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Tuesday, 23 October 1973
Page: 2511

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Scholes (CORIO, VICTORIA) - Order! The Standing Orders provide that members will be addressed in a certain way. I suggest that the Minister comply with the Standing Orders.

Mr CONNOR - I will comply with the formality, but in a very formal manner. He was a tragic Minister in his day. He was described by a former Prime Minister as being very pedestrian. His tirade has been not merely pedestrian but also offensive and incorrect. I would not waste any part of my 20 minutes on him. Nevertheless, he was responsible for the biggest sell-out in Australia's history when he gave away the graticular system and so gave away Australia's chance of saving something of our off-shore mineral wealth. There was a gentleman named Gulbenkian who used to arrange oil deals. He was known as Mr Five Per Cent - that was his percentage. The honourable member for Farrer is Mr Fifteen Per Cent, not because he arranges oil deals but because he has come out as the champion for Woodside-Burmah Oil NL. It is not good enough for the present Government to talk in terms of 15 per cent as being a good deal for Australia. That is precisely the situation.

When we came to office we found, firstly, that the former Government had never done its sums; it had never kept statistics. As a matter of fact, the statistics on foreign ownership and control of Australian mineral resources were only up to 1968. We have had to extrapolate since that time, but it is quite clear that at that time 62 per cent of Australia's mineral wealth was owned and/or controlled by overseas companies, by the multinationals, by the friends of the honourable member for Farrer, by the people whom he champions or by the people to whom he belongs because that is his class, that is where he comes from and he could not think otherwise. What was the minerals policy of the former Government of which he is an outstanding example? It was one of neglect, benign neglect if you like, or benevolent neglect - one of 'Come here and get it'. Eightynine per cent of the capital infrastructure that was needed to develop Australia was supplied by Australian people from their savings. The other 11 per cent came from overseas. But it was instantly directed - they came homing in like homing pigeons - right to where the profits were, namely into minerals, into primary industry, into secondary industry and into commerce, with the complaisance, the neglect and the co-operation of the members of the former Government parties. They should be ashamed of themselves.

In the place of that situation we have substituted benign supervision. For the first time in Australia's mineral history there is a government which is prepared to take the Australian viewpoint. If there is one thing that is outstanding in the record of this Government and its ideology, it is that we stand for Australia, we wave the Australian flag and we give allegiance to the Queen of Australia. We are proud of being Australians and we still stand in the light of the multi-nationals. They will never get their hands on any more of our resources. The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) has said so. He said it at the Australian Mining. Industry Council dinner last February. All my efforts and the efforts of the Government have been directed to ensuring that the present devastating ownership will gradually be reduced. Reduce it we will. Our policies have been directed towards achieving that purpose. We have discharged truly national functions. We speak as Australians. We do not speak as synthetic imports with an allegiance overseas. We are Australians first and foremost. It is a concept that the Liberals would never understand.

Our major customer is Japan. For the first time we are dealing with the Japanese in a proper, businesslike way. The so-called government of extreme socialists in fact is capable of doing a better job than the so-called businessman's government. For the first time we have adequate information. Export controls were imposed, as the House well knows, for the purpose of obtaining information, and we have information on prices, quantities, times of delivery and, above all, the denomination of currency in which contracts are written. I have had major companies come to me cringing because they were too stupid and the previous Government also was too stupid not to have their contracts written in Australian currency. This applies to some of the major companies. I certainly will not commit a breach of faith by disclosing their names, but they do exist. What have been the results of our activities? In the minds of members of the Opposition, we have committed an unpardonable crime. We have, been a commercial success.

In the case of iron ore there has been a price increase just short of 17 per cent as an offset to world currency revaluation. This represents a little matter of $90m extra income for Australia in a year.

Mr Fairbairn - You did not get that. The companies got it.

Mr CONNOR - I got that all right. I got that from Tanabe, and the honourable member well knows it. In regard to coal, one company alone in Queensland, which has a long term contract, as a result of our activities will benefit to the tune of extra income amounting to $107m. We told it to try harder and to do better, and we made sure that it did. It is now receiving increased prices.

