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Wednesday, 16 May 1973
Page: 2201

Mr VINER (Stirling) - Listening to the honourable members opposite, one would think that the companies involved in exploration, development and use of petroleum and natural gas in Australia simply know nothing about their industry, that they have no expertise, either local or introduced from overseas, and that therefore the Government in the form of the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) comes te Australia as a new John the Baptist.

Mr Lloyd - The Messiah.

Mr VINER - No, that is left for the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam). He is the Messiah. But in this area the Minister for Minerals and Energy, the new John the Baptist, displays to the people of Australia all the knowledge that no one had before. He presents to the Government and to the people a whole host of policies. He is to establish the National Pipeline Authority. He is to establish a national fuel and energy authority, and he is to have public ownership maximised within this industry as if there had not been any ownership by the people of any kind before. He is introducing a whole host of new policies as if the petroleum exploration and development industry has been down and out, has merely been a beggar wandering through the prospective oil and gas fields of Australia not knowing what to do. But of course nothing could be further from the truth.

Within a very short time Australia has developed a high capacity and expertise in this field both on the technical side and in management. When the Minister and others on the Government side speak of overseas ownership they never mention the degree of Australian participation in management or the degree of Australian participation in local boards of directors and at that level. All that is forgotten and what we have is this new charter for the petroleum industry. It is a charter of nationalisation, and that can be demonstrated quite clearly. One hears so much coming from the other side about the national will, public or Australian ownership but when it is shorn of all these highsounding phrases and when one looks at the policies and platforms of the Australian Labor Party one sees that they are all policies and platforms formulated and implemented in pursuit of the Party's fundamental policy of socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange. I think it was the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) who in congratulating the Minister pointed out that the Minister was the author of the policy on this industry in the Australian Labor Party's platform. I have no doubt that the Minister would not hesitate to say that he formulated that policy aiming to implement, when the Australia Labor Party formed the Government, its policy of socialisation or nationalisation.

It is interesting to see in the Bill the sources of constitutional power that the Minister is endeavouring draw upon. In clause 13 (2) he first seeks to draw upon the Commonwealth's legislative power in respect of trading corporations within the limits of the Commonwealth, and it may be no accident that this authority is declared to be a body corporate. Then of course it is intended to draw on the power to make laws in respect of territories and next the power relating to trade and commerce with other countries, among the States and between territories or between a territory and a State. Finally the Minister, in a time of undoubted peace, seeks to draw on the defence power of the Commonwealth. If nothing more would show the purpose, drawing on the defence power in a time of undoubted peace indicates what the Government is all about. It is seeking to use the limits of the Constitution as it views them and in a way in which it will implement its policy of nationalisation. I have no doubt that on the Governments side honourable members think that at last they have found the key to unlock the Constitution and to enable them to embark upon their policies of socialisation.

The honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) congratulated the Minister because he was acting in the national interest in developing a national grid. We have heard this phrase 'national interest' for a long time, but while I have been in this Parliament, which has been the duration of the present Government, I have never heard that phrase defined. The public is never told what it truly means when spoken by Government supporters. This is where the Opposition and the Government draw their political battle lines.

As the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn) and the. right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) said, we do not want to see this national grid or national Pipeline Authority made an instrument of policies of nationalisation. That is what the Opposition's amendments say. If this Authority were to set itself up as merely a common carrier and if it were merely to be the national vehicle for transportation on land of oil and gas, the Opposition would not oppose it; in fact, as the right honourable member for Higgins said, we could all congratulate the Minister on proposing such an authority. I would be thankful if the Minister stated unequivocally that all that is intended is that the Authority be and act as a common carrier. I challenge the Minister to declare during this debate that that is the sole purpose, of this Authority.

However simple the Bill may seem when one reads it, one would be excused for doubting that that is the sole purpose behind it. Simplicity may be a virtue; but, of course, simplicity may be deceptive. That is the real message that comes out of both the Bill and the Minister's second reading speech. His speech, after all, fills only one. page in Hansard on a Bill which is said to be a matter of major national importance. Clause 13 of the Bill speaks of the functions of the Authority being to construct pipelines for the conveyance of petroleum and to convey through the pipeline petroleum belonging to the Authority or to other persons. If the Authority were to be only a common carrier, all it would need to have would be the functions of constructing pipelines and conveying the gas and oil through those pipelines. However, the clause goes on to say that the Authority is to have the power to buy and sell petroleum, whether in Australia or elsewhere. Is it intended then that the Pipeline Authority is to be an importer of oil and gas? If oil or gas is not purchased within Australia but is purchased elsewhere, I would have thought it obvious that that would be from some overseas source.

It is notorious that Australia produces only a light crude oil and does not produce a heavy crude oil, which must be imported from the Middle East. Is it intended that this

Pipeline Authority should buy heavy crude oil overseas, import it into Australia, transport il through its pipelines and then sell it? The words 'buy and sell' are, very simple, but again very deceptive. The word 'sell' is plain enough. The honourable member for Blaxland said that it is intended only that the Authority should act as a reticulator of gas or oil. But, of course, it need not stop there. To sell can mean literally to sell through the bowser Is it the intention that the Authority, under the incidental powers given to it by clause 15, should construct distribution points or petrol service, stations and go into the selling of petroleum through the bowser? Is it intended that the Authority should set itself up as a distributor of bottled gas, for example, and go into the selling business through all the distribution outlets necessary? These words, buy and sell', are so simple, yet so deceptive, and they carry far reaching implications.

