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Thursday, 11 October 1956

Mr MACKINNON (Corangamite) . - The speech of the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) has emphasized the problem of transportation involved in the development of the Northern Territory. The honorable member also showed the difference betwen the two distinct areas of the Territory - that which surrounds and is served by Darwin, and that which surrounds and is served by Alice Springs. The problem of transport in the Northern Territory is not homogeneous, but is divided into two distinct parts. This accentuates the difficulties that face the development of this vast area. This Territory, which comes under the administration of the Commonwealth Government, comprises an area almost exactly similar to large parts of Western Australia, South Australia and western Queensland. The committee is discussing the proposed expenditure of about £7,000,000 in the: Northern Territory, which is an increaseof £1,000,000 over last year's expenditure,, but 1 invite honorable members to turn1 their attention to similar problems in like parts of the other States.

If the success or failure in developing the: Northern Territory during the last 50 yearswere to be analysed and judged solely on the bases of revenue and population the natural conclusion would be that not much progresshad been made. However, such a conclusion might be erroneous, particularly in regard to population. If the population of the capital cities of other large States of the Comonwealth were to be deducted from their total population, the comparison with the Northern Territory population would then be not so lopsided. If centres of population can be developed to serve less densely populated areas a better balance of population over the whole area can be achieved, and that is the principle which could be applied in the vast area of the Northern Territory.

The principal task in the Northern Territory, apart from increasing the population, is to make the Territory self-supporting. During discussions on the Northern Territory from time to time, an atmosphere ©I starry-eyed enthusiasm about its capabilities has been manifested. In the light of more recent discoveries and developmentsin the Territory the outlook is probably more promising than it was six or ten years ago. I wish to direct the attention of the committee to a statement appearing in. the preamble to the report of the Payne committee, which, in 1937, inquired intothe land industries of the Northern Territory. It is as follows: -

The Northern Territory as ii exists to-day is a national probem a national obligation, a challenge to other nations and a detriment to oar selves. Nature has not been lavish in bestowing resources on the Territory. It possesses tracts of good pastoral country but they are widely separated from one another by huge belts of inferior and often useless land. Not more than SO per cent, of the Territory is suited for pastoral occupation or development.

Although more recent developments may have qualified that statement to some extent, the basic condition of the country endorses it as being still, virtually, true. I quote from the Payne report further suggestions made by the committee -

Industries must, so far as possible, be granted conditions that will place them in a position not less advantageous than that enjoyed by similar industries operating in more favoured parts of Australia . . . Some new transport facilities must be provided to overcome the present isolation of much of the Territory's most favoured pastoral lands and thus enable increased development, increased production and increased settlement to take place.

Although almost twenty years have passed since that report was written, it is still substantially true but, as I have already said, in the light of recent developments, the outlook is not quite so black. If we are to rely entirely on a pastoral and small agricultural population to provide the inhabitants of the Northern Territory, we must accept the proposition that the Territory can never carry a large population. Although modern methods of better farming and pastoral improvement, better water utilization and up-to-date equipment may be employed, and could make an important contribution to the increase of the Territory's population, it would be over-optimistic to suggest that population in that area on similar lines to the more heavily populated parts of the east coast of Australia could be expected.

It is quite unreal to imagine that a large tract of country such as the Northern Territory, with a low rainfall area, can carry an enormous population when in other countries that are very heavily populated, such as the United States of America and China, deserts exist which carry no population at all. Government action can encourage and make attractive living in the Northern Territory, and help to provide a reasonable reward for labour. The recent mineral discoveries in the Territory point the way to considerable advance. Honorable members will all agree, of course, that a mining population is somewhat transitory in its nature. The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) would be the first to agree that, although mining brought a tremendous rush of people to the area that he so ably represents in this chamber, it would be quite reasonable to assume that, had it not been for the advantages of the agricultural and pastoral lands that surround Bendigo, there would be a very small population there to-day. In other words, as soon as the mines are worked out the people pass to other areas. If we can assume that the importance of uranium will carry into future years, it is not unreasonable to suggest that it could be the basis of quite a large influx of population, especially as from day to day there seem to be further significant discoveries as development and investigation are made.

At the present moment, the value of mining production in the Northern Territory, excluding that of uranium - I do not know whether the figures for uranium are availableis about £3,000,000 annually. In the last financial year that was the actual amount. That production consists largely of copper from the Peko mine and gold from certain gold mines in that area. Because we have not the figure for uranium, it is difficult to say what is the total mineral production at the present time; but if, as we can assume, uranium is to play a much larger part in the future of the mining industry, it could form a very substantial part of the total mining output of the Territory.

Reference is made in the Estimates to grants for the investigation of farm production, the encouragement of the production of such commodities as rice, and also - and this is of great significance - the investigation of the production of pasture plants suitable for that climate. I feel that that work, for which the Parliament is asked to vote the necessary finance, will be of immense value in the future.

I now return to the question of transport, because I think that probably it is the most vital single factor that is impeding the progress of the Territory. We heard the honorable member for the Northern Territory refer to difficulties in shipping freight to Darwin. If he had had time to do so, he probably would have mentioned the difficulty associated with railway freights. Although it is proposed to grant freight concessions amounting to approximate^ £40,000, I think the honorable member will probably agree with me that, whatever transport or communication system is adopted in the Territory, there will always be a large place for road transport. 1 have heard various suggestions from time to time about the extension of the Dajarra line to the tablelands on the eastern side of the Northern Territory, but 1 think that the Government in particular would be much wiser to study and even give some encouragement to the development of the system of road trains. Because of their very nature, they are so much more flexible and capable of fitting in with the rather seasonal kind ot traffic throughout the Territory that I feel that is the direction in which the best value could be obtained for the money spent. Without wishing to be cynical in any way, I do not think anybody in this chamber would look upon the provision of an expensive railway in a sparsely populated area with any great confidence.

Mr Luchetti - Is not that the way to get population?

Mr MACKINNON - The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) has asked whether a railway would not bring population. I suggest that, if he looks at the trans-continental line, which extends for 500 or 600 miles across the Nullabor Plain - I have no doubt that he has travelled across it - he will discover that that theory, as applied to that line, has not worked out. With the exception of some emus, there is not much in the way of population along that railway line.

Mr Luchetti - It renders a service.

Mr MACKINNON - I do not wish to debate the question of railways versus roadways, but I believe that the money that might be spent on railways would be much better employed if it were used to provide a system of really first-class all-weather roads supplemented by a system of road trains, even if it meant the payment of a government subsidy. The road trains that are now being developed lend themselves to overcoming the transportation problem of the Northern Territory more effectively than I believe railways could do.


Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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