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Wednesday, 28 November 1973
Page: 4002


Mr KEATING (Blaxland) - The attitude of the Opposition to the subject of oil and minerals is obvious. Even though the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn) trots into this place regularly every couple of weeks with an industry handout, the Opposition does not treat the subject seriously, as is illustrated by the fact that the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter), who is one of the Opposition's most incompetent spokesmen, is the second speaker for the Opposition in the debate. Early in his speech the honourable member for Kennedy gave some details about the state of the mining industry in Queensland, which is the State from which he comes. He was not talking specifically about oil; he was talking specifically about minerals. Let me tell him something about Mount Isa Mines Ltd.


Mr Katter - Come up to Mount Isa with me.


Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member for Kennedy will cease interjecting. He was heard in silence when he spoke in the debate.


Mr KEATING - Let me tell the honourable member for Kennedy something about Mount Isa Mines Ltd, which is in the electorate he represents but never lives in. This year Mount Isa Mines Ltd achieved-


Mr Katter - Come up to Mount Isa with me and say that.


Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member for Kennedy will cease interjecting. I remind the honourable member that there will be a week's holiday for him on the next occasion.


Mr KEATING - This year Mount Isa Mines achieved a net profit of $31,740,000. What was the average price at which the metals were sold? Copper was sold at $963 a ton, lead at $259 a ton and zinc at $313 a ton. By comparison Australian prices quoted on 16 November 1973 at the London Metal Exchange were $1,460 a ton for copper as against the $963 with which the money was earned, $295 a ton for lead as against $259 and $400 a ton for zinc as against $313. So the profit next year will be much greater than $31,740,000. So much for his remarks about the state of the mining industry in Queensland.

The fact of the matter is the Opposition will do anything and come at any shabby tactic to topple the Government. As far as the Opposition is concerned the interests of the public of Australia can go to hell. Only a couple of weeks ago we had the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) and members of the Liberal Party of Australia goading the Government to kick the Arabs and to refuse to sell them wheat. They were trying to do everything possible to jeopardise the flow of oil from the Middle East to Australia. But 2 years ago we saw the Leader of the Country Party come into this chamber and introduce amendments to the Export Payments Insurance Corporation Act to enable the Corporation to accept liability for the sale of wheat to the Arab countries. Because the Country Party's own electoral base was in trouble and its wheat stocks declining the Country Party agreed to the sale of wheat to a market which might not pay for it. The Country Party let the Commonwealth of Australia, through the Export Payments Insurance Corporation, pick up the Lability. But what happens when the tide changes and the Country Party is in Opposition? The Leader of the Country Party walked into this place 2 weeks ago and said of the same countries in relation to the continuation of the same contracts: 'Refuse them wheat'. At the same time the honourable member for Farrer and the honourable member for Kennedy have come into this chamber and said that we ought to be looking forward to Australia's oil reserves and the continuity of supply from the Middle East. How can there be any continuity of supply from the Middle East if we offend the Middle East countries by breaking off commercial transactions we have with them for the supply of wheat? Not only that but the self-appointed industry advocate - the Leader of the Country Party - and his cohort, the honourable member for Farrer, came into this chamber a couple of weeks ago and badgered the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) because the Government wanted to acquire natural gas and condensate at the well head. They said that was a trespass upon the rights and properties of the Woodside-Burmah consortium. What they were in fact trying to do was to protect the rights of Woodside-Burmah to export gas and condensate from the North West Shelf. On the one hand they say that the Government must allow this group to export because it has spent money and explored and on the other they say that the Government has to look after Australia's domestic requirements. They say that the Government has to look after the continuity of oil and petrol supplies to Australia while at the same time allowing Woodside-Burmah to export. They should get their case clearly in their minds. The fact is that the Government has absolutely no case whatsoever to answer in terms of the conservation of oil and the continuity of supplies from the Middle East and in relation to what it does in terms of oil exploration in Australia.

