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Thursday, 12 May 1960


Mr POLLARD (Lalor) .- I direct the attention of the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) and the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) to the matter about which the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Jones) has spoken to-night. I refer to the dismissal of approximately 200 men from the so-called explosives factory at Mulwala. As I understand the situation, the Mulwala explosives factory is in fact a sulphate of ammonia plant, f shall give briefly the history of this factory and of the factories producing sulphate of ammonia at Albion, Ballarat and Villawood. During the war Australia desperately needed nitric acid for the manufacture of explosives. The government of the day authorized the expenditure of approximately £2,500,000 on plants at the four places 'that I have named. Before they were completed, hostilities ceased and the government decided to arrange for the conversion of the nitric acid factories to sulphate of ammonia factories. There had been and there continued to be a big shortage of sulphate of ammonia both produced in Australia and imported from overseas, and the conversion of these factories would give at least some independence from overseas supplies.

The point that particularly concerns the Postmaster-General, who is a Queenslander, is that sulphate of ammonia is used in very large quantities in that state. It is used extensively by the citrus industry in various parts of Australia and by vegetable growers, and, subject to price, could be used widely by other types of agricultural producers. I understand that in 1948-49, Australia's sulphate of ammonia requirements were about 74,000 tons. By-products of the coke ovens at gas works and steel plants furnished about 20,000 tons and the government factories at Mulwala, Albion, Ballarat and Villawood were expected at that stage to yield at least 40,000 tons. This then left us with a shortage of about 14,000 tons, and it was difficult indeed to get 14,000 tons from overseas. The cost of production from coke ovens was substantially lower than the cost of production at the synthetic plants, and imported sulphate of ammonia was at a still lower rate. So the government of the day introduced a system under which imports, synthetic production and production from by-products plants were pooled and a charge to primary producers calculated. The resultant loss was met by a subsidy to the industries concerned. In 1949-50, the agricultural producers received on account of sulphate of ammonia production a subsidy of about £8 a ton. I think the Postmaster-General will recall the system.

After that I lost sight of the situation to some extent. I understand that the subsidy was removed and we came along to the present situation. Until recently, we still did not have sufficient supplies of sulphate of ammonia. Then it was found that there was available in Japan, and I understand in other countries, a product known as urea. Although expensive, urea was substantially smaller in bulk than sulphate of ammonia and was two-and-a-half times more potent. The practice has apparently grown up of importing urea - to the disadvantage of our balance of payments situation - to replace sulphate of ammonia produced in Australia.

I suggest that this situation warrants some investigation by the Government to ensure that the four factories converted to the production of sulphate of ammonia at a very substantial cost remain in production. No doubt they were efficiently managed by Imperial Chemical Industries of Australia and New Zealand Limited, but to-day they are either closed down or sold, at a time when we are importing urea. The result of this has been that in the electorate of the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. McEwen) 91 men have been given notice of dismissal. Positions have been offered to them, I understand, at Albion in Victoria and at Villawood in New South Wales. But an assurance has not been given that housing will be available for them. I represent the portion of Victoria in which Albion is situated, and I can say authoritatively that I do not know of any possibility of housing being found for these men. However, of equal importance is the apparent apathy or indolence of the Government which has resulted in a Victorian town on the river Murray, Yarrawonga, being deprived of a population of about 400, including the men dismissed, their wives and families. This means that the tradespeople of Yarrawonga will lose the purchasing power of this community, amounting to about £1,000 a week. It would seem that a little thought should have been given to the feasibility of prohibiting the import of urea, even if this meant that the production of sulphate of ammonia had to be subsidized so that it would be available in sufficient quantities.


Mr Davidson - That would require a fair subsidy.


Mr POLLARD - It might, but I suggest to the Postmaster-General that his Government showed no hesitation, as was mentioned by the honorable member for Newcastle, in prohibiting the Newcastle City Council from importing plant which was thousands of pounds cheaper than the locally made plant. If it is good enough for Australian manufacturers to get the advantage of the sale of expensive plant to the municipality when the municipality could have purchased similar plant overseas at a lower cost, surely it is good enough for the Government to subsidize the cost of sulphate of ammonia to primary producers rather than to permit the import of urea, with the consequent adverse effect on our balance of payments. I should like to know - I hope the Postmaster-General will give me the information - what has happened to these four plants. Have they been sold to Imperial Chemical Industries of Australia and New Zealand Limited? Are they still owned by the Government? Are all or any of them producing sulphate of ammonia?


Mr Erwin - The Ballarat plant has been sold to LCL


Mr POLLARD - Exactly. I know of no announcement that has been made in the Parliament and I ask the PostmasterGeneral to furnish some information on this matter.







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