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Friday, 29 November 1985
Page: 2570

Senator MASON(10.09) —It is always a pleasure for me to sit here and be subtly flattered by Senator Sir John Carrick.

Senator Sir John Carrick —I did not think that what I had to say was flattering.

Senator MASON —It was flattery; I took it as flattery, anyway-taking a charitable view, as I do, of Senator Sir John Carrick-because obviously, like the rest of the Liberal Party, he is now beginning to regard the Australian Democrats as a sort of father figure, the Liberals feeling that they can rely on us to do things instead of doing them themselves. As Senator Sanders said earlier, this is something they have to look at. It is interesting that Senator Sir John Carrick raised, in what I thought was an excellent speech, some very good points which I would have thought the Liberal Party might have brought forward as amendments to the Pipeline Authority Amendment Bill. But no; we have again this situation of blank opposition to something, a sheer blocking technique, which I think is not at all good or sensible.

Senator Sir John Carrick —What kind of amendment?

Senator MASON —The honourable senator mentioned three or four things in his speech. He should look at it in the Hansard.

Senator Sir John Carrick —You name them.

Senator MASON —I will not do the honourable senator's work for him; he should do it himself.

Senator Jessop —Senator Sir John Carrick was being constructive.

Senator MASON —I agree; he was being constructive. I am surprised that nothing has come forward from the resources and energy area of the Liberal Party which was rather more constructive and along the lines he had suggested. I have taken on board what he said. I am afraid that he tends to overestimate our ability to influence legislation. We do what we can for the community. As honourable senators will know, over the last few days we have done an enormous amount of good for the small business sector and for the farmers of this country by reducing the tax burden on them by $48m in a full year. We feel that that is a not inconsiderable achievement. It can be done-I think the Liberal Party ought to take note of this-by negotiation with government. Government is there to govern; it is elected to govern. Oppositions are there to oppose, one might say, but it is not quite as simplistic as that. I think oppositions are also there to assist government, if they can, towards a better and more reasonable way of doing things. As far as the community is concerned, it would rather see results than blank opposition, and I commend that thought to the Opposition.

Senator Sir John Carrick made the point, which is quite spurious, that the Australian Democrats are interested only in woodchips. Of course we are interested in woodchips. It is a source of great concern to me that people in Japan would not allow their trees to be cut down but our trees can be cut down to provide paper bags and lavatory paper for the homes of Japan-at a net cost to the Australian taxpayer, of course. We do not sell the stuff at any profit; we lose money doing it. So naturally we are concerned about woodchips and rainforests.

I have also been concerned over the years with pipelines, and indeed that is what I now intend to turn to. I have a few things to say about pipelines. I will preface them by saying to Senator Sir John Carrick, just to meet his point, that on a number of occasions over the years I have been one of the few people who have pointed out consistently the appalling dangers which exist in the pipelines between Sydney and Newcastle, the incredible folly of putting together a pipeline to carry gas and, right alongside it, a pipeline to carry dangerous flammable fuels, even high octane aviation spirit. It seems to me to be a dreadful thing to have done and something we will pay for in New South Wales before we are through with it. I have said that again and again. No notice has been taken of it. I hope that there will be no appalling consequences. We have to imagine what the consequences could be if there were a bad break in that gas pipeline while the other pipeline was carrying liquid fuel.

Senator Sir John Carrick —And you are going to give away parliamentary scrutiny of any further matters?

Senator MASON —No, parliamentary scrutiny was one of the things the Liberal Party might have brought forward as an amendment, now that I come to think of it.

Senator Sir John Carrick —You may do it, I will commend you.

Senator MASON —As I have said, I will not do all the honourable senator's work for him. I will say that I have taken what he has said on board. The Democrats have discussed this question of whether or not it is desirable that the Australian Gas Light Co. should be on the Board. What this Parliament can do it can undo. I suggest that both the Liberal Party and the Australian Democrats keep an eye on this situation in the future. If we find that problems emerge it is a matter that can properly come to attention at that stage. I do not think we need to damn this arrangement out of hand before it begins. I think it is reasonable that we give it a fair chance. As I have said, if a problem arises it the future, I suggest to the honourable senator that it is possible for us to do something about it at that stage.