In respect of the coal export trade as a whole, we are receiving at least another $100m a year in income because of our ability to inform the different colliery companies of the going price for coal overseas. No longer can overseas buyers come into Australia and play one company off against another. I am ashamed of some of the Australian companies for their stupidity. They could have obtained better prices by sticking together. For a change, we have imitated the imitators. The Japanese have worked through the Ministry of International Trade and Industry. In turn MITI has carefully controlled or co-ordinated the buying by Japan. I give MITI great credit for what it has done. I have told the Japanese that we will do exactly the same and that it will be on the basis of willing sellers, willing buyers and a fair deal to both sides. In future Australia will not adopt a low posture to any other country. We will stand erect. We will look people in the eyes and we will ask for fair terms and give a fair deal because this is a stable country. We are just as capable of honouring a contract as is any other form of government, and honour contracts we have and honour them we will. The tactics of divide and conquer have gone out the door. We have thrown them out quite deliberately.

As for the other alleged disasters, we have taken action to ensure that for the first time there will be a complete survey of Australia's resources of energy because for the future it is energy that counts in this world. We have energy in most respects. In the case of crude oil we are lacking, but there again we will do what the Opposition was not capable of doing or conceiving when in government. We will ensure that every form of liquid hydro-carbon is reconstituted into motor spirit or to other petroleum derivatives. We have provided for it in the Pipeline Authority Act and as for it being a pipe dream and as for what the honourable member for Farrer had the impertinence to say to the House just recently, let me remind him that on television the other night I produced the document signed by Sir William Pettingell, Mr Butters and myself in which it was recognised that we would be the constructing authority for the pipeline, that the pipes were ours and that we were going ahead with the job. The tenders close on 29 October. We will decide who the successful tenderer is to be and we will proceed to build the pipeline. We have had quite enough of Sir William Pettingell and his nonsense. We tried it the quiet way but from now on we will play it tough and hard, but, nevertheless, it will be fair because the Australian Gaslight Co. has its rights. We told them that we would stand in their shoes with respect to the transmission of natural gas from Gidgealpa.

As for the peculiar alliance between the honourable member for Farrer and the South Australian Premier, let me repeat what I said in answer to a question from the honourable member for Barker (Dr Forbes) yesterday. The policy of our Party is that there should be at least a 51 per cent Australian ownership and, more than that, we will ensure that every gallon of motor spirit that can be extracted from the Gidgealpa natural gas will be extracted and used for Australia.

Mr Fairbairn - Why did you not tell him this when he was negotiating?

Mr CONNOR - He has been told and he will stay told. No longer will any State premier usurp the functions of a national government. No longer will any State government be hieing itself off overseas and negotiating contracts in respect of national assets. That will be done through the Australian national Government.

It is being done and it will continue to be done.

I refer now to uranium. I do not have much time left. I had hoped to make a full statement on uranium. However, what the honourable member for Farrer has said has been an absolute tissue of misrepresentation and I will refer to my prepared speech concerning uranium in refutation of the nonsense of the honourable member for Farrer. In a recent report in the 'Australian Financial Review' it was stated that I was considering a plan for uranium contracts to be fulfilled from the Mary Kathleen uranium mine, which has been closed for some years-

Mr Fairbairn - I did not say anything about that at all.

Mr CONNOR - The honourable member for Farrer has had his say. This plant is deteriorating and, unless the mine is quickly reopened, it will be useless. The whole implication in the article, however, is that I conceived the proposal. The facts are that on 14 June 1973 and at their request, I saw Messrs Carnegie and Madigan, of Conzinc Riotinto Australia, who have substantial uranium interests. At this meeting, they put forward the possibility of rationalising the supply to meet existing uranium contracts.

Mary Kathleen has current export contracts for 5,362 short tons. Their company-stated resources of uranium are 10,700 short tons. The former Government, in the period between 8 and 30 November last, approved of export contracts for an additional 4,300 short tons. It had also approved of an export contract on 24 August 1972 for 2,230 short tons. These contracts could all have been substantially met by the complete extraction of the Mary Kathleen reserves. In a subsequent letter addressed to me of 28 June, Mr Carnegie said:

I hope that, when you decide on the appropriate national uranium sales policy, we will have an opportunity to suggest some practical rationalisation of the industry, designed to meet the objectives of both the Australian Government and the companies involved. We appreciate, of course, that you would not expect this to result in any overall increase in overseas ownership of Australia's mineral resources . . .

