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Tuesday, 14 September 1971
Page: 1230

Mr WHITLAM - I ask the Prime Minister a question. Does the honourable gentleman recall his predecessor assuring the House on 2nd February last on the

Minsec affair that: 'There cannot be any diminution of Australian ownership of mineral resources held in the companies concerned unless ... in normal general stock exchange trading some shares were bought, as they might well be, in the normal way by overseas buyers'? Does he recall the former Deputy Prime Minister saying on 5th May last year, on the Australian Industry Development Corporation Bill: 1 know of no important country, other than Australia, where the government exhibits an indifference as to whether its national resources or production are owned in whole or in part by overseas interests? Now that rutile and zircon holdings of Minsec have passed into Canadian hands and the Australian holdings in Robe River have already partially passed into overseas hands, will the Prime Minister act to fulfill his predecessor's assurance and Sir John McEwen's hopes for the AIDC Bill?

Mr McMAHON - I do not remember the answers to the questions or the statements made by my colleague to which the honourable gentleman refers. I regret that, but I do not remember them. Previously in this House 1 have made a statement relating to Robe River. Prior to the date on which the liquidator put the shares up for tender I was informed by members of an Australian syndicate that they would be bidding for the shares and that they felt there was more than a reasonable prospect that they would be able to buy them. That was a hope that was entertained not only by them but also by me. Regrettably when the shares were submitted to tender by the official liquidator, who I pointed out in this House was an official not of the Commonwealth Government but of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, the bid by the Australian interest obviously was not high enough - I have not made inquiries into this - and the liquidator himself decided that he would let them go to the highest bidder in the interests of the shareholders and the creditors of the corporation. This may have been regrettable, and I think this feeling is shared by my colleague, the right honourable member for Higgins. I read his comments in one of the Sunday newspapers. If the honourable gentleman had some kind of solution that he could have proposed or that I had known of 1 would have tested it. What I can say is that if the Australian Industry Development Corporation had felt it wanted to make additional funds available to the Australian interests to permit them to buy the shares and provided it and the would-be purchasers felt it was an economic proposition in the long run to purchase the shares at a higher price than that offered by the American interest, that was something that was within their joint power to do. I regret their decision. I did listen attentively to what was said and I felt reasonably certain until the last moment that Australian interests would buy the shares in Robe River.

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