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Thursday, 27 September 1973
Page: 1628

Mr INNES (Melbourne) - I rise to support the amendment moved by the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor). The proposition moved by the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Hewson) is a long-established policy of the Victorian Branch of the Australian Labor Party and generally conforms with the policy of the Federal body of the Labor Party. It is fitting and appropriate that the proposed amendment should put this matter in its proper perspective. It is not simply a report that was distributed over the names of the people concerned but for many years its recommendations have been on the policy books of the Victorian Branch of the Australian Labor Party. Indeed, they were a part of the policy speech of the Leader of the State Parliamentary Labor Party during the recently held State elections. They are spelt out chapter and verse in the following terms:

A Labor Government will initiate and finance a major research study into the brown coal deposits, examining such potential areas of use such as the chemical industry, gasification and petroleum. The research undertaken will have the financial support of the Federal Government.

It was not just a matter of empty phrases such as those used by the honourable member for McMillan when he was a member of the Legislative Council of Victoria, as the member for that area. If the honourable member made those statements they could not have had much effect. Nobody ever got up in arms about them. The honourable member certainly did not feature many times in Press reports to the effect that he was screaming that the Liberal Government of the day had not acted on his advice. .

Mr Hewson - I rise on a point of order. I was quoted on that issue in the Press on several occasions during my term in the State Parliament.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Martin)Order!That is not a point of order.

Mr INNES - The honourable member must have been reported on page 133, in the comics section. It is ironical that at this time, the honourable member for McMillan should propose the establishment of a joint committee of inquiry. As I have indicated, this is a direct pinch from the Victorian Labor Party's election speech. I believe that the proposed committee can be an effective instrument not only in saving the lot of the people in the Latrobe Valley but also in endeavouring to influence the

Victorian Government to develop a properly integrated fuel policy for the benefit of the Victorian people as a whole, with ultimate influence on the use of Australian resources for Australian people, not to swell the bank balances of overseas investors.

We have heard a rather belated speech by the honourable member for McMillan. He was shedding crocodile tears about the situation in the Latrobe Valley. What did the honourable member say to the people who had been promised career industries in the Gas and Fuel Corporation or the State Electricity Commission of Victoria? In the face of bungling and policies that were directed towards the interests of private enterprise, what did the honourable member do to protect the Latrobe Valley people at that time? The brown coal industry has been brought to its knees by the very actions of the people whom he represented in the State Parliament. I am apprehensive - I think we all should be apprehensive - that this committee might become a phoney political exercise by the Liberal Party and the Country Party, either in this Parliament or in the State of Victoria. It is far too important for that. What happened in Victoria with the brown coal industry is very interesting. Brown coal was being sold for industrial and domestic use. The brown coal industry - the sale of briquettes - was a very good industry. But what happened? The State Government imposed a turnover tax on the Gas and Fuel Corporation and the State Electricity Commission. It was the confidence trick of the century. The State Government, under Sir Henry Bolte, imposed a 3 per cent turnover tax and then immediately increased the cost of fuel and electricity in that State. So the Victorian people were subsidising not only the efforts of people to bring the brown coal industry to its knees but also the oil companies which were dumping heating oil in Victoria although that oil was already being subsidised by their fuel sales.

By dumping oil on the people of Victoria competition was reduced to a minimum. The turnover tax, increased charges, the dumping of heating oil resources and the co-operation that the State Government gave to Esso-BHP in producing natural gas in competition with the briquette industry all amounted to sabotage and tantamount destruction of the brown coal industry. We all know of the great bungle with the machinery that was used to produce briquettes in Victoria. The State Government, of course, imported a huge briquette machine from Germany. It imported one machine and paid for years and years storage on equipment that had become obsolete. This was superimposed on the price of the briquettes that were sold to the consumers throughout Victoria. Now we have the 16 per cent member for McMillan coming here and shedding crocodile tears about the poor people in the Latrobe Valley. It was little recompense to them to find themselves losing their homes and having to pull up stakes after being guaranteed career jobs in the area because the Lurgi equipment was being shut down. What was the objective? The objective was simply to hand over to private enterprise the industry which the honourable member now wants to resurrect.

