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Wednesday, 8 December 1976
Page: 3490

Mr JACOBI (Hawker) -In relation to the Foreign Proceedings (Prohibition of Certain Evidence) Amendment Bill reference was made by the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) and the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) to it being a matter of urgency and emergency. I question that. Let me say at once to the honourable member for St George that the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr Lionel Bowen) is to be congratulated because the amendments which the Attorney-General has proposed in this legislation were pointed out quite forcibly to the House when the initial Bill was dealt with on 18 November. Equally, I note that the Attorney-General in his second reading speech on this Bill stated:

The Government has concluded moreover that the Parliament should be able to disallow an order made by the Attorney-General in the same way as it would be able to act if the orders were made by regulation.

I commend the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Antony Whitlam) who raised this matter on 18 November. The only factor which is remiss is that the Attorney-General at that time was not prepared to accept either suggestion. In relation to this being emergency legislation, I placed on the notice paper, as far back as 8 September, a question relating to uranium cartels in 7 parts. I shall cite 3 of those points. They are:

(   1) Is the World Uranium Producers' Cartel, which was formed on the initiative of the Rio Tinto Zinc Corporation (RTZ), still in existence following the withdrawal of this company from the cartel earlier this year.

(   5 ) Does the current United States of America inquiry into alleged uranium price-fixing or other breaches of the United States anti-trust laws relate to the activities of these organisations; if so, which organisations?

(6)   If not, what is the basis for charges which have been made in the United States against Australian uranium companies for alleged price-fixing.

On 9 November I put another question containing a number of parts on the notice paper. It is question No. 1507. The question is directed to the Minister for National Resources (Mr Anthony). I asked:

Have any companies made representations to the Government to pass legislation to validate uranium price-fixing agreements which would otherwise contravene (a) the Trade Practices Act, (b) Article 83 of the Chaner of the European Economic Community and (c) United States of America anti-trust laws; if so, which companies.

I did not know what the emergency legislation was but I suggest to the Attorney-General that he had more than advanced knowledge of what would happen. As a matter of fact, in the week leading up to 18 November I attempted every day of the sitting to ask a question without notice of the Attorney-General. Unfortunately, the only day on which I had an opportunity was 18 November. This is the question I asked:

I draw the attention of the Attorney-General to my questions on notice relating to alleged uranium price-fixing and action being taken under the United States anti-trust laws. Is the Minister aware that subpoenas were lodged in the Supreme Court of New South Wales last Tuesday week? I am led to understand that requests for the collection of evidence of this nature for foreign tribunals would be regulated by the practices and procedures of relevant State courts. Has the Minister considered taking legislative action similar to that taken by the Canadian Government last September where it approved a regulation under the Atomic Energy Control Act to prevent removal from Canada of information relating to this matter? Can the Minister state what effects the action being taken under the United States anti-trust laws will have on his Government's uranium policies? Finally, can I get an answer to the questions that have been on the notice paper since 8 September?

The 2 preceding questions to which I referred are still not answered. I assume that because of the passage of this legislation they will become largely irrelevant. But I want to deal with the question of price validation because I believe that that was the signal to the Attorney-General that he ought to do something about it. I will deal with that later. The purpose of this legislation is to give some immunity to directors, public officials and companies. As I have pointed out before, we should extend that coverage as this legislation will give immunity only within Australia. That is quite apart from the principle involved in the legislation and the question of national sovereignty. I do not want to canvass at length the excellent speech made by the honourable member for Kingsford-Smith, but I suggest to the Attorney-General not only that people should peruse the statement made by the Canadian Minister for Mines last September but also that they should take the trouble to read the background paper to that statement, which is headed 'Background Paper on the Canadian Uranium Industry's Activities in the International Uranium Market'. That is important if one is to understand the necessity for this piece of legislation in the international context.

The other matter I want to raise- I have raised it before, but I have not had an answer from the Attorney-General- is that the question that faces the Government on this issue is not so much the passage of this legislation, important as that is, but that, if this legislation is to maximise the immunity to directors, public officials or companies, the only effective and real way to accomplish that is through a government marketing authority. At the moment we trust that this legislation will give these people and these companies immunity within Australia; but, as I have said before in the House, any individual who gets off a plane in San Francisco and is issued with a subpoena is bound by it. I well recall that at the height of the uranium debate in 1973 it was the Labor Government's policy that uranium ought to be marketed through a government marketing authority. That was repugnant to the then Opposition and it was repugnant to the uranium producers, but I noted in the Press recently that the uranium producers have changed their tack on this matter now. They would welcome a government marketing authority for no other reason than that it would give them the blanket immunity that they want.

I support the legislation and equally I support the amendment. Again I impress upon the Attorney-General and the Government the need to establish as quickly as possible a government marketing authority, particularly for uranium, not only to protect the people or companies which the Government seeks to protect under this legislation but, above all, to allow for an orderly marketing of uranium and to ensure that any returns from the marketing of uranium will be maximised in the best interests of the people. I support the legislation.

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