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Tuesday, 31 October 1967

Debate resumed from 26 October (vide page 2397), on motion by Mr Fairbairn: That the Bill be now read a second time.

Mr CREAN(Melbourne Ports) [8.52.1- When this matter was discussed in the House last week the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr Connor) said that the Opposition would oppose the measure in the form in which it was presented, for a number of reasons, the first of them being the haste in which the matter was being dealt with. The Bill had been brought into the House a few days before. We were told by the Attorney-General (Mr Bowen) that the Bill included a Common Mining Code and that it was a model Commonwealth and State Bill. The feeling el i'.\e Opposition was that the matters involved were of such fundamental importance t>;at they warranted much deeper consideration than the House had been able to give them.

As the debate proceeded it was evident that there were a number of matters in particular that concerned not only members on this side of the House but also members on the other side. We thought it appropriate to make our objection in the form of an amendment that I propose to move. The honourable member for Cunningham indicated our general opposition, and the amendment sets out our objection in more detail. I move:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: this Bill be referred to a Select Committee of this House for further investigation and report, and in particular that the Committee report on such matters as:

(1)   The amount of foreign capital invested in any company, partnership or consortium holding any permit, licence or lease relating to exploration, drilling for or production of petroleum on the continental shelf of Australia;

(2)   The extent to which unreasonably large areas of the said continental shelf have been granted under paragraph (1), and which would result in delaying or impeding expeditious action to meet the petroleum consumption needs of Australia; and

(3)   The need and desirability for the construction and operation by public authority of interstate pipelines for the transport of petroleum'.

The Minister for National Development (Mr Fairbairn) said that this legislation is of historic importance. We concede the point that it is historic in that it is unique for a common mining code to have to be developed in respect not of the internal territories of Australia but of what is described as the continental shelf. As the Minister said, the continental shelf of Australia covers an area of about 1 million square miles. This is about one-third of the total area of Australia itself. It is certainly a larger area than that of Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland combined. I have a document here which gives some concept of the extent of the continental shelf. I am sorry it cannot be incorporated in Hansard. It is a map - in my view a magnificent map- which was contained in the last issue of 'National Geographic' magazine. It portrays the Indian Ocean floor and it shows very clearly the western half of the continental shelf of Australia. Having in mind the modern mining methods that can be used in underwater drilling, nobody can say what the potentiality of this area is.

It seems also that no doubt is held, either internally or internationally, that whatever is located beneath this vast area of water is really the property of the people of Australia. The Attorney-General conceded that the other evening. He said:

It has been suggested that the Commonwealth in some way has parted with its asset. On the contrary the Commonwealth continues to maintain that the resources are a national asset and the Commonwealth has a definite interest in what eventually happens to them.

This is the view of the Labor Party also, but we suggest that because of the rather piratical franchises that have been granted to certain concerns these areas are not likely to be developed in the interests of Australia and that they are more likely to be developed in the interests of the private profit of very large companies the majority of which are not really Australian companies at all. This is the basic reason why we oppose the schema of legislation as it came before this House; there is a great danger that this very significant area will get out of the ambit of rational development for the benefit of Australia. If the resources dealt with by these Bills are improperly developed, the whole of the fuel and power situation as it has been allowed to develop in Australia up to the present will be jeopardised. The measures now before us concern the development of petroleum resources that ultimately may come up in the form of either fuel or natural gas. This legislation has been brought in hastily. Up to the present, even the BHP-Esso interests are rather cagey about whether they have found gas or whether they have found oil. I suggest that they have found a lot more oil than they are prepared to admit.

Here, I direct the attention of the House to an article that appeared in the financial section of the Melbourne 'Age' on Saturday last, under the title, 'The "Tight" Hole Policy'. It mentions the position of the shareholders of the Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd. Everybody knows the wild rush that has just taken place to acquire shares in that Company. Their value has risen in a very short time from something like $5 to $15 each. As my colleague, the honourable member for Cunningham, suggested, that at least posits that in the anticipation of the market the minimum potential of this sort of development is perhaps of the order of $l,000m to $2,000m. There was an interesting leading article in today's issue of the 'Australian Financial Review' entitled 'What does Si, 000m mean?' I have suggested in this House for a good many years that it is time the House and the Australian community had a better perspective on the real meaning of sums of the magnitude of $100m, $200m or, as this leading article suggests, $ 1,000m. To most people used to thinking in terms of a weekly wage, a sum of even Sim tends to appear rather large. When one gets into the realm of $ 1,000m, one is getting into an order of magnitude that most people would suggest was related to astronomy rather than to mathematics. The article in the 'Australian Financial Review' of this morning talked in terms of the expected earnings from minerals on external account over the next couple of years. The point was well taken that expenses and receipts of the magnitude involved are likely to continue over a period rather than to occur just in the immediate future. This points to the need for some more careful planning of this kind of development.

As I indicated earlier, this contrasts somewhat with the haste in which this very complicated legislation has been brought in. It contrasts also with the findings of the report of the Coal Utilisation Research Advisory Committee, which was presented to this Parliament in December 1962. This Committee had a comprehensive membership. Its Chairman was Mr W. W. Pettingell, whose name has loomed up somewhat in this House recently in respect of a difference of opinion, if one so likes to describe it, with the Government about the manner in which our natural gas resources should be developed. The Committee, at paragraph 228 of its report, made this point: so long as coal remains the country's only indigenous source of fossil fuel, it is desirable that the industry should eventually rely on some form of complete gasification of coal.

The Committee took the point that if we had to depend on indigenous sources of fuel, coal at that stage seemed to be the best bet. 1 point out that that opinion was given only about 5 years ago. One hardly finds the term 'natural gas' used in this report, except in the sense that it was looming on the European horizon at that stage. The recent finds and modern technology have completely changed the likely pattern of the future use of power and fuel in Australia. I suggest that this Government has been most prodigal in the way in which it has allocated exploration licences. The honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth), I think, pointed out the other evening that in respect of the North Sea development the same sort of concerns as have been given licences over thousands of square miles in Australia were allocated areas of only a few hundred square miles and in some instances even less than 100 square miles.


Mr Bowen - But, adjacent to the North Sea, there are 500 million consumers within a radius of 200 miles.







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