I am concerned that, while this Bill covers large costs of pipelines which would otherwise be met by government-that has to happen-it remains a fact that the costs will now presumably be passed on to the consumers of gas in the form of higher tariffs. I would like the Acting Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Walsh) to give us some idea at some stage of what is involved there. How much higher will the tariffs be? What sort of deal has been done with the supplying company? What can people expect from this? If we are talking about costs to the Government, which might be $1 billion to $2 billion, I point out that money does not come from nowhere. Presumably that cost will be passed on to the consumer. If that is not correct or is an overly simplistic view, I would appreciate guidance from the Minister, and I think the public and the gas consumers of this country would also like guidance. On the whole the Democrats are not opposed to the user pay principle, but it ought not to be applied in total isolation from other considerations.

I have risen to speak in this debate mainly in the interests of the New South Wales cities of Bathurst, Orange and Lithgow, which Senator Sir John Carrick mentioned, they being his constituency, just as they are mine. After many years of negotiations those cities are to get a spur line which will provide them with natural gas, but at a cost agreed to be no more than 10 per cent higher than that paid for gas in capital cities. I think we can take it that means it will be 10 per cent higher because wherever something like that comes in honourable senators can be sure that government will exert the maximum it can to get what it can out of that agreement, and I do not argue with that.

I have discussed this matter in some depth with the mayors and town clerks of those three cities-Bathurst, Orange and Lithgow-and there can be no doubt at all that they have been at a very severe disadvantage and are still at a severe disadvantage because industry tends to follow gas now as a cheap fuel. It has been quite ridiculous to expect new ventures to start or old businesses to relocate in Bathurst or Orange when cheap gas is freely available in the western suburbs of Sydney, with all the other advantages of not being very far away from their source of sale. It is the old problem that this nation has of decentralisation, which is probably the most talked about and least done about issue in this country, and perhaps the most important we could consider.

We are one of the two or three most urbanised peoples in the world. That is a disgrace. We are a single nation occupying a whole continent. That is a privilege which we should deserve. If we consider those two facts together, I think we can see the most appalling consequences for the future. The logic of the future is that we ought not to be allowed to continue to occupy one continent when we simply abuse or do not use most of it. When one goes out into the western areas of New South Wales, one finds-I am sure Senator Sir John Carrick will agree-some of the most beautiful and productive country in the world. One could not find a better place for human beings to live. Yet we underuse it to an increasing degree as time passes rather than otherwise. This is not only stupid and uneconomic; it is dangerous. It is dangerous because societies in the future which have placed all of their emphasis on locating their populations in large cities may find, if there is any major disaster such as a nuclear war, that the bulk of their facilities and populations are wiped out.

That reminds me of a cogent point. I was in China some 10 years ago before I came to this Parliament. In the course of that visit I had occasion to meet the gentleman who was then the responsible member of the revolutionary committee for Shanghai. This is the grandiloquent terminology of the cultural revolution which some honourable senators will recognise. In effect, he was the mayor of Shanghai. He said that China was moving industry and people out of Shanghai as fast as it could in order to avoid the disgrace-this is how he put it-of Shanghai becoming the largest city in the world. I give him credit. The Chinese say, and I believe them, that because of the enormous decentralisation that they have achieved, initially through the commune system, they will be the major race which survives a nuclear war-which they, I might say, believe will come. They have got themselves in a position where they are decentralised. If there is a catastrophe they will indeed survive it in greater numbers than we will in Australia. I think that is something that we ought to bear in mind.

