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Wednesday, 27 September 1972
Page: 1282


Senator GIETZELT (New South Wales) - The Senate and the Australian people are indebted to the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Murphy) for providing the Senate with an opportunity to debate not a question of components parts, as Senator Laucke put it in simplistic terms, but the important question of the future of a great Australian industry which undoubtedly will play a major part in the development of this country in the years ahead. I refer, of course, to the natural gas industry. We are concerned about the first step in developing a new resource which Australia is blessed to have in large quantities and which will augment the power and fuel potential of this country. The Minister for Works (Senator Wright) criticised the Opposition for taking the steps that it has taken to have this matter debated in the Senate. What other avenue is available to the Parliament to debate the importance of natural gas and the ancillary problems that go with the development of this resource? I refer of course to the provision of pipes to enable our first major development in this field.

It is interesting to note that both Senator Webster and Senator Laucke were sufficiently aware of the criticism by the Australian Labor Party in relation to this matter to conclude that Australian industry has not been given a fair go in connection with the provision of pipes for this project. The Senate has been given an opportunity to record its displeasure at the failure of the Government to do any pre-planning in respect of natural gas.

From the layman's point of view it has become clear over the last 3 or 4 years that natural gas is going to become a major source of fuel in Australia. Any government worth its salt, any government concerned with the economy, with employment or with industry would have had its officers working to establish the requirements associated with this new industry. The Government should have recognised the potential of natural gas and realised that it was going to become a major source of fuel supply in this country. It should have taken the necessary initiatives and steps to alert Australian industry to its responsibility of providing all the component parts to put this industry on its feet. In other words, Mr Acting Deputy President, the Government should have been carving out its leadership role. It should have been pre-planning and preparing for the future.

However, as has been the case so often in recent years, we have an ad hoc Government, a Government that moves after the event, a Government that never looks to the future, a Government that steals policies from the Australian Labor Party when it is caught flat-footed, as has been the case on so many questions in recent times. This

Government has been acting in absentia and has not been applying business principles to the affairs of this nation.

Australia has extensive gas reserves and this particular pipeline project is only the start, a very minor start, to a major development which undoubtedly will be with us for the next 30 or 40 years. At the moment we are concerned about the provision of pipes for a pipeline 780 miles long. However it is anticipated by people who have applied themselves to an investigation of these matters that within the next 10 or 15 years Australia will require something like 20,000 miles of pipe. The Australian industry has taken certain initiatives. What we are debating in this case is a struggle between rival monopoly groups, the Australian Gas Light Co. and Esso-BHP. Clearly, so far as the Australian Gas Light Co. is concerned, it is a matter of sour grapes because it missed out on some of the earlier exploratory rights in the natural gas field. However, we have unlimited supplies and a tremendous potential and these facts have been within the knowledge of the Government for a considerable number of years. Whilst it is conceded that there may be limited experience and knowledge in certain industrial undertakings in Australia about making pipes to the proper specifications, surely it was within the competence and responsibility of the Government to take the initiative to pre-plan for the sort of eventuality that we are faced with on this occasion.

I find it inconceivable that the Government should attempt to defend its position. I want to refer the Senate to a series of questions which the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr Anthony) was forced to answer in the other place and the comments that he made when pressed time and time again by one of the shadow Ministers, the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones). The Minister for Trade and Industry said:

The second consideration is that we do not infringe basic principles-

I gather that he was referring to tha Government. - that is, we went to see commercial decisions being made by commercial firms themselves without too much intrusion by the Government.

How much double talk and hypocrisy do we have to put up with from this Government? If in fact commercial organisations are to make commercial decisions why is it that in the Budget documents which are before the Senate the Government refers to Commonwealth payments to industry? I refer honourable senators to page 74 of the Budget Speech by the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) where there is a statement setting out Commonwealth payments to industry. That statement is as follows:

These payments are estimated to amount to $367m in 1972-73, compared with payments of . . . about $73m 10 years ago. . . .

The Government accepts responsibilities in the fields of exports, industry, investment allowances and other incentives in order to get industry moving along certain lines and so, according to its limited ideas, get industrial development which will be of some advantage to this nation. On the other hand, when it comes to a question of conflict we see the Leader of the Country Party, the Minister for Trade and Industry, taking quite a contrary stand to that of his colleague, Senator Webster, this evening.

It is clear that the Australian pipe manufacturing industry was not given any real opportunity to participate in tendering for this very important first stage of a mammoth development in this country. The Government is prepared to subsidise the shipbuilding industry and many other industries; so why does it not take the initiative and attempt to get an Australian industry retooled so that it can carry out its responsibility to provide components for the natural gas industry? I want to refer to numerous statements that have been made in the Press. This statement appeared in the 'Sydney Morning Herald' only a few days ago:

Workers in the Australian pipe industry could lose their jobs as a result of the $54-million gas pipeline contract given to Japanese manufacturers, a BHP spokesman said last night.

I am sure that the Senate would agree that it is the responsibility of responsible union officials to fight for the rights of their members in any given industry. The representative of the Federated Ironworkers Association of Australia particularly has already indicated to me that the industry in which most of its members arc employed is facing a recession. About 450 employees have been retrenched in the

Newcastle area during 1972 and the Port Kembla plant is not working to capacity. This has led the National Secretary of that organisation Mr Short to stand up and fight for the rights of his members, including their right to work. He is to be congratulated for this - not condemned as he was by the Minister for Works during his contribution this evening.

I am led to believe that officials in the industries covered by this development were led up the garden path by the Australian Gas Light Co. They were led to believe - Senator Laucke has agreed in principle with this - that about 50 per cent of the contract would be available to Australian industry. But when the chips were down the Australian Gas Light Co. was prepared to abdicate and to place its complete order overseas. It is only natural that there would be a reaction to this right across Australia. It is interesting that of all people in Australia only Government supporters and their little Sir Echo in this place - the Democratic Labor Party - have been prepared to defend the actions of the company in these matters. The Australian Gas Light Co. enjoys a particularly privileged position. It is virtually a State nationalised industry in New South Wales. It is constituted under a New South Wales Act of Parliament. Surely it is a responsibility of the State government to see that the Australian Gas Light Co. plays a better role in this than it is playing at the moment. It is the responsibility of ';he Commonwealth to apply its tariff laws to enable the Australian work force to be gainfully employed and for Australian industry to play a part in this important project. The retooling of our tubemaking industry is of vital necessity because there is an unlimited market in the future.

I urge the Senate to give serious consideration to this matter this evening because of its wider implications. The Government cannot afford to apply a laissez-faire approach to this. It must start to plan the Australian economy. That is what the Australian people are looking for and that is why they will turn to the Australian Labor Party at the election in November.







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