Speech – On Mr. Lang Hancock – by Senator Cory Bernadi to Australian Senate

by 21 November 2012

This Thursday marks the 60th anniversary of Mr Lang Hancock’s famous flight during which he discovered enormous iron ore deposits in Western Australia. It also marks the start of a shining example of entrepreneurship and private enterprise in Australia’s history. In 1952, on a flight with his wife to Perth, Lang Hancock was forced to fly low to avoid storm clouds. In doing so, he flew low enough to spot iron ore deposits in a nearby gorge. After further investigation and a number of visits to the site in the following months, Mr Hancock sent samples of the ore off to Perth for analysis. There were doubts in his mind about what he had seen, because the government at the time believed that iron ore in Australia was limited. This was based on reports from geological advisers in the 1930s. They were concerned that our own iron ore resources would soon be unable to meet our needs. Therefore the government had a ban in place on iron ore exports.

So, when Mr Hancock found out that the ore he had discovered was of a better grade than that used overseas, he set about the challenging task of convincing the government to lift this ban. According to Mr Hancock:

 … people knowing this throughout the world, people interested in iron ore, knew that there was no iron ore in Australia and here was I, a boy from the bush … trying to tell them that I’d found by far the world’s largest iron ore deposits … 30 or 40 firms throughout the world said “run away, it’s a lot of rubbish.

Even the bureaucrats in Canberra said that they had surveyed the area and there was nothing there. In addition to this obstacle, the state government of Western Australia had in place pegging bans on iron ore claims. Despite these challenges, Mr Hancock persevered. He was going to do everything in his power to make his vision a reality.

Having lived in a remote area of Western Australia, Mr Hancock was no stranger to self-sufficiency. He knew that he had to do things himself in order toget ahead. So he worked hard. He learned all that he could about iron ore. He studied how the industry worked. He formed long-lasting business relationships. He approached official after official and company after company, trying to get people on board. Finally, the embargo on iron ore exports was lifted in 1960 and he was allowed to establish a company, and he helped to build an industry that has gone from strength to strength.

It took almost ten years, but Lang Hancock’s dogged pursuit of private enterprise paid off. His hard work led to a huge number of opportunities for workers, companies, Western Australia and the country as a whole. New towns and facilities were established, benefitting the local population, who had been isolated for so long. It opened up employment opportunities for thousands of Australians. And then there were flow-on effects: the jobs and infrastructure created as a result of growing industry. Iron ore development has brought investment and infrastructure from which Australia is still reaping massive benefits. We are now the leading iron ore producer in the world.

Iron ore is one of our largest export industries and, together with the coal industry, directly employs over 80,000 Australians, many of whom work in regional Australia. Last financial year alone, iron ore contributed $63 billion to our nation’s export income.

Australians should be proud of the drive shown by Mr Hancock. It is a great example of how perseverance, initiative and a faith in one’s abilities can change not just an individual’s life but the lives of many others for the better. It also shows the benefits that can come from private enterprise when it is freed from the constraints of government. Imagine where our economy would be today if the powerbrokers and bureaucrats at the time had stuck to their misconceptions about iron ore. While governments may often think they know best, time and time again we see that great things can happen when government steps out of the way of enterprising individuals.

It just goes to show how misguided our Treasurer is in attacking successful Australian business people. The Treasurer’s focus on class warfare does nothing to encourage everyday Australians to work hard in order to pursue success. Our economy relies on the innovation and determination of Australians like Mr Lang Hancock, because it is these things that help to grow business and to increase investment.

Another notable Australian, Jack Nasser, said it like this:

We just don’t want a society where it is them and us, it is rich and poor. You want a society where people work hard . . . they take risks and they get rewarded.

We all have dreams of a better life for ourselves and for our families. Governments should be encouraging people to work hard and they should be making it easier for Australians to pursue these dreams. Yet, more often than not, the welfare mentality prevails through government policy, with people saying, ‘Well, why bother helping myself when other people can do it for me? Why bother working when the government will just give me more money?’ Of course, governments should provide support to those who are unable to help themselves. But at the same time, hard work and initiative should also be championed for those who are able. Wallowing in the welfare state does not lead to a stronger Australia.

Also, governments and bureaucrats must be mindful of the regulatory burden that can stifle free enterprise. And yet, this Labor government seems incapable of recognising this fact. Since 2008 it has repealed 104 regulations but it has introduced an additional 20,900 regulations. That is about 200 to 1 regulations added for every regulation that it has removed. Such an enormous level of constraint on private enterprise does nothing to encourage Australians to take a risk and to use their own capital to start a small business.

There are a number of Australian business success stories out there; stories that inspire other Australians to knuckle down, work hard and achieve great things. We know that not everyone is going to go out now and discover one of the world’s biggest iron ore deposits, but it is a reminder that anything is possible in this country if you are prepared to work hard enough for it. But there is no doubt in my mind that our economy, our community and our faith in the future of this nation is better served by encouraging innovation and private enterprise rather than stifling it.

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