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Tuesday, 12 May 1964

Mr LUCHETTI (Macquarie) .- The Opposition is concerned at the failure of the Australian Government to formulate and implement a national fuel policy designed to protect our economy and to provide for our defence requirements. May 1 say at the outset that most countries have adopted fuel policies in the best interests of their own economies and have not overlooked defence requirements. In this matter the Australian Government has failed. The European Economic Community has given attention to this question. The Australian Government, however, despite our great concern for international affairs and for our defence requirements, has failed to face up to its responsibilities.

The Opposition believes that we should make full use of our resources and that we should give first priority to the maintenance in employment of our work force. We should determine to strengthen our economy. We should develop internal strength through the employment of our manpower in the development of our latent resources. We should improve our balanceofpayments position by giving attention to these matters. The Australian Labour Party has long advocated a planned economy and consequently has been continually subjected to criticism by those who believe in a laisserfaire, go-as-you-please, economy, allowing the various contending forces in our society to vie for the prize, with the strongest prevailing. There has been no plan in respect of this country's economy, nor has there been a word from the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) or any of his Ministers as to what the people of Australia might expect in the way of a national fuel policy. Leaders of industry are concerned, the nation is concerned, the Parliament should be informed, yet not one word on this subject has fallen from the lips of the Prime Minister, the Minister for Natonal Development (Senator Sir William Spooner) or any other of our leaders.

Professor Copland has directed attention to the importance of having a plan. The People, the North Committee, the coal miners and many others in the community have drawn attention to the importance of planning in our economy. None other than Sir Edward Warren, head of the Australian Coal Association, has been vocal on this subject and has asked that a national fuel policy be adopted to safeguard Australian industry and to develop our economy. I was particularly impressed by the remark of Sir Frederick White, " What is lost to-day by ignorance and misuse is denied to Australia forever". This is very true, and no words of m,ne or of any other member of this Parliament should be necessary to stress the importance of the adoption of a national fuel policy for the well-being of the people of Australia, to strengthen our economy and to guarantee supplies of fuel in time of international trouble and adversity.

On looking over the evidence of our lack of policy I am immediately confronted with a question I placed on the notice-paper on 26th February of this year. I asked the Prime Minister -

1.   Will he institute an inquiry into the effects of the operations of the oil companies in Australia on the economy and the security of the nation.

2.   lt' so, will he include in the terms of reference the following matters: - (a) pattern of production of petroleum products; (b) price of products; (c) dumping of residual fuel on the Australian market to the detriment of the coal industry; (d) marketing and transport of oil produced in Australia, and (e) production and maintenance of strategic reserves for defence requirements.

That question still remains unanswered, and this fact alone clearly indicates' that the Government lacks a national fuel policy. If it had such a policy, the Prime Minister would have been able to give a concise answer immediately to that important series of questions concerning our fuel situation. If further evidence be required, 1 remind the House of the Tariff Board Inquiry at which it was proved beyond any shadow of doubt that the production of residual oil and the manufacture of petrol were balanced in such a way that all available petrol was not cracked from the oil, but that substantial quantities were allowed to remain in residual oil, which competes with coal. It can be readily seen that the oil industry in this country is calling upon the Australian motorist to subsidize residual oil so that it can compete with coal, which is one of our most important latent raw materials.

I remind the House also of the purchase by R. W. Miller of the tanker "Miller's Canopus " and of the great difficulties that gentleman encountered when he tried to obtain cargoes of oil. It was widely proclaimed at that time that we should not be held to ransom in the matter of transport of oil and that we should use Australian tankers.

When oil was discovered at the Moonie field we heralded with great glee the finding of oil in Australia, saying that it would be of tremendous value in the expansion and development of our land; but when the discoverers, Union-Kern-A.O.G., commenced negotiations they had considerable difficulty in finding buyers prepared to pay anything like the correct price for the oil produced in this country. I have before me a report by Mr. G. W. Goudge, secretary of the Australian Oil and Gas Corporation Limited, 261 George-street, Sydney, on the pricing of Moonie oil. In it he said that the Governments of the United States and Canada apply a kind of protection to their own oil industries that is not applied in Australia.

