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Thursday, 4 October 1956

Sir EARLE PAGE (Cowper) .- Everything that the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) has said in his very informative- and' forward-looking speech emphasizes the fact that there should be a completely new approach to the problem of national development, especially in relation to business enterprises which serve the public, provide amenities, and are reproductive, and in relation to research - an integral part of that development. The present method of trying to deal with these matters under an annual budget, either by way of a loan or, what is much worse, out of revenue derived from taxation, must result in tremendous disappointment and terrific waste. One has only to look around at the scars on the countryside to realize that. One sees railways and dams that have not been finished. Frequently all parties agree that a certain project should be carried out, but, because of some financial stringency, work on it is discontinued and never recommenced. The time has come to look the stark facts of national development in the face and see whether we can bring this state of affairs to an end.

There are only three ways in which to handle this matter. One is to draw up a long-term plan and to devote a substantial vote to it in each of several successive years, as 1 was able to do in the 'twenties with the Postal Department. In 1923, the BrucePage Government decided to get busy and repair the damage that had been done by neglect during the war period, when all sorts of economies had been effected. Sir Harry Brown was, at that time, in Australia as a consultant, and ultimately became the head of the PostmasterGeneral's Department. He said that if he were given £25,000,000 to spend over a five-year period without being restricted to a specific amount for each year, he could lay down a really sound foundation for us. We agreed to his suggestion and voted him £25,000,000 to be spent over five years. He expended £3,000,000 in the first year, £6,000,000 in the second year, £7,000,000 in the third, £6,000,000 in the fourth, and £3,000,000 in the fifth, and in that way laid a foundation that has never failed the Postal Department since. As a result of his plan, more telephones were placed in country districts than had been previously installed during the whole life of the department in Australia. Further, the erection of so many country lines brought the department so much added business that the main trunk-lines showed a tremendous profit which enabled the department to provide a sinking fund of 30s. per cent, for the amortization and maintenance of the telephone lines. That is a splendid example of one way of dealing with the position, but it is not the best.

Again, we have the example set by the Bruce-Page Government in i925 in connexion with the Federal Aid Roads plan. Under that scheme, the State governments and the Commonwealth Government each provided a certain amount of finance L> bt expended on a ten-year plan. This was also a satisfactory way of tackling t'-.r problem because the fact that the plan extended over ten years gave it some permanency. It enabled constructing authorities to offer permanent work to employees and, because the works would be extended over ten years, those constructing authorities felt justified in purchasing first-class equipment to do the work. This plan was launched in 1926, and, although there were some misgivings at the time, it proved so successful that in 1936 every government in Australia decided to extend it for a further ten years; and I was extremely disappointed when the period was reduced to three years after 1946.

A third method that has been tried is the one introduced by me when I allocated £500,000 to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization under legislation that provided that this money could not be interfered with in any way. It was that action which enabled the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization to achieve such success in its work and to live through the depression.

But none of these methods constitutes a permanent way of dealing with problems connected with our progress. The time has now arrived for Australia to follow the precedents established in Canada and America in connexion with important activities such as the generation of electricity. There, they have adopted the franchise or charter system. Under that system, charters for undertakings are self-amortizing and become public property at the end of the period without the necessity of the public's taking over any debt in connexion with them.

Mr Whitlam - Like the Suez Canal.

Sir EARLE PAGE - The Suez Canal was a good thing, and 1 intend to say something about that later. At the moment, however, I content myself with expressing the hope that when Australia enters into a charter with any other parly it will honour its obligations and keep to its bargain. The more we examine some of these ventures, the generation of electricity, in particular, the more we realize the necessity for continuity of operations. In most instances, electricity undertakings are built up step by step, but it is imperative that the planning be done always with an eye to future development and requirements. A splendid example of what is required is to be found in the construction of a number of generating stations along the Clarence River. In the Nymboida River scheme, for example, a generating station of a certain capacity was first erected, the intention being to increase its capacity within five or ten years. When the second station was erected, it was designed as an integral part of a network which included the first. This meant that the load factor of the first station, which was 33 per cent, originally, would be increased to 69 per cent, by the construction of the second generating station and, indeed, both stations would be working on a load factor of 69 per cent. This method is a splendid way of saving cost to the community while, at the same time, achieving satisfactory results.

The generation of electricity is important to future progress, for, if automation is to become a reality, ample supplies of electric power are essential and the sooner we get on with the business of ensuring sufficient electric power, the better it will be for Australia. Further, in all these schemes, it is essential that long-term arrangements be made. This is borne out by the Ebasco report recently furnished to the New South Wales Government. That report pointed out that in electric undertakings, especially hydro-electric plants, it is essential that the planning be done on a long-term basis. For instance, it sets out the life of dams at 100 years, of tunnels and surge tanks at 100 years, of pipelines at 50 years, of turbines and mechanical equipment at 50 years, of operators' cottages at 30 years, and so on. But it is impossible to plan for such undertakings if expenditure is to be restricted to an annual budgetary appropriation. The same observation applies to the working out of the way in which plant is to be enlarged to meet future requirements. For instance, the Ebasco report to the New South Wales Government has taken a 25-year basis, lt recommends a plant capable of producing so many hundred thousands of Kilowatts extra by 1960 with gradual expansion each year until 1980 when its capacity will be something like fifteen times greater than that of the first section installed. Planning of this type is possible with hydro-electric schemes because, unlike coal, diesel oil and so on, water does not fluctuate in price. I put forward a strong plea here that works of this type be planned on a national basis. 1 was pleased to read that the Premier of New South Wales said in answer to a question yesterday that he was giving consideration to the establishment, under franchise, of certain works in northern New South Wales because such an undertaking would avoid a tremendous amount of the sporadic unemployment from which we now suffer. Further, it would help our balance of payments position because a great amount of outside capital would be invested here and an additional advantage would be that those outside investors would in all probability establish other undertakings in this country. Under the system I suggest, the local government bodies throughout Australia would be in a much better position than they are now. At the moment, because of the reduced allocations made by the Australian Loan Council, many local authorities are not able to raise the money they require for the generation and. reticulation of power. Under the system I advocate, no such problem would be experienced by them. By having a central authority with a long-term franchise generating the power, and by leaving the reticulation to the local government bodies, great savings could be effected to the advantage of the Australian people. especially if we had people from 0'itside Australia investing in works to develop our country, just as America was developed.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.

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