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Wednesday, 27 October 1971
Page: 2574

Mr MacKELLAR (WARRINGAH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I refer the Minister for Customs and Excise to the report on indigenous crude oil by Sir Leslie Melville which has been tabled in the Parliament. Is it a fact that the report indicates that the price proposed to be charged for the refining of indigenous crude oil by local refiners is above that which could be considered fair and reasonable? Is the Government concerned that, following this report, the price at present agreed for various grades of petrol could be open to question? Does the Government intend to take any action to ensure that Australians are supplied with petrol at a price fair to both supplier and consumer?

Mr CHIPP (HOTHAM, VICTORIA) (Minister for Customs and Excise) - I think it is important to realise the context in which Sir Leslie Melville wrote in his report which I tabled yesterday. It was in consequence of a statement which I made in this House on 7th September to solve one particular problem that was flowing from the Government's indigenous oil policy which states basically that oil found in Australia will be refined in Australia. Notwithstanding that requirement, there were marketers who were importing petrol with no refinery capacity in Austraia. It had been reported to me by at least one of these marketers who did not have a refinery that such marketers could not conclude a satisfactory refining deal with the present refiners. Under the terms of the policy I am obliged not to give an export licence unless all negotiations are exhausted. In that context, rather than the Government or myself making an arbitrary judgment the Government decided to appoint an arbiter who would fix a fair and reasonable price in those circumstances, bearing in mind the offer already made and the fact that the marketers did not have a refinery. So I believe that in the general context Sir Leslie's report cannot be seen nakedly as a report on what can be a fair and reasonable price of refining per se but on what is a fair and reasonable price of refining in these rather peculiar circumstances. The report has gone to the people negotiating. I believe it would be quite improper at this stage for me, as the Minister administering the indigenous oil policy, to make any comment on the report, because the purpose of the report was to get the parties together to negotiate. I think that any comment from myself as Minister at this stage could prejudice those negotiations between the 2 parties. But I commend the report to the attention of honourable members and ask them to read it in the light of the circumstances which I have just described.

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