Daily News (Perth), July 7, 1978, p. 6.
LONDON, Today (AAP): Iron ore millionaire Lang Hancock has decided that “yelling his head off” in Australia is not doing enough to sway Canberra.
So today he brought his campaign against government meddling in private enterprise to Britain.
“Before you can correct something you have to expose the trouble,” he said today as he listed the things which were deterring overseas investment in Australian development projects.
The Federal Government’s decision not to go ahead with the threatened resources tax was one hurdle that had been removed, Mr Hancock said, but others remained.
The variable deposit rule, the Foreign Investment Review Board and export licensing were among the worst of the Government bars to foreign investment, he said, and Canberra must stop “changing the rules once the ball has bounced.”
Mr Hancock’s immediate problem is to find a market for the iron ore which would enable him to open a new, huge mine in the Pilbara.
But given the present state of the world steel industry that is not an easy task.
“We’ve got four great mines in Australia,” he said, “and I would like to build a fifth, right now, despite the world slump. My daughter and I have legal title to more reserves of iron ore than the total reserves of the United States and Canada combined, but at the moment we can’t find a market for it.”
“What we are looking for is a captive market in exchange for which we’ll give a captive source of supply.”
Some time ago the scene was looking better. Mr Hancock had lined up a deal with Japan which would have covered 18 million tonnes of ore a year for 20 years. Had that deal turned into a signed contract, he could have raised the necessary capital.
But the Japanese pulled out, and now the discoverer of Hamersley is trying to set up a deal which will leave Japan out altogether.
That means finding a steel producer sufficiently confident that the industry’s problems will be resolved in eight or ten years to contract now for future ore purchases.
Mr Hancock knows he won’t find that producer in Britain, but he says there are private enterprise steel makers in Europe who are making a profit and he hopes he will be able to persuade them that by signing with him how they will be able to “skim the cream” from the huge reserves yet to be exploited in the Pilbara.
Apart from the general problems of the steel industry, Mr Hancock now faces government restrictions in Australia which, he says, had they existed in the 1960s would have prevented the Pilbara mines ever getting under way.
The restrictions were largely brought in by the Labor Government, he says, but the present government is just as bad: “The parties are only different in name.”
The real government he said, was the ever-expanding bureaucracy in Canberra, and Prime Minister Fraser had so far shown himself powerless to stop it.
“Canberra’s inmates are without knowledge or experience in commercial matters,” he said. “We are now suffering from the disadvantage of third generation Canberra-born civil servants who are isolated in the cocoon of Canberra from the cradle to the grave, and are thus protected from acquiring any knowledge of the economic climate which is necessary to allow industry to create jobs.”
Communist-controlled unions, and manufacturing lobbies in Canberra which engaged in sweetheart deals with unions and wrote their own ticket on tariffs and quotas, knowing they could recover the costs, were other factors acting against Australian development.
And then there was “the media.”
Newspaper proprietors must not offend the manufacturers or they risked advertising revenue. They could not expose union working or they faced strikes, and their journalists were “easily, for most part unknowingly, handled by the bureaucracy, who are extremely capable in the field of expansion, survival and leakage.”
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