I ask the Minister, because I think there is a point to this, whether the Government will, for the very first time actually consider some concessions to this matter of decentralisation. It is not necessarily, plainly, for this $1 billion to $2 billion to be used for that purpose. The cost of providing the spur lines to the regional cities will represent only a fraction of this cost. What I am saying is that in light of the relatively small amounts involved when the weight of decentralisation is involved, will the Minister consider some mechanism by which Bathurst, Orange and Lithgow can obtain gas at a price at least competitive with the price for the western suburbs of Sydney; in other words, that the price is not 10 per cent higher but the same price. If that happens those three cities will thrive. There will be a growth of industry there and this will mean that we will have some chance of breaking the appalling problems of the western suburbs of Sydney. The social and economic problems there are due to the fact that it is choked, that it lacks facilities and that it is overcrowded. Anybody in his right mind would realise that it would be far better to have people living in Bathurst, Orange or Lithgow if there was industry there-if the jobs were available people would go there-than to have them cluttering up an increasingly choked urban mess like the western suburbs of Sydney. Does the Government not have the vision to see that this sort of thing is important to us in the future? If it has not got that vision then I suggest that it look at the situation. For heaven's sake, let it look beyond next pay day or the next public holiday in its policies and see whether something can be done for these three cities which have a tremendous potential. They are in one of the most fertile areas of Australia and obviously there is a reasonable, convenient and useful potential there for decentralisation, in both the economic and social sense, so that many thousands of Australians who would otherwise have grown up in Green Valley or somewhere like that can have a new and better life in a place where there is more room and more opportunity to live reasonably as decent human beings. It is not as if we lack room. We are not like Japan, after all, where everything in crowded. We have all the space. I am not talking about cities which are 1,000 miles away from Sydney. These cities are relatively close to Sydney and already have good communications with that city. They only need an extra little gesture from the Government-the equalisation of telephone charges and the equalisation of fuel costs-to have them boom and go ahead. Some cities, such as Dubbo and Wagga Wagga, are going ahead without that encouragement in spite of Government policy. Just think what could be done if Government policy were taken in the right direction. I urge the Government to take a broad view of that matter.

The second matter I wish to raise concerns something that was raised by both Senator Sir John Carrick and Senator Jessop. They are concerned about single sources of supply. Senator Jessop made the point that the sources of supply of natural gas are exhaustible. Again I make a plea to the Government. I have been saying this for the past seven years and other people, perhaps wiser than I am, have said it before me, including one of the Labor Party's own more gifted people, Rex Connor. It is inevitable logic that this country should have a link which will bring the North West Shelf gas to the eastern States--

Senator Walsh —Why?

Senator MASON —Because we will need that gas before we are through, Senator Walsh. The predictions of the Department of Resources and Energy-and I spoke to its annual report only yesterday-show that there will be a very significant drop off, back to about 42 or 43 per cent, in our sources of supply for petroleum and other fuels from indigenous resources by 1992. That is not very far away when one thinks of lead times for these sorts of things. Yet Senator Walsh asks me why. If he cannot work out why for himself, it is about time he did a little bit of homework and reading. He should read the annual report of the Department of Resources and Energy and then he will see why. It will be necessary for us eventually in this country, unless we find another major oil field-and the computer enhanced pictures that I have seen at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation show that there does not appear to be another major off-shore oil field-we will need to be able to provide liquid fuel through the conversion of natural gas to methanol or petrol, as is done in New Zealand. The whole of the Maui gas field in New Zealand has been dedicated to that purpose. If we do not have the vision to realise that when our liquid fuel runs out we will not be able to get it automatically from elsewhere, where will we be? We are more dependent on liquid fuel than any other Western society. We do not have the railway lines and canal systems of Europe. This is one of the rationalisations for a link which would bring the North West Shelf gas to the eastern States. I am not a dog in the manger; I am not saying that some of it should not go overseas. We should not sit on that huge reserve ourselves and it is not necessary for us to do so, but it is reasonable that Australia should have the first priority of benefit from that gas in the future.

We need employment; we need another Snowy Mountains project in this country. Something like that is desperately needed and we can afford it if it is a genuine investment in our future. I have no complaints about deficits, provided the money is being invested in something that will produce jobs and income and do something for this country in the future. We should not mess around with stupid little schemes like the community employment program, which everybody knows are a complete disaster and a waste of money. Those young people should be put to work on a project like a gas line across the country. That is something which would appeal to their sense of patriotism; it is something that would appeal to their sense of doing something for this country. If we give them such a project they will work. If we do not, what can we expect of them? I say to the Government: This is a project which should be looked at.

The steel towns-Newcastle and Wollongong-are in a depressed state now because no government in this country in recent years has had the guts to bring forward major schemes of development. Is it a fact that we do not need such things? Of course we need them. We need more water storage in this country. We need a broad approach; we need somebody to think big instead of thinking in petty terms all the time. The gas pipeline and the tubes it would need and other equipment that would need to be pushed through very difficult country-a huge task, I agree-would bring our steel towns back to life. There again there would be a multiplier effect. Instead of people going on the dole, they would be paying tax.

I took to heart the comment by Senator Sir John Carrick that I was not interested in pipelines. Perhaps I spoke a little more about pipelines today than I would have done because I wanted to convince him that, among other things, I am very interested in pipelines. I am very interested in anything that makes this country better, develops it and provides something better and more productive for the generations to come.