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Wednesday, 28 November 1973
Page: 4004

Mr VINER (Stirling) - Unfortunately we have heard from the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) a tirade of abuse which had nothing to do with the subject matter of public importance and which in no way clarified the issues that are facing the Australian public at present because of the administration by the Minister of his portfolio. Let me mention one matter to which both the Minister and the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) who preceded me in this debate referred and which relates to the hydrogenation of coal. The Minister spoke about instituting a crash program to investigate this process. I wonder how that stands as a public statement with the evidence that was put before the Estimates Committee of the Senate dealing with the Department of Minerals and Energy. Officers of his Department told members of the Senate Committee that there is no laboratory in Australia which is capable of conducting the research and applying the technology necessary to develop a program of hydrogenation of coal, nor is there any provision in the Estimates of the Minister's Department for such a program. I think that matter needs some explanation by the Minister to this House and to the people of Australia.

What kind of crash program will it be? It will be a program which will crash as much as has the Minister's administration of petroleum exploration in Australia. At a time of world energy crisis of incalculable proportions and a time of Arab gunboat oil diplomacy of the most callous and calculated kind, when a world depression is almost a foregone conclusion in the face of that diplomacy by the Arabs, Australia requires from the Minister 2 things: Firstly, a clear, simple and accurate statement of Australia's domestic oil supplies and future domestic demands. That ought to be something with which the Minister can come forth, with all the forces of his Department to back him up. Secondly, a sense of urgency is required of the Minister and the Government in decision making and in action. This is not a time when the Government can sit back or when the Minister can delude the public or when there can be an air of complacency about this energy problem.

Australia has an energy problem. It is not as bad as it is in Western Europe or America but nevertheless Australia has its own energy problem. What have we heard from the Minister in respect of the 2 things that are required? Inaccurate, conflicting and misleading information has been given to this House and to the public and we have had this air of complacency from the Minister which pervades the whole administration of his portfolio. The conflicting, inaccurate and misleading statements are in the Hansard record and I will refer to them only briefly because of the limited time available to me in this debate. On 31 May in a debate on the Pipeline Authority Bill at page 2973 of Hansard the Minister said:

On this basis-

Having dealt with the subject before- our recoverable Australian crude oil will be exhausted in 12 years.

The Minister for Minerals and Energy gave a figure of 12 years in May. By October the Minister had changed the figure and the statement to one of an anticipated supply of 8 years. He put it in this context:

Australia is notably deficient in crude oil. We only have 8 years supply, allowing for projected expansion of consumption.

Then on Monday last - 26 November - in answer to a question he said that Australia has no more than 8 years known recoverable reserves of crude oil. The periods are different, the language is different and the concepts are different. We in this House want to know what the Minister means. The public needs to know what the Minister means.

Mr Bourchier - He does not know himself.

Mr VINER - That probably is the case because quite obviously the Minister has not read the material that is available to him from his own Department. When the Minister speaks of 8 years supply being available to Australia, does he mean that in the eighth year from now there will be no oil available? That is what supply' means, as I understand it. If that is the truth, the public ought to know because the possibility that Australia can literally run out of oil in 8 years is a most serious matter.

The truth of the matter, as the industry well knows - even if the Minister does not know that his statement is not correct - is that within 8 years or thereabouts the recovery decline, or the production curve to use the technical term, will start to decline. What the Minister must talk about is the gap between production and demand. The public needs to know what is that gap, how quickly it will widen and what action is to be taken by this Government to see chat it does not widen too far but narrows again. There will be oil in the ground in 8 years time and there will be oil that can be produced for use in Australia in 8 years time, but how much is available for production will depend upon how much oil has been discovered. This is where the Opposition crosses swords with the Minister and where it condemns the inaction of this Government and condemns the Minister for the way in which he has tried to delude this House, and has misled the Australian people. The Minister for Minerals and Energy gives the impression that supplies will run out in 8 years but that everything will be all right because a crash program of coal hydrogenation will solve all the problems in Australia. Everyone in the industry and everyone who reads the documentation from the Minister's own Department knows that during this year there has been in Australia a radical run-down in the amount of exploration, both on-shore and off-shore. All that anyone needs to do in order to get the truth is to read the publications of the Minister's Department. I refer to a publication called "The Petroleum Newsletter No. 54' put out by the Bureau of Mineral Resources this year for the period 1 April to 30 June. In the table of drilling activity one can quickly see what the drastic downturn has been. If one turns to the schedules of on-shore rigs being used as at 30 June 1973, one comes across the word idle' time and time again - 'idle', 'idle', 'idle' - until one realises that in Australia about 20 rigs are idle.

There is one solid contribution that the Government could make to ensure for the Australian public that there are adequate reserves of petroleum in Australia in the foreseeable future, and that is to accelerate, and rapidly accelerate, the exploration program. There is no substitute for that, and the Minister knows it. He ought to read a publication in the 'Oil and Gas' journal of May 1973 by Mr J. M. Henry and Mr K. Blair-both of the Department of Minerals and Energy and in particular of the Bureau of Mineral Resources - entitled 'Australian Contribution in Expenditure And Development Of Its Indigenous Petroleum Resources'. The magnitude of what is required in Australia can be judged very quickly from these figures: To satisfy our crude oil requirements over the next 12 years, exploration expenditure of the order of $1,1 50m is required. Then, in addition to that, expenditure for development of those wells and the cost of other facilities is another $2,000m, making a total of $3, 150m. It has been mooted that through the National Petroleum and Minerals Authority, foreshadowed by the Minister some $50m will be available to that Authority. If only half of that is put into petroleum exloration over the next 12 years, representing $3 00m for exploration, there will be a massive shortfall of thousands of millions of dollars, which will have to be made up in order to explore for and discover the reserves to satisfy our crude oil requirements for a mere 12 years.

Where will that money come from? It must come from private industry. What has this Minister done? He has killed off the opportunity for private industry to invest that sort of money. He has killed off the incentive to private investors to put up that risk capital. He has denied to the international industry the opportunity to come and aid Australia in what is required-

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable gentleman's time has expired. The discussion is concluded.

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