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Thursday, 24 August 1972
Page: 451

Senator MAUNSELL (Queensland) -I had hoped that this Bill would receive a speedy passage through the Senate. After all it is purely a measure to give effect to an announcement by the Commonwealth Government that it would transfer its 50 per cent shareholding in Commonwealth New Guinea Timbers Ltd to the Investment Corporation of Papua New Guinea. If I were to reply to Senator Keeffe I would find it very difficult to stick to the terms of the Bill. I wish to say, briefly, thatI believe that every thinking person in this country is more than satisfied with what the Australian Government has done to bring Papua New Guinea to nationhood. This Bill is only a small part of the overall pattern.

Senator Keeffecomplained about the fact that following the transfer the Investment Corporation of Papua New Guinea will not have a 50 per cent interest in Commonwealth New Guinea Timbers Ltd. What has actually happened is the Commonwealth Government has transferred its 50 per cent interest in Commonwealth New Guinea Timbers Ltd to the Investment Corporation of Papua New Guinea on the condition that upon the transfer of its shares to the Investment Corporation of Papua New Guinea the other major shareholder in Commonwealth New Guinea Timbers Ltd - Placer Development Ltd will arrange an amalgamation of all the other wholly owned Placer assets in Papua New Guinea with those of Commonwealth New Guinea Timbers Ltd. The effect of this transaction will be that the indigenous people will be given a say in a much more diversified company than the present company. From what I can gather the Australian Government's share, following the amalgamation, would represent only about 28 per cent of the whole investment but it is getting 35 per cent as a result of the adjustments which have been made.

We should face up to the fact that even a nation like Australia has not been able to develop its own resources fully because it has not got the know-how and the finance to do so. The same situation applies to Papua New Guinea. Its financial resources and know-how are very limited. It is most important that the capital resources which Papua New Guinea needs should not be supplied by other nations. The resources should be supplied by Australia and not by another country which may have interests in mind other than the interests of Papua New Guinea. We have to assist Papua New Guinea to develop its resources and this Bill is a way to do that. The more that we and Australian companies can assist Papua New Guinea the better. The Territory can be given a part to play itself.

Senator Cavanagh - I agree, but is the Bill doing that?

Senator MAUNSELL - Yes, this Bill is doing that. It is giving to the people of Papua New Guinea the shares which the Australian Government hold. It is up to the people and the new House of Assembly to negotiate with Placer Development Ltd for the rest of the shares. We have no say in that. We are handing over the shares which the Australian people own and that is what this Bill deals with. I ask honourable senators to stick to what the Bill says; never mind about going all over the countryside. When this agreement was negotiated the assets of Commonwealth New Guinea Timbers Ltd were considered to be worth about $2.3m. Let us face the fact that this agreement was negotiated before 9th May. By 9th May this year the Opposition was well aware of the facts of this agreement. In the last 3 months I had not heard of any opposition to it until the amendment was moved in this chamber tonight. Now the Opposition has moved, by the amendment, that the agreement should be sent back to the House of Assembly. For 3 months nothing has been said. Obviously the House of Assembly has been happy with the agreement. It was organised long before. Now, at this last minute, the Opposition wants to send the agreement back. What is the reason? The reason is, according to the Opposition, to look after the interests of Papua New Guinea. Or is it because of a certain election which is just around the corner? The Opposition is talking about a 50 per cent ownership.

This Bill is clear cut. It was accepted in the other place once the details of it were completely explained to the honourable members. I do not see any reason why I should take up any more of the time of the Senate. Only a small amount, some $5m, is involved in the whole company, and 35 per cent represents the very small amount of about $2m. But this is very important for the future development of Papua New Guinea in which Australian companies and investment can assist. Let us face it, it is better for Australians to help Papua New Guinea to develop its resources than for countries with doubtful intentions to come in. I support the Bill.

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