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Wednesday, 30 August 1972
Page: 872

Mr ENDERBY - My question, which I direct to the Prime Minister, arises from a question asked by the honourable member for Hawker last Tuesday, a question asked yesterday by the honourable member for Cunningham, and the answer given by the Minister for National Development dealing with supplies of natural gas in central Australia. I remind the Prime Minister that the Minister for National Development has said several times that it is Government policy not to export natural gas at this time. Is the Prime Minister aware of reports that an American corporation which is largely concerned with supplying American needs for natural gas - Pacific Lighting Corporation - has signed with the Palm Valley consortium comprising Magellan Petroleum Australia Ltd and other large American dominated companies a S900m agreement to export natural gas? ls this in expectation of a change of Government policy? Has there been a leak to this effect? If not, will the Prime Minister quash any such speculation?

Mr MCMAHON (LOWE, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Prime Minister) - The Minister for National Development will answer the question.

Sir REGINALD SWARTZ (DARLING DOWNS, QUEENSLAND) (Minister for National Development) - Yesterday in reply to a question asked by the honourable member for Cunningham I referred to a contract negotiated between Magellan Petroleum Australia Ltd and an American company. That American company is Pacific Lighting Corporation, to which the honourable member referred. I have had discussions with representatives of that organisation as well as with representatives of Magellan Petroleum Australia Ltd. The position is as I indicated yesterday. The contract which has been negotiated is subject to Government approval because, as I pointed out yesterday, an export embargo has been placed on liquefied natural gas. There is no export embargo on liquefied petroleum gas, it being a refinery by-product. Liquefied natural gas is found as natural gas and must be liquefied before export. Both the companies concerned know the policy of the Government in relation to this matter, namely, that there is a general embargo on the export of liquefied natural gas. It cannot be exported until we are satisfied, firstly, that Australia's requirements for the foreseeable future will be met. Secondly, the policy which has been stated by the Government and which is clearly understood by all the State governments, because I have discussed the matter with every State government over the last month or so, recognises the possibility that, in remote areas such as tb~ northwest shelf off Western Australia, it may not be a viable proposition to supply natural gas from that area to some other areas in Australia. There may also be a surplus in that region for export. In those circumstances, consideration could be given to issuing export permits. Honourable members must remember that reserves in the northwest shelf, for example, will not be proven for some years. We anticipate that it will prove to be a very substantial deposit but it will not be proven until after many millions of dollars have been spent in that region. In regard to the contract that has been negotiated between Magellan Exploration Pty Ltd and the Pacific Lighting Corporation, as I stated yesterday this matter came first to my attention and it has been submitted to my Department for examination. We will have to consider all aspects of the issue, particularly the conservation of our reserves for our own requirements in the future and also, if we desire it, the encouragement of further exploration and the impact that this would have on our own industries. All these matters must be considered very carefully. As 1 said, the position has been discussed with all States and we have had their reaction to it. After the study, which will take some time because there are so many important aspects to be weighed, I will submit the matter to the Government for consideration.

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