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Thursday, 18 September 1941

Senator ASHLEY (New South Wales) . - in reply - I regret that Senator Spicer has left the chamber. He said that some of the statements which I made earlier were false. I have never made a statement, either in this chamber or on any public platform, which I did not believe to be correct. I am not in the habit of making false statements here or anywhere else.

Senator McBride - He did not say that they were deliberately false.

Senator ASHLEY - He said that they were demonstrably false. I maintain that no answer has been given either by the Minister for Munitions . (Senator McBride), or Senator Spicer to my allegations. I still contend that, on the basis of an increase of income of 4d. a gallon, the major oil companies are making an additional profit of £40,000 on each tanker of petrol arriving in Australia, that is, after allowing a sum of £10,000 in respect of increased costs. However, as Senator Armstrong pointed out, the majority of the major oil companies own their own tankers, and, therefore, are not at the mercy of the shipping companies which have sky-rocketed freights. In those circumstances, the estimate of £10,000 in respect of additional transport charges is very liberal. I do not retract one word of my earlier remarks. These companies are receiving an additional profit of £40,000 on each tanker of petrol arriving in Australia. On the basis of a monthly consumption of 12,000,000 gallons, that represents approximately an increased profit of £160,000 a month. I do not know Mr. Craig personally, he is probably better known to the Minister, and other honorable senators, than he is to me. I met him on a couple of occasions, when he supplied me with certain particulars. However, apart from Mr. Craig, 1 was requested by an officer of the Government of New South Wales to endeavour to find out the reason for the delay in granting permission for the establishment of this industry. Naturally, I consider it to be my duty as a representative of the people of that State to ascertain the reason. It should be known to the Minister and to the Government. Yet, when I asked questions on this matter previously, the only . reply the Minister gave was that the Cabinet was still considering it. The Government should make a decision as soon as possible. Whether the decision does or does not favour the proposition is not the point. I want some finality in the matter, and so do those who wish to form a company. The information upon which I have based my case to-day is contained in the following statement: -

In October, 1938, Mr. David A. Craig returned from a visit to the United States of America with the object of establishing an oil refinery, having as its primary purpose the production of bitumen. Australia's requirements of bitumen total 140,000 tons per annum, and it was with the object of meeting Australia's requirements that Mr. Craig proposed the establishment of the oil refinery. Mr. Craig visited Canberra in October, 1938, and, during an interview with Customs officials, received encouragement in support of the establishing of the undertaking. During Mr. Craig's visit to America, he interested certain independent American oil interests, who sent experts to Australia to investigate the proposal. These experts endorsed the soundness and economics of the proposal and their principals eventually decided to subscribe half of the required capital. In the meantime the Capital Issues Advisory Board was formed, and immediate application was made to it for consent to register a company. The fullest information was made available to the Capital Issues Advisory Board, and although no definite advice was received regarding their rejection of the proposal, it was ascertained from the then Treasurer (Mr. Spender) that the reason for the failure to grant consent was on account of the proposition being economically unsound. The American interests, after waiting many months to get approval, were so disgusted with the delay- that they withdrew from the proposition.

A second group of oil interests in America was then interested, who despatched experts to Australia. They also agreed as to the soundness of the proposition. The principals of the second group of American oil companies agreed to find capital and provide technical assistance and make available plans for the building of the refinery. They also undertook to make ample quantities of crude oil available.

The second group of experts who visited Australia happened to travel on the same boat as Sir Norman Brookes, and, as a result, Sir Norman Brookes was acquainted with the mission of the American technicians. As a result of Sir Norman Brookes's interest in the proposal, Sir Bertram Stevens, former Premier of New South Wales, was introduced to the Americans, and Sir Bertram advised that Mr. David Craig had no political pull and therefore would never receive permission to form a company.

The American interests then called upon Mr. Craig and his associate in the venture, Sir John Butters, and inquired whether they were in a position to form the proposed company. They were forced to admit that the company could not be formed until such time as consent to register was obtained from the Capital Issues Advisory Board. The American interests then decided that Sir Bertram Stevens was the man who could get finality and an arrangement was made whereby Sir Bertram Stevens made an application to the Capital Issues Advisory Board for permission to register a company along lines similar to those originally submitted by Mr. Craig.

Within a period of four weeks, the application was granted, but was subsequently withdrawn when it was discovered that Mr. Craig, who had made a prior application, still had his application on the file and that it had not been disposed of.

Bound about this time, Senator McLeay, as Minister for Customs, referred the question relating to bitumen production to the Tariff Board for inquiry and report. The Board's report, which was presented in June of this year, after a delay of seven months had elapsed, introduced the proposals of Mr. Craig, and substantiated all claims made by him. Since the presentation of the report in June last, most Cabinet Ministers have been interviewed in the vain hope that the new industry might be allowed to getunder way.

After the board's report was received a letter was written to Mr. Craig from the Capital Issues Advisory Board, suggesting that he make a new application for permission to register and that the fullest information be furnished relating to the American suppliers of oil, the names of overseas firms likely to be interested in the proposal, so that the information could be made to the Oil Advisory Committee. As the members of that committee are associated with various interests associated with the oil industry, and naturally opposed to any new refinery in Australia, Mr. Craig declined to furnish the information sought and referred the Capital Issues Advisory Board to his original application. Had the Capital Issues Advisory Board not stopped the establishment of the refinery, production would have been commenced in November of last year, and the through-put of the refinery would have been 20,000,000 gallons of petrol per annum. Employment would have been found for 300 men and there would have been effected a saving in overseas exchange of over £1,000,000 per annum.

I have no personal interest whatever in this matter. "My only concern is that encouragement should be given to those who are trying to alleviate hardship caused by petrol rationing. The cost of providing retorts for the production of oil fuel from shale and coal would probably be double that of the plant necessary for this project. I ask the Government to give immediate consideration to this matter and to facilitate the inauguration of this industry in New South Wales.

Senator Gibson - I rise to a point of order. During the period in which the Deputy President occupied the chair this afternoon, Mr. President, something occurred which will place a joint committee of this Parliament in an extraordinary position. Senator Spicer, the chairman of the Joint Committee on Profits, has had his copy of the evidence of that committee impounded. The file of documents contains information which he requires in order that the inquiries of the committee, may proceed. I should like to know what steps are necessary for him to regain the papers which have been laid on the table of the Senate.

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