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Friday, 5 April 1946

Sir EARLE PAGE (Cowper) . - I appeal to the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) to investigate the possibility of co-ordinating the activities of Commonwealth and State departments in order to restore the production on the north coast of New South Wales of food urgently needed for consumption in Australia as well as for despatch overseas. Last week I saw the heavy damage- done by the recent floods in the northern rivers districts. The chaos is unparalleled in the history of the north coast, where butter production has declined to about 60 or 70 per cent, of what it was in the month prior to the floods. Many square miles of the best agricultural land in that part of New South Wales is under water, and apparently will remain so for a long time. Lush grass which was submerged for several days has been destroyed. Practical steps will have to be taken promptly ' in order to alleviate the situation. The position with regard to stock feed is most serious. The season had been one of the best experienced for many years. The crops were well advanced and there was a good growth of grass, but the sudden innandation of pastures left the. producers practically without stock feed. If the Government would arrange to have several truck loads of bran and pollard sent to the producers along the northern ^rivers immediately, the lives of large numbers of valuable milking cows would be saved. I urge the Prime Minister to discuss that matter with the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Scully). Some small areas of crop, which could be used for fodder, have not been destroyed. They were intended for other purposes, but even those crops will be lost if supplies of galvanized barbed wire and fencing wire are not provided to protect them from starving stock. The services should have ample supplies of those materials for immediate distribution. In this instance, time is of the essence of the contract. What we can do to-morrow will be more efficacious than what we do a month hence.

Restrictions- on tyres and petrol for motor vehicles which are required by the men' who drive the lorries conveying cream and transport the employees of butter factories from place to place, should be removed during this period. Those drivers should be given the goods which the butter factories state are necessary. The number of tyres required would not total hundreds, but prompt action in making them available may help to save the position. I shall cite an illustration of what has occurred. On the Bellinger River, there are two butter factories. One was fortunate enough to be situated above the level of the flood. It was thought that the second would be out of clanger, but when the flood rose 9 feet higher than the previous record flood, the factory was partly submerged. Fourteen tons of bacon and other stock were ruined, and the electric motors were temporarily put out of action. Therefore, all the cream which hitherto had been supplied to that factory, must be transported some miles te the other factory and the employees of the idle factory taken to the working factory. The motor vehicles which are used for this purpose have worn motor tyres, which easily puncture and cause delays on the road.

The condition of roads in the outlying districts is bad. The deluge occurred so quickly that bridges and their approaches were destroyed. Thousands of tons of debris has been deposited on roadways and will not be removed for months if the job is under- taken by manual workers. " The local shire councils should be assisted to purchase or borrow bulldozers for the purpose of removing this debris expeditiously. The services, the Allied Works Council, and the Main Roads Board of New South Wales have the necessary earth-moving equipment. On the Clarence River a bridge which cost ?150,000 was destroyed ; the main bridge on the Bellingen River, which was erected at a cost of ?50,000 has disappeared; and many smaller bridgeswhich cost ?6,000 to-?8,000 also have gone. Obviously, the shire councils cannot hope to restore those bridges at once; they will have to make temporary arrangements at considerable cost. Therefore, they ask that all available material and bridge building equipment in the possession of the Government in the immediate vicinity shall be made available as quickly as possible. Otherwise, producers will not be able to transport their commodities to the towns. Since the telephone lines were swept away by the floods, primary producers in the outlying districts have not been able to communicate with other centres. Can these communications be restored immediately? The roads are almost impassable. When I drove down the main Pacific Highway last Wednesday 1 mile of the road between Kempsey and Macksville was covered with water to a depth of 2 feet.

The shire councils also request that builders and engineers, who are still in the services, should be granted temporary release, or be discharged in order to assist with the restoration of essential services. After a complete- estimate of the damage has been made during the next two months, the Commonwealth Government should confer with the Government of New South Wales with a viewto granting assistance. When the floods occurred, the State Government immediately despatched officers to grant relief to destitute persons in the towns; but the greatest distress will be found among farmers, because the fruits of a year's labour have been swept away. Losses will be between £500,000 and £750,000. As this disaster occurred after two years of severe drought, the position of the farmers is desperate.

The various matters which I have raised are handled by different Commonwealth and State departments. As only parts of Victoria, New South Wales, and a part of Queensland have suffered seriously from flood damage, all available materials in all States should be pooled to meet this immediate emergency, and as other materials become available,they can he distributed among the States on an equitable basis.

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