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Thursday, 31 May 1973
Page: 2975

Mr FAIRBAIRN (Farrer) - This is a quite incredible situation. As the honourable member for Angas (Mr Giles) said, we are turning the national forum into a farce. This has been exhibited in this House today. A Bill has been returned to this House from the Senate. The Bill took many months to prepare. It was debated and the Opposition in the Senate brought forward a number of amendments, some of which have been put into the Bill. Suddenly, we are presented with some additional amendments produced by the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor). The Minister had months to produce a Bill which apparently he thought was adequate and satisfactory when he introduced it in the House. He said it was adequate anyway, whether he thought it was or not. Yet, now, major amendments are being proposed by the Minister. After chasing around the House this morning I finally got a copy of the amendments at about 9.30 and the Opposition is expected to deal with them only hours later. They relate to matters extremely difficult for anyone to understand, or to see their implications, whether they be experienced in this field or not. The Opposition has been given only a few hours to consider the position, yet it is expected to contribute to this debate. Whilst I am Opposition spokesman in this field, as the Minister knows, I cannot give my own views on this subject. I have to put forward the Opposition's view and therefore the matter must be considered first by the executive of the Opposition and secondly at the Party meetings of the Opposition.

It is quite incredible that attempts should be made by the Minister to change his own Bill at such short notice. Of course, we are debating these amendments against a background of delays that have already been caused by the Minister in bringing natural gas to Sydney from Gidgealpa. We know that the managing director of Santos recently informed the Australian Gas Light Co. Ltd that because Of the actions of the Minister there will be a delay of at least 6 months in bringing natural gas to Sydney from Gidgealpa. We do not propose to cause any further delays although we are strongly opposed to many aspects of this Bill. All I can say is that times will change and when they do we can amend this and many other Acts at our earliest opportunity.

Although I raised a point of order I think that the Minister continued to read his prepared speech which covered the whole field instead of the amendment which he had actually moved to clause 13. The amendment spells out the functions of the Authority. These functions are to be extended in 4 ways. Firstly, the Authority will 'ensure continuity of supplies of natural gas, that is free from impurities'. I do not know why it is necessary to include those words. For some years now, Australia has had supplies of natural gas. It now has natural gas at Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. There never has been any lack of continuity of supplies. Special actions are taken by any authority to ensure that there will be continuity. This does not mean that they have to join up an additional field so that if there is a temporary disruption in one field backup supplies are available from another which might be hundreds or thousands of miles away. Obviously to do this would involve an unacceptable cost. Instead, existing justification plants are maintained using coal, liquid petroleum gas or various other fuels to provide a temporary continuity of supply until such time as the problem is rectified. We do not oppose that part of the amendment, but I do not see why it is necessary.

The second paragraph of the amendment states that a function of the Authority is:

To ensure that natural gas supplied by the Authority is available at a gate-valve delivery price that is, at all times, uniform throughout Australia, after making due allowances for differences in the calorific values of natural gas obtained from different sources'.

We think that is a fine aspiration. One would like to see an equality of price so that one person does not suffer vis-a-vis another. The Opposition parties, when in Government, went out of their way to see that the price of petrol was subsidised in the more remote areas of Australia so that it would not he more than 4d above the price in the capital cities. Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd has a uniformity of price at capitals for its steel products. However, one of the extraordinary anomalies is that to take steel from Wollongong to Melbourne the railway has to be used, and that railway passes through such cities as Wagga and Albury where the price of steel is higher than it is at Melbourne which is at the end of the line. Basically, as an aspiration, we do not quarrel with this part of the amendment, but

I can visualise situations in which these would be a disadvantage to remote locations.

If there is to be a standard price for natural gas in Australia it certainly would react adversely to Alice Springs. The people in Alice Springs, being close to the enormous Palm Valley gas supply, would expect to be able to get gas cheaper than it is in Melbourne or Sydney. If they could do so it could well be that they could attract industries to that area. This would encourage decentralisation. However, if an industry can set itself up in Melbourne or Sydney and get Palm Valley gas for the same price at which it could get it at Alice Springs, it would be very hesitant to go to Alice Springs. As an aspiration or an objective, the second part of the amendment may be ideal. However, we have to look at its practicality. This is a very major topic and no-one in this House could be expected to debate it fully a few hours after looking at it. This is something which would have to be worked out over quite a long period of time.

I turn now to the final 2 paragraphs in the amendment moved by the Minister. They also relate to the functions of the Authority. They are:

(f)   to ensure that condensate, petroleum gas and other substances derived from natural gas are retained and processed in Australia in order that they may be available to augment supplies of motor spirit and similar fuels obtained from indigenous sources; and

(g)   to secure, control and retain reserves of petroleum adequate to meet the long term needs of the Australian people.

I am at a loss to understand why it was necessary for the Minister to seek the addition of these functions. He knows perfectly well that as the Minister he now has the power to agree to or refuse any applications for export. It seems to me that what he is seeking to do is to transfer from himself to the Authority the power to decide whether there should be exports. I intend to move what I regard as a minor amendment to the Minister's amendment with which I hope he will agree. I move:

In proposed paragraph (f), after the words 'to ensure that', insert the words 'sufficient quantities of.

That paragraph then would read:

To ensure that sufficient quantities of condensate, petroleum gas and other substances derived from natural gas are retained. . . .

As the proposed clause is now written it is virtually a directive to the Pipeline Authority that in no circumstances at all should there be exports. It virtually prohibits export of any sort. I believe that there are cases in which it would be necessary for exports to occur because without them the cost of developing and bringing into production some of these fields could be excessive and they might not be brought into production. Therefore I do not think we should say that in all circumstances there is to be a prohibition. The amendment I have moved has been circulated and will be seconded. The Minister has transferred to the Authority, and not even to the fuel and energy authority, a power which he already has, a power which one would expect to be exercised by the Government after it had available to it the best possible information.

Mr Viner -I second the amendment.

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