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Thursday, 31 May 1973
Page: 2980

The CHAIRMAN - Order! I suggest that the honourable member for Stirling should confine his remarks to the matter before the Chair.

Mr VINER - The amendments state the function of the Authority as being to ensure various things. How is it proposed that the Authority will ensure that natural gas shall be delivered at a uniform price throughout Australia? We are not told by the Government. How is the Authority to ensure that condensate, petroleum gas and other substances are retained and processed in Australia? We are not told. Is it intended that this pipeline authority will buy all the producers' reserves in the ground? Otherwise, how will it ensure that those reserves are retained and processed in Australia? How is the Authority to secure, control and retain reserves of petroleum which are adequate to meet the long term needs of the Australian people? Again, is there to be a wholesale takeover of all these reserves? Is there indeed to be a rape by the Government of the reserves that have been discovered by private explorers who have risked capital? When the Minister speaks as he does with a pathological opposition to the Woodside-Burmah group which is exploring on the north-west of Western Australia, I wonder in truth whether it is not the intention of this Government to rape those reserves and to deprive that company of some fruits of the effort and money that it has put into its exploration, and to deprive the people of Western Australia of the benefit of the development of those reserves.

I return to paragraph (e) of the amendment to sub-clause (1). This states that the purpose of the Authority is to ensure that there is a uniform price. I asked the Minister whether it is intended that, for example, if there was a local pipeline taking gas from the north-west shelf, within Western Australia, to other parts of that State for the purpose of being used for the purpose of development there where it is intended that the price to be charged to the consumer in Western Australia is to be different from the price that would be charged if there were a pipeline across Australia from Dampier to Sydney? One would have thought it obvious for effective regional development of an area that local energy sources be used as cheaply as they can be used to support local industry. I ask the Minister on behalf of the people of Western Australia: Will that kind of thing be permitted? Will the people of that State be able to use the natural resource which is so close to their shores as cheaply as the energy is available to them? What is being discovered on the north-west shelf can mainain what can only be described as a massive industrial complex, even greater in dimension than the Pilbara concept of which this Government and the Western Australian Government are undertaking a feasibility study.

In the short time that I have left to me I should like to point out a dangerous precedent inherent in paragraph (f) of the amendment to sub-clause (1). It is stated that the Authority will have a function to ensure the retention and procession in Australia of natural gas reserves. The Government, of course, has in its hands full power to prevent exports which are against the national interest. It can do that by the exercise of its export control powers. But what is inherent in this Bill is that export control, which is a proper functon of government, is being delegated to a pipeline authority. I point out that there is nothing in the Bill to give the Minister for the Government any power or direction over the Authority. Its activities can only be controlled through the financial regulations of the Treasurer. But in terms of policy, the Authority is autonomous. I would have thought that it was a grave as well as dangerous precedent for the Government to hand over to an independent authority controls of a vital nature to the public interest, such as export control power. The Government has ample power to preserve in the national interest whatever natural resources we have. There is simply no need for the function that is proposed by this amendment.

There are other matters which have been pointed out by other honourable members who have spoken on this Bill. Uniformity of price and conservation of resources are easy catchcries and on the surface they will have public support. But what the Government has failed to do continuously throughout the debate on this Bill is to tell the Parliament and the people of Australia exactly what are the policy and administrative ideas which lie behind the Bill. It has provided a legal framework but that is all. And it is only by the efforts of the Senate in moving the amendments that it has moved that we have uncovered some - and I venture to think only some - of the true policy ideas of the Government in establishing a Pipeline Authority. So I think that the people of Australia can be thankful for what the Senate has done and for what its actions have disclosed.

The CHAIRMAN (Mr Scholes - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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