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Tuesday, 11 May 1920

Mr HIGGS (Capricornia) .- This agreement is essentially one for the consideration of those honorable members who represent country interests, especially the Country party, because if there are any people in Australia who want to procure cheap mineral oil, it is those who live in country towns away from electric light plants, gas works, and other means of giving illumination and power. I am not too sure that Australia will be any better off under the AngloPersian Commonwealth Oil Refining Company. If we are to substitute an AngloPersian monopoly for the American monopoly, and the general public are not to get cheaper oil, what is the use of entering into the agreement? Our experience of Government ownership of steam-ships has not-helped us very much, because the. Commonwealth line of steamers charge high prices just as do steam-ship owners anywhere else. And when the Government have entered into the sale of worsted, they have been guilty of profiteering just as much as any one else. Unless there is a clause in the agreement that the price to be charged shall be a fair and reasonable one fixed by a body such as the Inter-State Commission, I shall be afraid to enter into it. Ministers tell us that there is. another agreement whereby the Anglo-Persian Oil Company and the Commonwealth are. to endeavour to find oil in commercial quantities in Papua, and it appears to me that , we ought to take that agreement first. We are told that the Anglo-Persian Oil Company have taken over the staff we have prospecting for oil in Papua, and I notice in the press that Dr. Wade, our chief oil expert, has gone to London to occupy a position there under the company.

Mr Poynton - That is not correct.

Mr Fenton - Where is he now?

Mr Poynton - I saw him, to-day.

Mr HIGGS - If the Anglo-Persian Commonwealth Exploration Company do not do better than we have already done in Papua, since we began prospecting for oil, there is not much, prospect of our developing the Territory.

Mr Poynton - I quite agree with the honorable member in that regard.

Mr HIGGS - I have met several people from Papua, who declare their belief in the excellent prospects of obtaining oil there, but say that we have been wasting our energies in putting down bores all over the place, and not prosecuting any one of them to finality. There must be some reason for this.

Mr Watkins - And there must be a reason for the breakages of machinery and the missing parts.

Mr HIGGS - In that connexion, the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Page) and I can relate the experience of some people at Roma, Queensland, in their efforts to discover oil there. About a dozen years ago the town of Roma was reticulated, and supplied with a natural gas. The gas gave out, but in the bore there- appeared to be oil, and certainly there was a distinct odour of kerosene. As the State Government would do nothing in the matter, a private company was formed with a capital of about £100,000, which engaged an expert in America, and commenced to bore for oil. When the bore was down some hundred feet, gas was tapped, and it became ignited, and burned with a flame about 60 feet high for several weeks. Eventually it was extinguished, and boring was recommenced. Then operations were delayed for several months, because certain tools had dropped down the bore. When this obstruction was successfully removed, boring commenced again, and again the boring tools were lost sight of. Finally the company went insolvent, and had no more money; but there was a feeling in the Roma district that certain influences were at work to prevent the discovery of oil on this continent of ours, and it is possible that there are influences at work in Papua to prevent the discovery of oil there. Its discovery and production in payable quantities on the mainland, or in Papua, would be of tremendous benefit to Australia, and it seems to me that our first duty is to endeavour to get some company by agreement with the Government to attemptto discover oil in Papua, for if there is to be no production of oil here, there will be very little advantage to the Commonwealth, whether it is the Standard Oil Company, the Vacuum Oil Company, or the Anglo-Persian Company, which refines crude oil here, and sells it to the general public. It would appear to me from the terms of the agreement that those who use mineral oils here are not likely to get them at a very cheap rate. In fact, I think they would be more likely to get them at a cheap rate if there was a fair field and no favour to any one. In the circumstances', I support the proposition of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) to refer the Bill to a Select Committee for report.

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