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Wednesday, 10 October 1973
Page: 1815

Mr ANTHONY (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I direct a question to the Minister for Minerals and Energy. Does the Minister envisage Japanese participation in the development of a petro-chemical industry in the Pilbara region, as outlined in his communications with the Premier of Western

Australia? Has he discussed this matter with the representatives of the Japanese interests at present in Canberra? Will the Minister inform the House of his attitude towards Japanese involvement in the Pilbara proposals, which provide for the use of the natural gas that the Government intends to acquire from the north-west shelf?

Mr CONNOR - The answer is a simple one. The present proposal that has been under consideration - that is, the desulphurising of overseas heavy crude - falls down very quickly. In view of the world trend in prices due to the activities of the OPEC - the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries - group one would be giving hostages to fortune to commit oneself to such a refinery. It would be designed and structured merely for the purpose of dealing with a specialised type of crude.

Mr Anthony - I was talking about a petrochemical industry, not a refinery.

Mr CONNOR - All right. That is the first point. The second point, which I have made repeatedly, is that we have only 8 years supply of crude. We need to supplement it. That can be best done by the restructuring of the liquids that are derivable from natural gas - in the case of the north-west shelf, in the order of about 40 barrels per million cubic feet. If we do that we will find that we probably can double our supplies of motor spirit.

Restructuring can take place by methanation, alkylation or a straight cracking procedure. In any event, the petro-chemical plant would strip from the liquids ethane which would be the feed stock for the whole process. In the case of Western Australia there is a very obvious example of what can be done. In the Dampier region and also in the Port Hedland region there are extensive salt farms. That salt can be combined with chloride, which in turn will provide caustic soda, which is one of the essential chemicals for the use of the alumina industry. There is no doubt whatever that it is economically viable. We would prefer to have - and we believe that we can have - quite a number of Australian companies in a consortium. I think we will be taking more than a sporting interest ourselves through the structure of the Australian Industry Development Corporation.

Mr Anthony - Are you talking about the Japanese?

Mr CONNOR - -There will be no need for the Japanese to come in. They are our very good friends and our very good customers and we will be very happy to sell them what they may need.

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