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Friday, 21 May 1926

Senator DUNCAN (New South Wales) . - I am entirely in favour of the bill. I believe that its acceptance will be in the best interests of Australia, because it will ensure to the people of this country an additional source of supply of motor spirit. But whilst I favour the measure and shall vote for it, I feel, that some honorable senators who have spoken in this debate have not been wise in making an attack upon other companies that are doing business in Australia. There can be no doubt that the companies referred to have, on occasions, attempted to stifle competition. We all know what was done in connexion with the supply of kerbside petrol pumps to garages, and the conditions under which they were erected. But I am not sure that the companies are entirely to blame for that. What they did was only in accordance with the commercial practices of the day, and what other commercial concerns are doing every day of the week to ensure that the public shall purchase their commodity in preference to that supplied by opponents in business. I have gone to a certain amount of trouble to ascertain the exact position, because I like to be fair even towards opponents, and I regard the overseas companies as opponents of the Australian company. The estimated consumption of petrol in Australia for 1926 was 16,000,000 cases, or 128,000,000 gallons, and the estimated consumption of kerosene was 3,750,000 cases, or 30,000,000 gallons. The actual consumption last year was 12,000,000 cases of petrol, and 3,000,000 cases of kerosene. It is interesting to note that the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited supplied only 6 per cent. of that total, so that whilst we may desire to do everything possible to place this Australian company on a sound footing, we should not go out of our way to make wild and rash statements about its opponents, as possibly they may be induced to make the fight still more bitter.

Senator Payne -I think that the honorable senator himself was guilty of a wild statement just now.

Senator DUNCAN - What was that?

Senator Payne - His statement about the erection of kerbside petrol pumps.

Senator DUNCAN - I believe that what I said in that connexion was true. But I want to give the other side of the picture. It has been said that the British Imperial Oil Company is not a British concern. That may be true, but its head-quarters are in London, and although it is associated with Dutch interests, a very large proportion of the shareholding is in British hands, and during the war it contributed very materially to the success of the British and Allied arms. I was surprised to learn that in six weeks during the war period a large distillery was transferred from Holland to England so as to make available to British munition manufacturers ample supplies of constituent elements re quired for the manufacture of TNT. At the close of the war the British and French Governments specially thanked the Shell Oil Company for its splendid services, in making available ample supplies of petrol for the Allied armies. In view of these facts and leaving aside altogether other considerations, it is not wise that we should go out of our way to attack companies that are doing important business in Australia; that is not likely to materially assist the Australian company.

Senator Pearce - To what statement in the course of the debate does the honorable senator refer.

Senator DUNCAN - I could give the Minister quite a number of statements that in my opinion, were uncalled for. Some remarks of the Minister in introducing the billwere not as well chosen as they might have been. Although I can understand the anxiety of the Minister to have the measure accepted by the Senate, I think that, in this debate, we should confine our remarks to the bill itself, and to the advisability of doing something to assist the establishment of the industry in Australia. There is no reason why we should reflect upon other companies.

Senator Pearce - It is only fair that the honorable senator should indicate what statements he objects to.

Senator DUNCAN - Possibly I misunderstood the Minister. But if he did not make any disparaging remarks concerning the rival companies, it is a fact that such statements are constantly being made in the press, and I feel that something ought to be said on the other side.

Senator Thompson - The statement that the two rival companies have been exploiting the Australian public is not fair.

Senator DUNCAN - I think there is a good deal of truth in that charge, but as said before, I want to be fair. I believe that, but for the presence of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limi ted in the field, the Australian public would have been still further exploited.

Senator Foll - Is the honorable senator aware that during the war period the companies which, according to him, made noble sacrifices in the cause of the Allies pushed up the price of petrol to 30s. a case

Senator DUNCAN - I am aware that they were 'well paid for all that they did, but we must not forget that they are commercial concerns, and there is no reason why we should quarrel with them on that account. Naturally they carry on business for the purpose of making a profit. It has been said, in the course of this debate, that the purpose of the bill is to assist an Australian company in competition with foreign companies. What is the position. Last year the Shell Oil Company controlled mainly, as I have shown, by British interests, spent over £3,000,000 in Australia. Of that amount £500,000 was paid in wages to Australian employees. Surely it can be termed an Australian industry. We do not wish to do anything that will assist in crippling a huge concern which is spending such a large sum of money in this country and employing Australian labour at a cost of £500,000 a year. We ought to treat these companies with a certain amount of consideration, although we are opposing them by assisting a concern in which the Government has an interest. I am strongly supporting the bill, but I submit these facts in a spirit of fairness, and because I believe it is not iri our interests, or in the interests of the future of Australia, to antagonize these great concerns that have been and are still furnishing our main supplies of liquid fuel and certain by-products.

Senator Foll - Does' the honorable senator suggest that, because of certain statements made here, these companies will withdraw their petrol from the Australian market, where they sell millions of pounds' worth of spirit?

Senator DUNCAN - I do not think they will. The honorable senator tried Commonwealth Oil Refineries petrol in his car, as I did, and stopped using it.

Senator Foll - That is not true. It is a deliberate lie.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Newlands). - The honorable senator must withdraw that expression.

Senator Foll - I cannot allow the honorable senator to make such a statement concerning me without answering it. What I have said is correct, and I stand bv it.

The "DEPUTY PRESIDENT.- The honorable senator has said that a statement made by Senator Duncan is a deliberate lie. He knows that such language is both unparliamentary and highly disorderly, and I therefore ask him to withdraw his remark.

Senator Foll - I withdraw the remark, but the statement is a terminological inexactitude.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.- It must be withdrawn without qualification.

Senator Foll - I have withdrawn it, and I cannot do any more.

Senator DUNCAN - I regret that I have said anything concerning the honorable senator to which he takes exception. I am not supporting certain interests, but am only endeavouring to be fair to them. The facts aro as I have, stated.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator's statement is a reflection upon the quality of the petrol produced by the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited.

Senator DUNCAN - The Minister (Senator Pearce) stated that the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited product is equal to that retailed by the other companies. I wish it were. I tried it, as I had no desire to use anything else.

Senator Payne - How long ago?

Senator DUNCAN - Quite recently. I am supported in my contention by the fact that the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited product was withdrawn from the market in New South Wales for six weeks. Whether the product is again on the market in New South Wales I cannot say. I hope it is, and that the quality will be such as will enable users to be satisfied with it.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator said ho was referring to petrol purchased this year.

Senator DUNCAN - I am, and I can supply the Minister with the name of the garage, and can also assure him that the proprietor informed me that he could not obtain further supplies because the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited was making certain- alterations in its plant, which it was hoped would result in improving the quality of its product. There is an old saying, " It is not wise to place all one's eggs in one basket." So far as supplies of petrol in Australia are concerned, it is well to note that the British Imperial Oil Company have sources of supply in many countries, which are not likely to be interfered with. If we depend upon the one source, there is not only a possibility, but an extreme danger, that at some time supplies may be cut off, particularly as the crude oil refined here is obtained from Persia, which is in a more or less, unsettled state, and which, as we know, is coming under the influence of Russia, where Bolshevism holds sway. In these circumstances, we do not know when our supplies of petrol may be interfered with. Whilst we should do our utmost to assist the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, it is unwise to antagonize or embitter other companies which are not depending upon Australia to absorb the whole of their products. We can treat them fairly, and at the same time show the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited that consideration to which it is undoubtedly entitled.

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