Earlier in this debate the Minister gave some figures concerning oil exploration in Australia. For the last 12 months to June 1973 a total of $79m was spent, which is the same as was spent in 1972. That means that there has been no diminution of the amount of money being spent on oil exploration in Australia. As the Minister pointed out, the reason why there has been a downturn in on-shore exploration is because the propensity for finding oil on-shore is not as great as it is for finding oil off-shore. Another factor that he mentioned, and quite properly, is that the success ratio for off-shore drilling in Australia has been unparalleled anywhere in the world. One well in every 3.5 holes drilled is almost 5 times better than any comparable area anywhere in the world. The honourable member for Farrer mentioned that a couple of weeks ago, but it did not suit his argument to mention it again in this debate. So it was conveniently forgotten. But the fact of the matter is Australia is quite self sufficient for the moment in terms of oil.

It is true that in the aggregate we have 8 years supply. But 2 years ago, when the Australian Labor Party was in Opposition and the present Minister for Minerals and Energy was a back bench member of the Parliament, he was saying in this chamber that Australia's oil supplies are limited to 8 or 10 years and that there ought to be an increase in the exploration for oil in this country. He was the only sentry at the gate who was talking about the possibility of a restriction of the supply of fuel to the rest of the world from Arab countries. He was the only sentry at the gate who was talking about the energy crisis that could face the world and this nation. Now honourable members opposite want to hop on the bandwagon and say that the Government has failed in its responsibilities. But for this Government, the future of every motorist in Australia, of every person who enjoys heating in his home and of every industry that enjoys the use of fuel oil, natural gas and so on would be in jeopardy. The most telling point that the Minister made was that because of the administration by the honourable member for Farrer of the National Development portfolio in the days of the previous Government, through the deals the honourable member for Farrer made with the Victorian Government, the consumption of natural gas in Australia is limited to only 5.6 per cent of Australia's energy requirements, whereas in every other comparable country in the world it is 20.7 per cent. If we were supplementing our intake or our usage of petroleum with natural gas to the ratio that most other countries are supplementing their intake or usage we would not be facing these problems. The honourable member for Farrer mentioned furnace oil. It has been referred to in this House by myself and the Minister for Minerals and Energy for about 3 years. There is absolutely no reason why commercial enterprise in the city of Melbourne and the State of Victoria for the moment cannot switch across their furnaces from the firing of petroleum to the firing of natural gas. That is something that should have happened. It is something that honourable members opposite should have encouraged to happen but did not.

So, at the moment, Australia is dependent on the Middle East for only 18 per cent of its oil consumption. Because of the heavy gravity of Middle East oil, after cracking the 5 per cent to 10 per cent of residuals is used for furnace fuel. If we were not worried about the question of furnace fuel and the need for the importation of heavy crude from the Middle East and if the honourable member for Farrer and the previous Government had encouraged industry in Australia to use natural gas for the firing of furnaces, we would not be needing Middle East crude at all. The other 12 per cent of our requirements which is imported comes from Indonesia. Together with our importation of crude from the Middle East it means that a total of 30 per cent of our requirements for crude is imported. So we are dependent on the Middle East for only 18 per cent of our oil requirements and this Government is going to encourage industry to move into natural gas for firing furnaces and boilers. Not only is the Government going to do that; as the Minister for Minerals and Energy said, the Government is also going to embark upon a program to investigate the possibility of the hydrogenation of coal to turn it into motor spirit. At the moment, the estimates are that a barrel of petrol can be produced by the hydrogenation of coal at $10.50 a barrel and it is estimated that by 1978 the price of oil in the world will be at about that figure. So by 1978 this process will be worth our while. At the moment. Australia produces 56 million tons of coal a year. We have reserves of 200,000 million tons of black coal of which 50 per cent is recoverable and about 200,000 million tons of brown coal, again 50 per cent of which is recoverable. It is quite easy for us through this process to convert a broad proportion of that coal into motor spirit.


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







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