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Tuesday, 26 November 1985
Page: 2278

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK(8.17) —I move on to division 520.3.06-the Ranger uranium project. That project has had some difficulties recently, as the Government and the Committee will know, because of the fact that there has not been a total evaporation during the dry season from the open cut mine. Difficulties have been experienced in taking the water out of the mine so that it can be mined in the dry season. There is some question of whether the water itself may be mildly radioactive. Since the dry season has virtually come and gone, there has been no resolution of the problem and we are now headed for the wet season-no doubt Ranger is using its stocks of yellowcake to supply its overseas orders-I ask: Have the Government and its scientific advisers resolved the problem of the proper and safe disposal of water from the pit at Ranger?

Senator Gietzelt —My information is that it is still under consideration.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —For how long will this consideration go on? When is there likely to be a solution to the matter? As I understand it, the matter has been running for some months.

If the Minister has no answer, I pass to Division 520, subdivision 3, item 10, which relates to energy conservation. In doing that I wish to look both at the statistics that have been provided in the Estimates committee and at the series of reports. In the Estimates committee a prognosis was given to this Parliament about our self-sufficiency in oil over the coming six or seven years. If my memory is correct, that prognosis was that unless significant amounts of oil were found by about 1992 our oil self-sufficiency would drop to 42 per cent. I have previously pointed out in the Senate that every 10 per cent drop from a 70 per cent level of self-sufficiency means a cost of more than $1 billion for importing oil. Obviously with our trading deficit in its present state, no one could go in for importing oil. I am not suggesting that the oil stocks would drop to 42 per cent. Indeed, I see that the Bureau of Mineral Resources has given a similar prediction in information supplied and I saw that the Chairman of Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd in an address to the Australian Petroleum Exploration Association said that by about 1995 the deficiency might be down to one-third or 33 per cent.

My questions arise because I looked up the energy forecast for the 1980s. This was a departmental production in 1982 and that forecast said of petroleum fuels:

Petroleum fuels usage has declined significantly since 1978-79 and it is forecast to remain below the 1978-79 level until the mid-1980s, increasing at an average rate of 0.5 per cent per annum throughout the decade.

When I look at the APEA report I find this statement:

Projections show world oil consumption growing at no more than 1.3 per cent annually. In the US it is half that rate--

about six-tenths of a per cent-

and in Australia that figure is a little less than 2 per cent.

It is a long way from the projection of energy conservation that was forecast in 1982-that of moving throughout the decade at half a per cent increase-to almost 2 per cent. That suggests that fuel conservation has fallen. I noted a disastrous report in the Estimates committee answers about the Government's abject failure to deal, for example, with the conversion of its enormous fleet of vehicles throughout Australia to liquefied petroleum gas. In fact something like 114 vehicles have been converted whereas the target was to be 3,000 every year or so, if my memory serves me correctly. Knowing that the trend has run away from its forecast and knowing, as it does, and admitting that there is likely to be a very big fall-off in oil, how the Government can possibly not go ahead with the conversion of vehicles defeats me.

The brave claims that there have been energy savings, that there has been energy conservation, are fundamentally wrong. The figures are in the report and I simply draw attention to the fact that no government can proceed in the belief that because there is an oil glut throughout the world at this moment there will be a similar glut in five or seven years. The developing countries alone will take up the slack. If there is to be a sufficiency of oil, at least every 15 years an oil field the size of those in Alaska or the North Sea must be discovered. There have been no such finds in recent times and therefore in Australia we should be conserving what we have. The Government is exporting oil at the moment and I oppose that. It is doing that because we get a self-sufficiency at the lighter end of the barrel at about 70 per cent and we are getting about 80 per cent from the oil fields. There is no doubt at all that the Government takes consolation from the fact that it is earning foreign currency and therefore helping with our adverse trade balance, but it is a foolish government that does nothing to conserve oil if the other side of the trade balance is to fall away, billions of dollars at a time, if we do not keep up. That is fundamental. I simply make that point and ask the Minister whether his advisers have any comment on the figures I have put forward and whether they accept them.