I bring this matter forward for discussion to-day, on behalf of the Opposition, because we believe it is an urgent matter of national importance. What will happen if some small group searching for oil in Australia finds a basin and has the responsibility of attempting to market that oil in Australia? Will that group be subjected to the same difficulties as were met by UnionKernA.O.G.? Most likely it will. In any event, will the marketing of this oil be subject to wrangling, argument and disputation between the vendor and the people who are to refine the oil? Surely a national plati of fuel requirements should be laid down so that these matters can be attended to quite quickly. A little later in the report the secretary said -

At the moment, the Federal Government has no precise power to fix a price for indigenous crude, but it has at its command the machinery of a customs excise differential and import licensing which it can apply to the importation of foreign crudes.

This the Commonwealth Government refuses to do. It seems to me that in most of these matters the Commonwealth has been the torchbearer for overseas oil companies and has not been prepared to see that justice is done in Australia or to see that primary producers receive oil and petrol at the prices at which they should receive them.

Further evidence or the lack of policy on the part of the Government was the statement made by the Prime Minister during the campaign for the general election held on 30th November last. The Prime Minister promised that he would see that the differential between the prices of petrol in the city and country areas would not exceed 4d. a gallon. I have a copy of the Prime Minister's election policy speech in my hand. Although 30th November has receded far into the past, no action has been taken to introduce that maximum price differential. We are still in the position we were in previously. No action has been taken and no decision has been reached, because there is no policy. It is for that reason that the Opposition has brought this issue of national importance before the Parliament in the hope that we can get some policy in these matters. If there has been any policy at all it has been one of inertia or of liquidation and closing down of Australian industry. I refer to the sell-out of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited and the closure and destruction of the Glen Davis venture. This is the only sort of measure appearing on the surface to indicate any action on the part of this Government.

The Opposition feels that action should be taken, and that it should be taken now, to strengthen our economy. Further, action should be taken to assure our defence requirements. In this connexion 1 invite honorable members to consider Australia's position in regard to petroleum products, as revealed by the " Petroleum Gazette ", volume 13, No. \3 of March, 1964. This publication gives statistics relating to oils imported into Australia. Of the 86.6 per cent, of Australia's oils which are imported, 20 per cent, come from Indonesia, 15.9 per cent, from Iran, 22.8 per cent, from Kuwait, 9.8 per cent, from Qatar and 18.1 per cent, from Saudi Arabia. With one or two rare exceptions, the great supplies of oil on which we depend for our economy and our defence are imported, and each of the places from which we import our oils is a trouble spot. These are places where a local rebellion or a small war can alter the whole supply position affecting this nation. This situation is not good enough.

I believe it is an incredible folly to depend upon overseas supplies for our requirements, when we have in this nation the resources upon which to develop our own petroleum products and our own fuel to assist in the development of Australia. In other countries these things are done. From a recent Netherlands newsletter I obtained valuable information which shows that the Dutch State mines are dealing very extensively in not only fuels but also in chemicals and fertilizers and have plants for the manufacture of these products and for the production of urea, nitric acid, sulphate and other materials. AH these matters are effectively dealt with in the Netherlands. But in Australia nothing of the kind is taking place. I rapidly direct attention to the fact that the Chifley Government laid down a blueprint and a code for the production of coal in Australia. The battle for coal has been won through the enactment of the Coal Industry Act 1946, which has been implemented and supported since then. Coal has been produced in very great quantities and production figures are a record. To-day, almost 10,000 fewer people in the coal industry are producing substantially more coal than in the former peak period of 1952. What was done for that industry should be extended to other industries. The Joint Coal Board legislation provides for the recovery of by-products from coal and for the diversification and decentralization of the industry. My colleagues will deal more extensively with these features. I can only hope that the Parliament, after its consideration to-day, will take action.

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