We want this type of committee to work. But can the honourable member for McMillan or any Government supporter who will support his proposition give us a guarantee that Ross Edwards and Tricky Dick will support the proposition? Or are we going to be entertained by the same performance as we have had when Ministers of the Federal Government in the areas of housing, transport and health and welfare have taken proposals to the State Government? What has it done? It has gone on with all this rubbish about State's rights and put impediments in the path of sound proposals and the offers of money to improve the lot of the people in Victoria. Can the Opposition guarantee that that will not happen again and that we will not go through a useless exercise with the State Government ar.d then at the crucial moment find that the same professional procrastination by the people in Victoria holds up any proposition that might be put forward?

As I have indicated there has also been gross misrepresentation about some of the offers that have been made in the areas to which I have referred. There is also another aspect of developments that might arise from the inquiries that are made. Questions were asked in the Victorian Legislative Assembly yesterday of Mr Balfour, the Minister for Mines. He readily supported what I have said, that from 1963 onwards the policy of the State Government was to run the industry down. There has been no attempt whatsoever to maintain it and the State Government has indicated that it is an unprofitable industry. It was more intent on handing over to private enterprise the resources and the expertise that might have flowed from the investigations of the State Electricity Commission, to which the Minister and the honourable member for McMillan have made reference.

A wealth of information has been accumulated by experts over a period of time. The brown coal industry and the State Electricity Commission were started as a State enterprise. The brown coal industry has suffered the same fate as some sections of the electricity supply industry, to the detriment of the Victorian people. One can reflect on some of the exercises that took place in the Kiewa hydroelectric scheme and the waste of money that accompanied the operations. Once again this was an attempt to hand a State instrumentality to private enterprise. The life blood of the Kiewa scheme was discontinued and the equipment was sold for about 10 per cent of its original cost to the contractor who was then working on the site.

We acclaim this proposition, not as coming originally from the honourable member for McMillan but as the established policy of the Australian Labor Party - established over a period of time. The Minister for Minerals and Energy has indicated that the backdrop of our philosophy is to use the Australian resources in the interest of the Australian people; not in the interests of Esso, Australian Char Pty Ltd or any of the masters of the people who sit opposite. We want the backwoodsmen not to stand up here in an empty, pious way and state the propositions that they have, I repeat, pinched out of the Australian Labor Party's policy. We want them to add weight to what they say and to assure this House that the committee will get the complete co-operation of the State Country Party and State Liberal Party to go through a meaningful examination of the proposition, cease to sabotage it, cease to hand over the resources to private enterprise and co-operate with the Minister who has indicated clearly time and time again that we want the resources to be used in the best interests of the Australian people.

If ever there were a case to be made out for this proposal one must harken back to the Latrobe Valley again. It was pitiful to see the families which had spent years and years in the Latrobe Valley having to send their children away from home to get employment because employment opportunities had ceased as a result of the sabotage of the industry to which I have made reference and to which our friend has been alluding. Who was responsible for that? The people who were responsible for that are the very people who are standing up here and shedding crocodile tears about the fate of the people in country districts. What did they do? The policy of the Australian

Country Party is also the policy of the Victorian State Government.

The Porta-Gas Co., which would be included in one of the areas of investigation suggested for the committee and which is a monopoly aided and abetted by the Victorian Government, sells Porta-gas to country people at twice the price per ton as it does to Japanese interests. I sincerely hope and trust that the proposition, as amended, is carried. The amendment puts the matter in its proper perspective and gives credit to the right people and that is the people of Victoria. This idea was initiated by the people in Victoria. I sincerely hope that it is carried and that we can get assurances from the Victorian Liberal Party and the Victorian Country Party - the cohorts and the counterparts of the honourable members sitting opposite - to ensure that it is carried out not as a cheap political exercise but in the best interests of the Australian people generally and in particular the Victorian people.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Martin)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

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