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Tuesday, 8 November 1910

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - I realize that it is almost useless, at this stage, to start anything like an effective opposition to a measure of this description ; but, if there is anything that could make honorable senators doubtful about the step now being taken in granting a bounty to the oil industry, it is to be found in the speeches of the honorable senator who has just resumed his seat, and of Senator Stewart, who .preceded him. Each of them has indicated that if the expenditure of £50,000 in three years is not found sufficient to attain the object the Government have in view, they will be prepared to vote a larger sum.- If, however, this is to be only the beginning, what will the end be? I takethe view that, in dealing with these large companies, we should proceed in the same shrewd business-like way as the companiesthemselves proceed in dealing with those.- with whom they have relations. If we are going to vote them £50,000 to enable them to tide over their initial difficulties, we should make provision to receive a portion of their profits when the day comes that they will be making a substantial return on their investment. It has also to be remembered that, as soon as the Commonwealth undertakes to encourage the company that is engaged in the shale oil business in New South Wales, it will stimulate opposition from the Standard Oil Company and other companies engaged in the same business. Once we have started to help the local company, they will have a legitimate call upon us, and the call will be for more and more help, and the money will come from the men who are toiling in railway tunnels, shearing sheep, and working in industries for barely enough to subsist on. From one end of Australia to another we are at the high- water mark of prosperity ; but in the homes of the toilers there 5s no high-water mark. They have to deny themselves many of the necessaries which persons, living in better circumstances, consider to be luxuries on their part. I am disinclined to give even a passive support to a measure which is to hand over to the Commonwealth Oil Corporation the people's money, but which contains no provision that the company, when it becomes more wealthy, shall share the profitspro ratâ with the Commonwealth. I remember a deputation of mine-owners waiting upon the late Richard Seddon, Premier of New Zealand, and asking him to pledge the Government to contribute £3 for every £1 which they expended on a scheme for exploiting the Thames deep leads, which, it was anticipated, would be found to carry rich gold. The companies had not sufficient cash to carry out the test, so the deputation from one company asked Mr. Seddon to do what I have stated, and I remember his answer quite vividly. He had nohesitation in saying, " Yes; but when you have reached the profitmaking stage the Government will take £2 for every £1 earned by the company." Not only was that a sensible, practicable, and common-sense way of dealing with the company which wanted to test the deep leads, but to my mind it would be anexcellent plan of dealing with oil production, sugar production, tobacco production, or any other form of production which you want to help or foster. Surely it would not be unfair to say to the Commonwealth Oil Corporation : "If the £50,000 of public money should enable you to become a profit-declaring company, the profits shall be divided in proportion to the money paid in, whether it was contributed by rich shareholders in England, investors in Sydney, business men in Melbourne, or by the Commonwealth on behalf of the people!" I hold that we should be as careful in spending public money as we are in spending our own. We ought not to pay over any sum belonging to the people for the use of a company unless we are assured of getting a definite return. I recognise in this case that there will be an indefinite return to the Commonwealth, and that it must look for the development of resources which will tend to bring population in this direction. But we should remember that the great bulk of our revenue is contributed by those who have little beyond that on which they can exist. I could not pass a gang of men working on the roads, or a gang of navvies toiling under the broiling sun in the interior, without thinking that their money should not be taken to help to develop the Commonwealth without a provision that it shall share pro rata in the profits which may accrue. I do not suppose that the Ministry will accept a suggestion at this stage, but I hope they will realize that if we commence in this way there will be initiated an endless system of benefits to be conferred. A bounty of £50,000 to a wealthy company does not sound very much, but already we have heard a voice raised on behalf of Tasmania indicating that in that State there is a company which needs Federal assistance, but which is not getting any help.

Senator Pearce - It will get a bounty on paraffin wax, I presume.

Senator GARDINER - I suppose so. No sooner have we started on this particular system of helping a company than a voice is raised that further help is necessary. I cannot see any ending to the system unless we adopt the practical businesslike method of providing that the Commonwealth shall sharepro ratâ in the profits. I think that the days of assisting companies have gone by. Suppose that during the next three years this bounty of £50,000 should help to make the Commonwealth Oil Corporation such a dangerous competitor that the Standard Oil Company may think it worth while to buy it out, what will become of the £50,000 of the people's money? Will it be thrown, as it were, into the company's treasury to help it to exercise its extended power for the purpose of taking extra pennies from the people who use kerosene? I do not know whether these matters have been looked into by the Ministry or not, but I think that when we come to deal with big companies, and, what is more important, the people's cash, we should satisfy ourselves that the interests of the people have been looked after, and that if the future should bring profits to the shareholders they should be divided pro rata with the people of the Commonwealth, whose money has helped to bring about that result.

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