partly to blame for this state of affairs, bis manner had been unduly abrasive, his intentions had not been made clear and that he had created unnecessary confusion and uncertainty.

What has brought this about? Foreign control is increasing because of the actions of this Government. First of all, the abolition of incentives to encourage investors was a cause. We believe in the small Australian industry and in encouraging people to get a stake in their country. This system has been abolished. There has been a freeze on the import of capital. So an Australian company cannot borrow money overseas and bring it in without having to freeze 25 per cent of it. The oil search subsidy has been abolished. Off-shore this was availale to Australians only and to the extent that there was Australian equity Australians got a share and the multi-nationals which we are alleged to support did not. The small Australian industry feels the effect of such actions first. How can such companies possibly float new shares?

There is not enough time to go into all the depths of this Government's actions in the minerals and energy field. But I come to the uranium leases. In order to justify his refusal to renew leases or to grant tides to Australian companies - Queensland Mines and EZ-Peko - the Minister used 3 excuses. Firstly, he said that the areas were Aboriginal reserves and therefore he could not grant leases although he would like to. Secondly, he said that the price for the uranium was not high enough now and that we should wait until it gets higher, which surely will happen later according to him. Thirdly, we will only export enriched uranium which is more valuable. I state firstly that EZ-Peko's find at Ranger is not on a reserve so the Government could do anything it likes in renewing those leases. The Government likes to stress the fact that it is speedy in making decisions. Yet it has known for 10 months that these leases were expiring and has done absolutely nothing about them. There are very few Aborigines on these reserves. One of the deposits at Narbarlek is the richest known deposit in the world for quality and grade of its ore. Is the Government suggesting that these deposits on which millions of dollars of investors money has been spent should not be developed for the benefit of the nation? What is the reason for this delay. The Minister said that the price is not high enough. We lost the chance to participate in contracts, as everyone knows, worth some $600m which are just closing with the Japanese. We undoubtedly would have got a share in those contracts had it not been for the direction of the Minister to the company concerned to withdraw its offer. Now this opportunity has gone for ever. To justify his refusal the Minister stated:

Uranium contracts which were entered into prior to the recent elections had unsatisfactory prices, the best of which was US$7.25.

This is completely untrue and the Minister knows it. He ought to be man enough-


Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Is that price per lb?


Mr FAIRBAIRN - Yes. It is US$7.25 per lb for U308. The Minister knows because he has received the same telex from EZ-Peko as I have received, that the lowest of their contracts are equivalent to US$8.10 per lb and the highest is US$10.83. When I first became a Minister under Sir Robert Menzies, if a Minister made an incorrect statement he immediately came into the House and corrected it when he became aware of the mistake. But do honourable members think for a moment that we will see this Minister correcting this mistake? If he is man enough to say that he is wrong he should get up and say that he is wrong and we will give him leave to correct his mistake. But of course he will not. He will sit on his fat bottom and brazen it out.


Mr SPEAKER


Mr Connor - You are just downright bloody impertinent.


Mr FAIRBAIRN - Like Sir William Pettingell.


Mr SPEAKER - Order!


Mr Connor - You are just a silvertail lout with a veneer of sophistication and good manners.


Mr SPEAKER - Order! I think the remark of the honourable member for Farrer is quite uncalled for.


Mr FAIRBAIRN - I withdraw that remark. The Minister will sit there and refuse to correct his statement.


Mr SPEAKER - Order! No honourable member should refer to the avoirdupois of another honourable member.


Mr FAIRBAIRN - Why is it that the Minister thinks that we will get higher prices later? Again he was incorrect in his figures and again he has been told that he was incorrect. I will show him the United States Atomic Energy Commission's assessment which shows quite clearly that where the Minister said that America anticipated a shortfall of 850,000 tons of uranium by 1985, this figure is at variance with what the United States Atomic Energy Commission said, which set the anticipated shortfall in 1985 at 174,000 tons, not 850,000 tons as the Minister said. Of course this 174,000 tons shortfall includes any development from now on or any new discoveries. So again the Minister has been completely wrong. If he wants to see the Atomic Energy Commission's report he has only to get it or I can make it available to him.

His third excuse for not granting the leases was that we will export only enriched uranium. Does he intend to delay because of this? We know that we cannot enrich uranium or have an enrichment plant, which will cost $2,700m. We cannot have one until well into the late 1980s. Does the Minister intend to prevent any company from exporting uranium until that time? He has not said how the money is being raised. He has not said what is the potential market. He has not said what sort of investigations have been carried out of the necessity for this sort of thing-


Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honourable gentleman's time has expired.







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