On 17 August last, I saw, at their request, Mr Carnegie and Mr Espie, Chairman of Mary Kathleen Uranium Ltd. In the light of the June discussion, I inquired whether there would be any scope for Mary Kathleen Uranium Ltd to help out other firms with approved contracts. Mr Carnegie then referred to some discussions earlier in the year with

Ranger, about some sort of merger. In his letter of 24 August, again addressed to me, Mr Espie said:

You explained to us that, in the case of some producers, their approved contracts do not give them sufficient assured production to justify the opening of a new operation. You said that you were seeking a way in which Mary Kathleen Uranium could participate in a rationalisation of the industry. Possibly, Mary Kathleen Uranium could reopen and, in negotiation with other potential producers, arrange to provide a product which could satisfy their contracts. . . .

Mr Espiethen went on to say that his company had entered into discussion with Ranger and Queensland Mines and hoped to indicate progress within the next month. He further said that previous discussions on rationalisation of the industry had suggested that some merger of equity interests might be required to obtain a workable solution which would be fair and equitable to all shareholders concerned.

In a further letter of 6 September, Mr Espie advised in terms which suggested they were unlikely to achieve the rationalisation which they had originally contemplated. My part in this proposal has been quite maliciously and stupidly - I repeat, stupidly - attacked by the Opposition as being in some way an attempt to nationalise the industry by expropriation. The "suggestion is, of course, an absurd one. Using a similar Press sounding board, Mr Millner of Queensland Mines, has attempted to indulge in some journalistic arm twisting. I sent him a reply by telex which has been quoted before in this House and I will not repeat it. I want to reaffirm that at all times I have pressed and will continue to press for the fullest mining of all uranium in the Northern Territory, with due regard to environmental restoration, and other interests, such as Aboriginal rights. No Labor administration will be responsible for denying to the respective discoveries of uranium in any areas, the subject of the Woodward Committee's terms of reference, proper rights under the Northern Territory mining ordinances for their ultimate development.

The Australian Atomic Energy Commission reports that in the Northern Territory where all our richest uranium deposits are, excepting Yeelirrie, the total expenditure for uranium prospecting during 1973 is expected to be $2.6 lm in 29,600 square miles held under prospecting rights. Of this area, 6,800 square miles are held by foreign owned companies, and 9,000 square miles by wholly Australian owned companies. The balance is being prospected under 'farm-in' arrangements, with 19 groups having beneficial Australian interests ranging from 25 per cent to 65 per cent.

Our predecessors in office operated export controls on uranium. They lifted certain of them in the approving of export contracts, totalling some 11,600 short tons. Over 7,900 short tons of this total were approved in the final 5 months of office. We will honour these to the letter, despite the colourable circumstances. The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Barnard) in the first days of office gave an asssrance to Queensland Mines that existing titles would be honoured. This will also be done. Australia, Sir, has world-ranking resources of uranium oxide. In aggregate tonnages of all cost types we probably rank second only to Canada. The Australian Atomic Energy Commission, whose advice I have followed very closely throughout my period of office and which has this statutory responsibility to advise me, informs me that our reserves are to a point to justify consideration of the first stage of a centrifuge-based enrichment plant. I believe that the Japanese and Australian Governments should agree jointly to commence a feasibility study of establishing in Australia a uranium enrichment facility, utilising Japanese technology and finance, which will be owned by the Australian Government, and which will enrich a proportion of our uranium reserves for the Japanese market under a long-term contract.

Our forthcoming ministerial visit to Japan is therefore of vital importance to our future uranium policy and discussions there will be on the basis of high national interest. The various uranium producing interests in Australia have been told specifically to await our return from Japan. We know and sympathise with the energy needs of Japan as our best trading partner. We intend to see that they are met on a proper basis. Equally, we will maximise Australia's financial returns from uranium while providing full energy security in this resource from Japan. We seek to strike a balance between the national interest on the medium and long term policy bases, while also ensuring a reasonable return to local uranium interests and their shareholders in the shorter term. Uranium is a strategic material of great significance and is the most highly concentrated naturally recurring energy material in commercial use today.

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