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Friday, 28 June 1946

Sir EARLE PAGE (Cowper) .- I take this opportunity to emphasize two means by which the Government can help - greatly to increase primary production and prevent waste. First, we need to repair the roads throughout Australia which have been seriously damaged by war-time traffic, particularly in heavy rainfall districts. The damage ha3 not only been caused by heavy wartime traffic; it is also due to the fact that local, governmet bodies did not possess road-repair machinery, this having been requisitioned by war-time constructing authorities. Secondly, we can increase primary production by improved methods of water conservation, by harnessing our major streams, thus providing a solid core of power which would help to make good any loss of -power due to insufficient coal supplies.

Very great damage has been done to both country and main roads during the war, particularly in coastal areas as the result of the withdrawal of small coastal steamers for mine-sweeping purposes. This withdrawal has meant that less use has been made of the minor ports, and has involved the carriage of heavy loads of timber, and other goods by road to the main manufacturing centres. These roads would not have been used for this purpose to anything like the same degree had normal coastal shipping been continued. In one district alone in northern New South Wales, between Grafton and Coffs Harbour, more than 1,000,000 additional tons of timber has been transported by road which normally would have been conveyed to' the manufacturing centres by coastal steamer. The changeover from the manufacture of butter and cream to the manufacture of other milk products, has involved the transport of great quantities of whole milk, and this extra heavy traffic has taken serious toll of many roads where previously the loads consisted of concentrated cream. The demand for increased supplies of timber for war purposes has been tremendous. During the six years of war, the industry produced more timber than in any other similar period in its history. The output of hardwood timber was doubled, and that' of softwoods was increased enormously. The heavy loads and heavy vehicles have played havoc with not only country roads but also main roads. I have in mind the roads from Grafton through Woolgoolga to Coffs Harbour, from. Grafton to Armidale, the main road from Smithtown to Taree and the Manning, and the Clarence Valley road. Great quantities of minerals, like chrome ore, have been transported over these roads. Owing to the fact that their roadrepairing machinery had been requisitioned for war purposes, local government authori- ties were not able to keep these roads in a ' reasonable state of repair, and consequently, the roads have practically gone to pieces. . Only yesterday I received a petition signed by 1,300 residents in the Manning district asking that the Commonwealth Government grant financial aid to the local shire council to enable it to lay down a bitumen road 'from Harrington to Coopernook. The responsibility of repairing these roads is that of the National Government, because" it is the duty of the Commonwealth to- make good the damage caused directly as the result of war-time operations. 1 ask the Commonwealth, as part of its defence expenditure, to allocate the sum of £5,000,000 to be distributed to shires in order to enable them to carry out repairs to roads. This work is essential because of the heavier class of vehicles now used for road transport. I also urge the Government to inaugurate a scheme, subsidiary to the Federal Aid Roads scheme, which deals with main roads, for this purpose, and to finance such a scheme by allocating, say, 2d. a gallon of the petrol tax. The effect of this subsidiary scheme would be to enable local government authorities to work continuously upon the repair of country roads damaged by war-time traffic! At the same time, main roads could be repaired under the Federal Aid Roads Agreement.

This work should be co-ordinated with works undertaken by the waterconservation authorities in the different States. The weir across the Molonglo -River at Canberra, which has been constructed to serve as a bridge as well as to dam up the water, is a very good example of what should be a general practice throughout the Commonwealth in order to conserve water. A ' very great advantage of such weirs, which serve as both bridge and weir, is that they do not cost more than bridges.

Secondly, I urge the Government to take immediate action to utilize all available water-power with a view to supplementing the electric power now produced mainly from coal. Anyone who has been in Sydney during the last two or three weeks will realize the unfortunate conditions existing in that great city because of lack of electric power owing to the shortage of coal. Power is the life-blood of the nation. Owing to recurring shortages of coal, Australian industry is becoming almost anaemic. These shortages hold up production, causing unemployment, loss of wages, and the lowering of living standards. For many years our people have been encouraged to electrify their homes. To-day many homes are equipped with refrigerators, electric stoves,- and many other electric installations; but their owners now find that sufficient power is not available to enable them to gain the benefit of these improvements. Such conditions disrupt domestic life. As the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) said, 'living conditions in our big cities are declining to Elizabethan levels. If we are to make Australia a great country, capable of carrying a population of 20,000,000 people, we shall require to increase our total coal production to 40,000,000 tons' annually, that is, three times as much as our present total production. Power is urgently required to enable the expansion of our great iron and steel industries. The demand for coal will be so great that the miners will always be assured of employment.

In addition, we must harness the water resources of the country. Tasmania is fortunate in having a potential of 3,000,000 horse-power. The mainland, apparently, has only two major sources of hydro-electric power, namely, the Snowy and Clarence, ."Rivers. Each has a capacity of 250,000 horse-power. Unfortunately, the development of the Snowy River must be a comparatively slow process, and that is accentuated by the dispute between the Governments of Victoria and New South Wales regarding the wisest means of utilizing its waters, whether wholly for power or partly for power and partly for irrigation. Whatever the final decision may be, the Commonwealth Government should insist upon the immediate construction of a dam at Jindabyne.

No such interstate difficulty arises regarding the Clarence River. Although this river is in New South Wales, Brisbane and southern Queensland urgently required additional power from this source of supply. The physical characteristics of the Clarence River will permit of progressive power development. From 10,000 horse-power to 15,000 horse-power could be made available to the general electric system within nine or twelve months by harnessing the natural flow of the river. In three years, 100,000 horsepower could be. developed. The remaining generating opportunities could be developed progressively as required.

The natural flow of the Clarence River approximates 3,000 cubic feet a second. The full development of the power capacity of the river will be achieved by the construction of a dam at the Clarence Gorge. In the first 1^ miles from the site of the suggested dam, the drop of between 50 feet and 60 feet would enable the generation, with this flow, of from 10,000 to 15,000 horse-power. The Clarence project is being examined at the present time by expert engineers, under agreement by the three governments of the Commonwealth, New South Wales and Queensland. These engineers have given a favorable interim report. They ask for further detailed information to be obtained by surveyors on the spot. Given two survey parties, this information could be obtained within six months, and, on this information, the decision as to the nature of the final development could be made.

The Nymboida hydro-electric scheme, which uses the natural flow of the Nymboida River in the way suggested for the use of the Clarence, took less than one year to install from the time the first sod was turned. Connexion has recently been made between this water power station and the Zara Street coal power station at Newcastle. Generating an extra 10,000 horse-power on the Clarence, and feeding it into the main electric system, would save enough coal to keep more railway mail trains running, or permit suburban trains and trams to run at half-hourly intervals instead of hourly,' or to give homes the use of electric power and gas in the whole system for an extra couple of hours or .permit the use of more lights in houses instead of the one which each household was permitted under the last rationing system. Every day's work on this development of the Clarence would increase the power available to the general system. Preliminary work necessary to give this immediate assistance would not affect the final power problem or the final decision, as the machinery of this original small power station at the Gorge would be ultimately moved to some new point as the development of the river proceeded, and would be of very great value in the actual construction of the Gorge Dam. In view of the very early relief that this scheme could give immediately, and its insurance value on an interstate basis when fully developed, I urge that the Government put on as many surveyors and engineers as can be fully employed to secure the necessary data and to proceed with the immediate commencement, of this indispensable work.

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