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Wednesday, 7 July 1920

Mr GREGORY (Dampier) . - I have not the slightest intention of discussing the technical details of this Bill, but I wish to say a few words concerning the northern part of Western Australia and the restrictions which may unintententionally be placed upon trade there - restrictions which may be detrimental Ito the best interests of the Commonwealth. I thank the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) very much for having, at my request, and in the interests of those who are pioneering Australia, withheld the proclamation of the Navigation Act, and for having brought forward an amendment which will enable him during these abnormal times to extend some consideration to the trade of the north 'and north-western portions of Western Australia: Had the Act been brought into operation without the .amendments which are contemplated in this Bill, we should have absolutely crippled, and possibly have destroyed, the whole of the settlement in the northern parts of Western Australia. The proposed amendments to section 96 of the principal Act, which will empower the Minister to grant exemptions in certain cases, may very well be enlarged without in any way imperilling the efficiency of the Bill. I feel sure that honorable members opposite, who wish to make the measure as complete as possible, have no desire to destroy settlement in the northern parts of this country.

Mr Mathews - The seamen do not desire to do that.

Mr GREGORY - If honorable members were familiar with the conditions which obtain in the northern parts of Australia, they would not be so insistent in connexion with many matters "which pertain to the policy of a White Australia, and would be disposed to make certain small concessions to those who are compelled to develop the northern parts of this country-

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - Nobody objects to that.

Mr GREGORY - The shipping position in Australia at the present time is undoubtedly abnormal. I am very glad that the Minister is to be empowered to proclaim the Navigation Act piecemeal, and I would like to clothe him with ample authority to grant concessions until the shipping trade of Australia once more becomes normal. A little while ago, a ' terrible drought was experienced in Queensland and New South Wales. Whilst that drought was in progress enormous quantities of fodder were lying in Western Australia, and surely it would have been almost criminal if ships coming from other countries, and calling at Fremantle, had been prevented from bringing that fodder to the eastern States. The Minister should have some power in. that direction.

I wish now to refer to an incident which came under my notice whilst I was a member of the Pearling Commission, and which should induce this Parliament to do all possible to ameliorate the conditions of the settlers. Whilst taking evidence from a postmaster regarding the climatic conditions which obtained in the northern part of Western Australia, we were assured that, amongst other things, it was his duty to keep meteorological records, and that his reading of the dry and wet bulbs disclosed that, on many summer evenings, there was 92 per cent, of moisture present in the atmosphere. He added that it was possible for a white man to live in such a climate, but that the life of a woman who had to go into the kitchen was a perfect hell. Now we are asking people to settle in these remote areas, and to build up this country. I am extremely desirous of extending facilities to those who are pioneering these places. Freezing works have been established at Wyndham, and similar works are about to be started at Carnarvon and Geraldton. T believe that most of the northern ports could suppport works of this sort, and if they were established, treble the quantity of stock could be carried in that portion of the country. The report of the party which recently traversed the north-western portion of that State shows the wonderful extent of territory that we have, there, and the enormous numbers of sheep and cattle that it would carry if there were a near market for this stock. In order to build up that area, I believe that the Government would be justified in offering a bonus with a view to attracting ships to that particular coast for the purpose of bringing fresh and frozen meat to the southern portions of this country, and giving increased facilities for settlement. It is quite impossible for us to retain that great territory unless we people and develop it, and some special effort should be made in this direction. The provision contained in this Bill, under which the Minister will be enabled to grant permits to continue in the service boats at present trading on that coast, until such time as other shipping is available, meets with my warm commendation. But I do hope that he will agree to a small amendment under which, instead of making these permits returnable in' six months, the period will be extended to twelve months. Shipping companies require to make their contracts some time ahead, and a. period of six months is scarcely long enough; though, when granting these permits, the Minister should insist upon all the coastal ports being served. I think we are making a great mistake in insisting upon white men going into the stokehold of vessels employed around the Queensland coast or the northern coast of Western Australia.

Mr Riley - It would be all right if the vessels burned oil fuel.

Mr GREGORY - That would make an enormous difference, but we have not yet oil fuel vessels in the service, though I would not be surprised at oil being discovered in the nor'-west. The tropical conditions are so severe that it is impossible to get the same class of labour in the northern as can be obtained in the southern parts of Australia. Honorable members must extend some consideration to those persons, who, apart from severe climatic conditions, have to face immense difficulties in. connexion with drought, in the matter of obtaining necessary supplies, and the absence of all the amenities of civilization. I trust that, in this Bill, the Minister will make the small concession for which I have asked.

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