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Thursday, 14 June 1928

Mr BRUCE (Flinders) (Prime Minister and Minister for External Affairs) - (By leave.) - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

The object of this bill is to repeal section 8 of the War Precautions Act Repeal Act 1920-23, which deals with the holding by aliens, without the consent in writing of the Treasurer, of any mine or interest in a mine, or the acquisition of any share in any company incorporated in the Com.monwealth. During the great war, and indeed for some time after its termination, such a provision was necessary, but gradually the necessity for its retention ou the statute-book has disappeared. In any case, it does not now achieve the desired result, and during recent years has caused considerable difficulty. The obtaining of the consent of the Treasurer to the acquisition by an alien of any mine or interest in a mine is generally not a matter of difficulty; but that portion of the section which provides that there shall be no transfer of a share in an Australian company without the consent of the Treasurer being first obtained, has caused considerable difficulty, and prevented the introduction of capital from other countries for the development of Australian mines. The existing legislation has prevented advantage being taken of a recent discovery by which fuel oil is extracted from black or brown coal. Experimental work in this connexion in Great Britain and Germany has had satisfactory results; last year large quantities of fuel oil were obtained from coal in Germany. Should further success attend the experiments, it is most desirable that Australia shall participate in the benefits which will accrue. In the event of the further success of the experiments, the persons interested, although aliens, should not be prevented from acquiring coalmines in Australia. An instance of the harsh effect of the existing legislation occurred in connexion with the development at Mount Isa. There is a prospect of big developments taking place there, and apparently a large amount of foreign capital is available for the purpose. Owing, however, to the restrictions which the section proposed to be repealed now places upon the transference of shares, the position has become somewhat acute. I understand that a large proportion of the capital proposed to be utilized for the development of Mr Isa will be raised in Great Britain. Under the existing legislation, the transfer of a share in the company to an alien residing in Great Britain could not be made without the previous consent of the Treasurer. Honorable members will therefore see that such a provision necessarily causes considerable embarrassment, and places restrictions on development. After full consideration, the Government has come to the conclusion that it is no longer necessary to retain on the statute-book the section to which I have referred. It will still be necessary to take care that the great key industries of Australia do not get entirely into the hands of aliens, but should the necessity arise, action could be taken to prevent anything which would be inimical to the interests of Australia. While realizing the necessity for safeguarding Australian interests, the Government is of the opinion that the retention of the section in our legislation not only causes embarrassment but also prevents the flow of capital into Australia. I, therefore, confidently ask the House to pass the bill without delay.

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