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Thursday, 31 May 1984
Page: 2289

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK(9.09) —At the outset let me remind the Committee and the community that there is in this chamber at the moment one Labor senator, namely, the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Walsh). That is at least one gain because for quite a part of today and previous days Ministers have not even felt that they should be here to take their place in the Senate. That fact ought to be recorded because there is such a contempt for the Parliament that this chamber is not attended by a Minister. The fact is that not one Australian Labor Party senator, other than the Minister, is in the chamber at present.

I want to follow up the remarks that have been made by Senator Chaney and the Minister. The Minister has said, to support his argument, that a number of companies have contacted him and told him that they want to be dissociated from remarks made by the Australian Petroleum Exploration Association. Now that the Minister has said that, and as he wants that to be public knowledge, I invite him to tell us the names of those companies. He can scarcely say that without producing the names of the companies. I invite him to do that. The response to Senator Chaney was an outrageous one. In fact, what was said was: 'We do not really know what will happen to our policies except that we will get more money; that is certain'. This debate is going on while one of the most critical situations in relation to the world's energy is happening in the Middle East. There is a likelihood, as has been recognised by the stock exchanges in the United Kingdom and the United States of America only today and yesterday that oil supplies could be cut off. This has been a likelihood for some time, whether by the Iran-Iraq war or by some other method. The job of government must be to ensure therefore a crash program to determine oil exploration and to find and to guarantee oil exploration--

Senator Walsh —I thought you fixed it up with Rundle.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —I listen with great glee to everything that the Minister says. He has one catch-cry. He has a grin on his face while he is listening to comments being made about a world crisis. Let me answer the Minister on Rundle once and for all. It was I, as the then Minister, who discovered the state of Rundle and got the two companies concerned to expose to the community that what had been represented to the stock exchanges was not true . It was as a result of my actions that the stock exchanges re-evaluated the Rundle shares. Let the Minister continue his grins in future. He has been falsely talking up this economy. I do not want to hear in this place any more calling out of talking up.

While he grins let me go on with this debate because he is grinning in his usual buffoon fashion when this great issue is before us. Here is a Minister supposedly responsible for guaranteeing to Australia secure indigenous oil supplies at a time of great crisis. What is happening? He knows that there has been a great fall off and a prediction of a great fall off in seismic activity. He knows that, therefore, along that line there will be less activity. He knows, for example, that the early oil wells drilled at Jabiru have proved greatly disappointing so that what was optimism has now turned to preliminary pessimism. He knows that the industry has advised him that even if the rate of exploration and discovery-that was a very good discovery rate set by the Fraser Government- should continue, it will only just maintain the volume of oil that Australia needs to remain about 67 per cent self-sufficient. Any fall off will force us into a precarious overseas trade situation. He knows that. Yet he has embarked upon a course of tax raiding.

Let me take one example. During the Estimates Committee hearings he demonstrated that he intends to put a front-end loading bonus on exploration permits. This is, of course, not only a question of tax grab. But it will not necessarily result in a tax grab because what one takes at the beginning one may lose at the end. One may take a quick trick but lose the game. The danger with such options and systems is that they will go only to the very rich companies that can offer more of the lollipop in the early stage. I put it to the Committee that what is happening is that, in the interest of grabbing money, a series of policies that are, at the very least, precarious, is being embarked upon. The Minister knows that the Whitlam Government had a disastrous oil exploration record. In the last year of the Whitlam Government something like 25 wells were dug against 230-odd in each of the last years of the Fraser Government. Before the Whitlam Government went out of office there had been some 22 oil drilling rigs in Australia. At the time it went out of office I think there was one rig in Australia, and I doubt whether it was working. That is the kind of philosophy that occurs when Labor Governments' policies are in place. Let the Minister mention Rundle now because I can talk up those years and remind the Minister of what happened when the Whitlam Government forced down oil exploration in Australia.

This Government is coming along with its bonuses and its resource rent taxes at a time when it should be doing the very reverse and giving incentives. The import parity pricing system gave an assurance to Australia that we had an indigenous industry and that, if we went on with that kind of stimulus, we could keep Australia, in the years immediately ahead, at a level of being about three- quarters self-sufficient. I remind the Minister that, at the very best, his predictions at the moment can only be that we will be only 67 to 70 per cent self-sufficient for the next two or three years. One cannot peek into the 1990s or beyond and say that the level of our oil self-sufficiency will not fall. The drilling, exploration and seismic activity which we do in the coming year will produce the oil for the 1990s and beyond. In the face of that, the Government says: 'We are interested in money. We are going to grab money. We do not know what result this will have'. What an outrageous situation in the face of the Iran-Iraq war and in the face of all the known facts to say: 'We do not know what effect the war will have. Who can say? We can only tell afterwards'. That, of course, is what the Whitlam Government did, and it brought about disaster.

Since the Minister has said that a number of companies want to be dissociated, I ask for the names of those companies. Let us have them. From what do they want to be dissociated? Our advice is that the members of APEA are unanimous in their opposition to the resource rent tax.

Senator Walsh —No, they are not.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —I invite the Minister to stand up and tell us because he gratuitously introduced this argument and gratuitously, to support his own claims, said that a number of companies contacted him and wanted to be dissociated on particular matters. I ask: What companies and what grounds of dissociation?

The CHAIRMAN —The question is that the vote for the Department of Resources and Energy be passed without requests.