This Bill and the Pipeline Authority are another piece to be fitted into the jigsaw puzzle of the actions of this Government and the ramifications of those actions throughout the petroleum industry. Already we have seen the freezing off of overseas funds coming into Australia to support exploration, both presently embarked upon and planned for the future, through the use of exchange control powers by the Commonwealth to control the inflow of funds. We have seen the control over farm-ins that the Government is using again to freeze out any joint ventures between overseas and local companies. The Minister has made a statement about the National Fuel and energy authority, but we have not yet seen a Bill to create it. He says that the Authority would explore for, produce, transport and refine petroleum. We have now had the removal of tax incentives for the raising of equity funds. The removal of those tax incentives will hit, amongst others, bona fide Australian exploration companies. We have heard the Minister announce that it is intended to remove petroleum search subsidies. So all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are beginning to fit into place. When one looks at what is being done - the use of these executive powers of the Commonwealth plus the legislation that it is now introducing - one can see that these are intended to implement the socialistic policies of this Government aimed at nationalisation of this industry.

The honourable member for Blaxland spoke of the Pipeline Authority having to be able to buy wholesale and then sell to the distributor at the end. Is it intended to buy wholesale at the well-head from both on-shore and off-shore producers? If it is intended to buy at the well-head, this Authority could hold the producer to ransom by offering to pay only a low price, because the producer would not be allowed to transport its oil or gas through the pipelines of the Authority. So the Authority would have a monopoly power of the most insidious kind. The people of Australia must ask themselves whether they want this kind of control of the petroleum industry in Australia in the high sounding name of 'national interest', or in the high sounding name of 'maximising Austalian ownership'. To the Government 'Australian ownership' quite obviously means government ownership. To the Liberal Party Australian ownership' means ownership by the people, and 'the people' means the individuals - you and I, Mr Deputy Speaker - the public, the people as individuals, privately or as shareholders in a company. This is where the Government and the Opposition draw their battle lines.

If the Government by 'maximising Australian ownership' means that it will provide for a national pipeline grid as a means of transportation in the same way as railways are a means of transportation for the goods of individuals, the Opposition would have no objection to it. In fact the Opposition would congratulate the Minister. It would say that the Minister was emulating Andrew Fisher when he brought to Australia the intercontinental railway, bridging the great distance of Australia. If that were the sole intention of the Minister, the Opposition would have no hesitation in supporting him. But honourable members on this side of the chamber see something insidious in this proposition coupled with the other policies that have been espoused by the Minister.

Let us look for a moment at Western Australia and at one other fallacy upon which this Government proceeds. The Government thinks that the producing companies, the private companies - be they overseas or Australian - would have some great objection to a national grid system. They would have no objection to it because it would provide them with a means of transportation for their product. It would allow them to expand the opportunities to market and sell their gas and oil. So this Government need not delude itself about that any more. There is mention in the Minister's speech of a proposal to build a pipeline between Palm Valley and the Kalgoorlie mineral province and Perth, and also from Palm Valley to Dampier. There is no factual support in the speech or in anything in which the Minister has said inside or outside the Parliament to justify such a concept at this stage. It is a quite stupid proposition to think about at the present time. At present there is no overall energy crisis or shortage in the eastern States. The Bass Strait, Gidgealpa and Roma gas fields have sufficient reserves to supply the south-eastern seaboard for at least 30 years without taking into account the unlikely event that no further discoveries are made in these areas. If there is a 30-year supply of natural gas from those fields, what is the purpose of putting a pipeline from Palm Valley to Dampier or from Palm Valley to Perth? There is just no purpose at all in such a proposition. It makes no sense to say that we will build a pipeline at a cost of perhaps $ 1,000m or so, spanning thousands of miles of desert country, merely to cover the unlikely event that there will be such a catastrophe on the eastern seaboard that none of the gas fields there will bs able to supply Sydney and Melbourne. Is it the intention of the Government, in putting forward this proposition, to bottle up the oil and gas discoveries on the north-west shelf for 20, 30 or 40 years because it thinks that the reserves may be required by users on the eastern seaboard?

When the national interest is referred to and when the Australian people are mentioned in a debate of this kind one must think of the people. I speak for the people of Western Australia. They want to know why the Minister proposes to construct a pipeline to take gas from Dampier to Sydney or to Melbourne? Why do this when that gas and oil can be the basis for an immense industry in its own right, for example, a petroleum industry or a liquefied natural gas export industry? That gas and oil used as a fuel could support industries not only in the Pilbara but also down in the southern part of Western Australia. Why is it that the Minister and the Government who have pronounced so loudly their national outlook do not consider the construction of a pipeline from Dampier to Perth? That would be much more logical than the proposal to put a pipeline from Dampier to Palm Valley, traversing country in which there is no local consumption whatsoever to support the cost of transporting the product. One might ask why they have not considered a pipeline from Dampier to Perth when New South Wales has massive untapped quantities of black coal which can be used as an energy source. New South Wales has massive quantities at the doorstep of Sydney and also at the doorstep of the Minister's own electorate of Cunningham.

I ask the Minister whether as a part of the fuel and energy budget that he is proposing there has been any investigation of the use of the coal of Queensland and New South Wales for energy generation in those States. Would it be cheaper to use fossil fuels which are at your doorstep than to transport other fuels across the continent instead of using them for the development of Western Australia? What part do the discoveries on the north-west shelf play in the fuel and energy budget proposed by the Minister?

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