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Tuesday, 3 April 1973
Page: 976

Mr CREAN (Melbourne Ports) (Treasurer) - I should like to read out again the wording of the matter of public importance that has been raised today because I think that anyone listening would wonder what the debate was about. It reads:

The damage done to the Australian mining industry by recent decisions and statements of the Commonwealth Government.

I agree with the honourable member for Canning (Mr Hallett) that perhaps it is unbelievable that when these mining contracts were written 10 or more years ago they should have been written in terms other than Ameri can dollars. However, what I find unbelievable is that they should have been written for such large quantities and forward for such lengths of time without any reference whatever to variations in the exchange rate from the time at which they were written.

What are we talking about? We are talking about the transfer of Australian assets and resources, basically to Japan. The difficulty is not that there is anything wrong with the quantities that are being sold; what is wrong is the price at which they are being exchanged. Almost half of the speech of the former Minister who led this debate was taken up with references to changes in the currency. There were some changes in the currency in his time, but they did not go far enough. Early in December last year we had to complete the job that the previous Government should have been courageous enough to assume. What happened subsequently in February was a decision not of the Australian Government but of the United States Government.

The effects of the revaluation by Australia, the devaluation by the United States and also the devaluation, if you like, of our currency in relation to what has happened to the yen, have accumulated into the problem that is causing some concern now to the mining industry in Western Australia. My colleague the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) already has received numerous representations from the interests affected. Some of those affected have gone to Japan to try to renegotiate the terms. The Minister himself is prepared to use his good offices when the time arrives to do something about it. But simply to bleat, as did the former Minister and the 2 other honourable members opposite who have taken part in this very feeble debate from their side up to now, and to accept no responsibility for what was slowly happening in the past seems to me to indicate just how much the previous Government had vacated its responsibilities as a government.

As my colleague the Minister for Minerals and Energy has indicated, we are not going to allow Australian resources to be sold off cheaply. If anything confirms the wisdom of what this Government did on 23rd December last it is the subsequent events that took place in Europe in the first month or two in 1973. If honourable members opposite want to compare our currency and circumstances with those of Brazil, they are welcome to do so.

The former Minister who led this debate for the Opposition said that Australia abroad had the reputation of a banana republic. Normally he is not much given to making extravagant statements like that, but I suggest that it is an absurd statement. I have just returned from the United States and I found there ready acceptance of what the new Australian Government has done in recent months and a readiness also to accept that we are entitled to protect our natural heritage against the ravages of exchange fluctuations and so on.

If anything is confirmed by the fall in the value of the dollar in recent times and if one likes to look at comparisons with the sort of countries with which one ought to be making comparisons one sees that Australia, alongside most other countries, has now revalued roughly 21 per cent against the American dollar it is that we have been selling off our heritage cheaply. We have allowed foreign capital, particularly American capital to acquire our assets cheaply. That is the situation which we have endeavoured to bring to a head. To talk now about the losses that have accumulated out of the stupidity of quoting, and continuing to quote, transactions between Australia and Japan in terms of American dollars, to bleat at the losses of some hundreds of millions of dollars and to ignore what must have been the losses of thousands of millions of dollars over the years because the prices were never right in the first place simply shows the unreality of the attack and, I think, confirms the reason why honourable members opposite are now in opposition and we are in government.

What is at stake here is the development of Australia's natural resources and to use the term 'banana republic', as the former Minister did, is simply to show that in the 1970s, in what is supposed to be the decade of development, honourable members opposite are still living in the age of colonial exploitation, as far as their attitudes are concerned. Fortunately, there are no banana republics left and this is one of the realities which the United States, in particular, has to realise in the years ahead. The United States will not be able to exploit the natural resources of other countries with the same ease in the future as it did in the past. It faces very critical problems internationally with its own economic stability. The United States has serious problems and they affect honourable members who represent the Australian Country Party.

No longer will the United States be able to obtain its food cheaply from countries like Australia because other parts of the world are demanding the same kinds of standards in the future as the United States has been able to command in the past.

Above all, the very critical problem facing the United States is a shortage of energy, and Australia is one of the countries fortunately placed at the moment with respect to natural gas. The Minister for Minerals and Energy, who is sitting at the table, is one who is not prepared to sell off these resources cheaply. He acknowledges the need for international trade but he acknowledges the need for international trade on fair terms. The Opposition's complaint today is that over a considerable number of years now Australia has been undertaking international trade on unfavourable terms. It took the currency revaluation to bring that matter to an economic reality. We acknowledge it. It is something that we inherited, and it is something that we intend to change.

MrDEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drury)The discussion is concluded.

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