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Tuesday, 3 April 1973
Page: 974

Mr HALLETT (Canning) - When such an important question as this is being debated in the House one cannot but be amazed at the lack of information coming from the Government. The Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) said, during the course of his remarks, that the Government has a policy and will put it into operation. If what we have heard this afternoon is an example of the operation all I can say is Pity Australia'. If the Government has a policy let it announce it. Since the Government came to power great uncertainty has existed with respect to tremendous projects in Australia. People are uncertain about the prospects of future projects. I am expressing not only my own uncertainty but also the doubts of Australian businessmen and persons abroad. Where are we going with this Government? I am concerned particularly with the mining industry and especially with statements that have been made and decisions that have been taken because these put all future operations in jeopardy.

It is history that over the years Australia's primary and secondary industries have been developed by Australians, by private enterprise and by risk capital. Men of energy and enterprise have established primary industries and mining industries. They have created the situation in which Australia today has a credit balance of payments, as I mentioned in this House recently. The work of these people has not been undertaken lightly. Much has been done. The honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) claimed that Lang Hancock is reported to have said that at present it is a seller's market.

Mr Keating - He did.

Mr HALLETT - I suggest that the honourable member talk or write to Lang Hancock informing him of what he is alleged to have said. The honourable member will soon find out what Lang Hancock thinks of his Government and the present situation. Lang Hancock knows the current situation in Australia and knows the position with respect to Brazil and what other nations have done following the revaluation of Australian currency and the devaluation of the American dollar. What has Japan done in relation to Brazil? Japan is spending hundreds of millions of dollars in Brazil because the situation there is far more attractive than is the current Australian position. Much has been said by people in the mining industry - people who do the work, who know the situation and who make the contracts. They know far more than do the back benchers of this Parliament. On 20th February 1973 the Australian Mining Industry Council issued a Press statement in which it made the following comment:

No further iron ore projects in the Pilbara would be developed at current SA prices.

The people associated with this Council know what is involved in all these matters, but what is the Government's policy? We want to know whether the Government has a policy related to what the mining people are saying because big projects are available and waiting to get off the ground in Australia. The people associated with these projects are in the wilderness at the moment because they do not know what they can do.

It has been suggested that when the contracts relating to Western Australian minerals were written they should have been written in Australian dollars. It is unbelievable that members of this place should make such a suggestion. The magnitude of these contracts was such that they had to be written not in a relevant currency but in a neutral currency. I ask honourable members to consider these contracts that were written between Australia and Japan. The only currencies in which they could have been written at the time were United States dollars or sterling. It was most unlikely that they would be written in sterling. Had they been, the situation would be worse than it is. However they were written in United States dollars for a number of reasons. The magnitude of these contracts obviously is not known to the honourable member for Blaxland. Apparently he has not studied the whole situation. Much of the money used in the development of these particular resources was American money and obviously the people supplying the finance wanted the payments in United States dollars.

The States have a lot to say about the development of resources within the States. I have not heard much, if anything, from the Government about the States' responsibilities. Is this to be another instance where the Commonwealth Government will, through its export powers, seek complete control of contracts for minerals within a State without reference to the State government? 1 do not know, but it is an interesting aspect. The 2 decisions taken by the Government to revalue in respect of United States currency have put Australian mining industries in jeopardy. I do not know, nor does anybody, exactly what will happen with future projects. For the information of the Government I refer again to the very big contracts between Australia and Japan. Naturally the method of financing - the sort of currency - would be discussed. One of the major matters would relate to the use of a neutral currency. Could it be expected that Australia, with only 13 million people, would have an acceptable currency in this situation? Australia and Japan were making the contracts and they would need to be divorced completely from buyerseller influences if we were to secure satisfactory contracts. I want to hear what is the Government's policy, if it has one, because it has not spelt it out this afternoon.

Mr Keating - The soft touch is over.

Mr HALLETT - Let us hear what is the soft touch. Let us have the Government's policy in blueprint form. I am sure that the people involved are waiting for this information. I know, as do most honourable members, that the mining interests have advised the Minister for Minerals and Energy of their position. I am not aware whether the Minister has advised the mining companies of the Government's position. If he has, I should like him to tell the House. Has he informed the industries concerned in detail of the Government's policy? I suggest that if he can manage it, it would be appropriate for him to make a ministerial statement so that Australia and the world will know precisely where we are going with these particular projects. Nickel is an important mineral for Australia. I understand that Canada supplies about twothirds of the nickel requirements of the free world. In these circumstances, who would control the price of nickel? I leave it to the House to make the decision. The Canadian dollar has floated down with the United States dollar so this is a situation that confronts the Australian nickel industry. The Minister knows the situation and he knows the possibilities of developing Australia's nickel resources in future. These matters are important because so much is involved - men, money, homes and towns. These aspects are all involved in the future of the mining industries of Australia.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drury)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

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