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Wednesday, 16 May 1973
Page: 2207

Mr CALDER (Northern Territory) - Before speaking to the subject matter of the Bill I should like to refer to some of the remarks of Government supporters. There seems to be some confusion about Palm Valley and the Amadeus Basin. They are miles apart. Palm Valley is the area where gas is now being tapped. One hole is producing 63 million cubic feet a day. Another hole will be tapped by Magellan Petroleum Aust. Ltd, a company which seems to be under attack by Government supporters, especially the honourable member for Hawker (Mr Jacobi), because it is an overseas company. This company and its associates came to Australia and spent millions of dollars exploring Palm Valley and the Amadeus Basin area. They discovered a great supply of natural gas at Palm Valley. I do not know why they should be abused for taking the risk of going into far away outback areas, through which it is difficult to move drilling equipment, and spending money in their operations. In some of these areas there is no water. There is quicksand, salt marshes and sand hills. The company deserves the credit of Government supporters for going into such areas and producing results.

The theme of my address today is that this Bill and all it implies and the Government's petroleum policy, which was espoused by the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor), will tend to drive out companies which have gone into remote areas and risked tremendous sums of capital in exploration works. These companies have explored Central Australia, the Bonaparte Gulf area and the north-western shelf. One of the reasons I am on my feet is to explain that the Magellan Company proposed to the previous Government that it should be permitted to sell some of its products overseas. It proposed to build a pipeline from Palm Valley to the north - to the Gulf of Carpentaria or to the Darwin area. This could have been of great assistance to the Darwin area in the establishment of local industry. It could also have been of assistance in the uranium province which is close to the Darwin area. Yet this company will not be allowed to sell anything. I hope it will be allowed to continue with its proposed refinery at Alice Springs through which it could sell some of its products on the local market. I imagine that negotiations are under way at present. I hope that they are successfully concluded.

Exploration companies have spent millions of dollars. The Amadeus Basin - by this I mean the area of country south of the Macdonnell Ranges and out towards Ayers Rock and Mount Olga, south west of Alice Springs - could well hold oil and/or gas in large quantities. Companies which are prepared to explore such areas should at least be allowed to make good some of the expenses in which they have been involved up to this stage. I do not know who will do the work if risk capital companies, such as Magellan, are not allowed to do it. Will the Government undertake exploration in such areas? I know that in its fuel policy and in its pipeline policy the Government has authority to do almost anything, so I see this Bill as foreshadowing the nationalisation of the oil and gas industry in Australia. This is borne out by the remarks of the Minister in a previous speech.

As was mentioned in the Minister's second reading speech on this Bill, a large pipeline octopus will be established. Several of its tentacles will be based close to Alice Springs. I imagine that a pipeline will extend from the Palm Valley field to join with the Gidgealpa field and also to supply the areas of Kalgoorlie, Dampier and Darwin. I would commend that proposal highly. As a theoretical approach it is good, but vast distances are involved. It is 1,000 miles from Palm Valley to Dampier, 800 miles to Kalgoorlie, 600 miles to Gidgealpa, and a further 600 miles to Sydney and 800 miles to Darwin. I hope that this pipeline comes to fruition, but I recall what happened with the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority which was a great scheme when it was envisaged. It slowed down to a great extent under the previous Labor Government and was picked up and made to go by the Liberal-Country Party Government. I only hope that the same sort of thing will not happen with this pipeline proposal. It is a grandiose scheme. If it is to produce cheaper gas for domestic and industrial purposes all over Australia, it must be commended.

Another point to mention is the fact that vast construction work will be necessary. Employment will be available for many thousands of people. It will be a tremendous source of employment although, frankly, if 1 were a pipeline constructor I would not look forward to constructing the section from Palm Valley to Kalgoorlie or from Palm Valley to Dampier. It would be something like building the old telegraph line from Alice Springs to Darwin. That is a fabulous piece of work which was done in the outback. Construction of the pipeline will entail some very fine engineering and a lot of spirit and hard work to get anything done in those areas, lt is a grandiose scheme. If it ever gets under way in the far out places of which I am speaking it will be of tremendous value to the country. But what happens to the private enterprise explorers when the Government has moved in with such a heavy hand to take over all the exploration for and transportation of our fuels and minerals? Intrusion into the private investment area is foreshadowed, especially in respect of natural gas.

I have put the main points to which I wished to refer. It is a tremendous scheme out I do not believe that it can benefit the country as much as the Government believes it will because it will drive out the people who already have shown that they are willing to go to the far away places, including out to sea on the north-west shelf or in Bonaparte Gulf. They have been prepared to risk their capital in exploration. I see as a shortcoming the overall, grandiose and heavy handed entry of the Government into pipeline construction and fuel and energy exploration.

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