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Thursday, 13 September 1984
Page: 968

Senator ROBERTSON — Has the attention of the Minister for Resources and Energy been drawn to a report in the West Australian of last Friday in which Sir Charles Court is quoted as saying that without the State Electricity Commission' s take or pay contract the North West Shelf gas project would not have gone ahead and that with this sort of contract the State could make a profit from the Dampier pipeline investment? Are these claims by the former Liberal Western Australian Premier sound? Is his other major claim, that without this project Perth would be running short of gas, accurate?

Senator WALSH —Senator Robertson has really asked three questions within his single question. I am aware of the report in the West Australian-indeed, I have it in front of me-and the various claims and assertions made by Sir Charles Court. In summary, his statement is the usual amalgam of bluster, inaccuracy and irrelevancy. He asserts that Perth would have run out of gas from the previous areas of supply. That, of course, would have been true sooner or later but there was enough gas supply for three years and probably six years. The rest of the Woodada reserves were not proved up because there was absolutely no point in doing it after 1980.

He also asserts that unless he had forced the SEC to sign that take or pay contract in 1980 the project would not have gone ahead. I do not believe that is the case; but that is more a matter of judgment. I might add that Sir Charles made no comments on the $3m that he was directly responsible for squandering on a redundant, unused grain handling terminal at Broome, or in present value the $ 150m that has been sunk into his other great white elephant in the Ord River scheme.

The export and domestic phases of the North West Shelf project should have gone ahead simultaneously. Now is the time for them to go ahead. Now is the time, because the export phase is about to be finalised, I believe, and the domestic phase should have been done at the same time. The most significant claim made by Sir Charles Court is that overseas experience has shown that one can make profits out of storing gas. He went on to assert that the Western Australian Government could make such profits in buying today from the joint venturers gas which conceivably it will not be able to market until the 1990s. Indeed, Sir Charles was quoted as saying:

When eventually you take the gas out it is likely to be worth more than at the time you paid for it.

If Sir Charles really believes that, I am quite sure that the Western Australian Government would be delighted to sell to him whatever quantity of gas he cares to buy at the price the Western Australian Government, via the SEC, must pay for it and allow Sir Charles to pick up the windfall gains in the 1990s. I invite Sir Charles to make such an offer to the Western Australian Government; better still, he could exercise his self-proclaimed entrepreneurial skills and set up a finance company to buy as much gas from the Western Australian Government as it can supply and pick up the windfall gains that Sir Charles says will be there in the 1990s. That, of course, is the objective test of whether Sir Charles really believes that or not: First, whether he will back his claim with his own money and, secondly, whether he can persuade, using his self-proclaimed entrepreneurial skills, other financiers to do the same thing. I do not expect, however, that either will happen.

The real point is that politicians like Sir Charles are essentially self- indulgent. They mouth the rhetoric of free enterprise and then commit public funds to underwrite their fantasies and ego trips. Indeed, the attribute of the Court syndrome is the epitome of the political attitude which leads to the establishment of what Professor Shann originally, and subsequently John Stone, referred to as grasshoppers.