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Tuesday, 16 October 1956


Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

Mr. GEORGELAWSON (Brisbane* [4.54]. - I desire to make a few comments on Division 43, Department of National Development, which appears at page 2391 of the Estimates. I hope that my commentswill be in order, because I desire to mention two or three projects in Queensland which 1 term - and which the Queensland people term - very important national projects. I refer to the Mary Kathleen uranium project and the Mount Isa project.

Honorable members know perfectly well that, within the last couple of years, one of the richest uranium fields of Australia was found at Mary Kathleen, outside Mount Isa. lt has been taken up by a company known as the Rio Tinto company. The company intends to spend somewhere in the vicinity of £10,000,000 in order to bring that vital project into operation in the very near future. I understand that the company hopes to have it in production in 1959. It is at present busily engaged in making the necessary preparations. As a matter of fact, I am informed that it is now building -an up-to-date township to consist of offices and housing for many of its employees. Of course, the same kind of thing was done at Mount Isa. As 1 have said, it is recognized beyond all doubt that the Mary Kathleen uranium field is a much richer field than is the Rum Jungle field. Not only is the Rio Tinto company anxious to get on with the development of the field, but the Queensland Government is also anxious to assist in every possible way, not only to develop the field, but also to provide speedy and efficient means of transport for its products. To this end Queensland Government experts have made a survey which discloses that the railway line from Cloncurry, which is the nearest point to the mine, through Mount Isa to Townsville, is not in a condition to carry the extra load that it would have to carry when the two mining projects, that at Mount Isa and that at the Mary Kathleen field, are producing at full capacity. The line will have to be strengthened and new rolling-stock and new locomotives will have to be provided. With this in view, the Premier of Queensland placed before the last Premiers conference a request that at least £10,000,000 be provided by the Commonwealth to help finance this work. He did so in the belief, which 1 share, that the developments at Mount Isa and the Mary Kathleen field constitute a national project which will benefit not only Queensland, but also the whole of Australia. So, naturally, the Queensland Government is seeking some financial assistance from the Commonwealth in order to carry out the necessary work of improving transport facilities in that area.

The Queensland Government and the Queensland Parliament are approaching this issue from a non-party basis. During the last State elections in Queensland, in May, both political sides agreed on public platforms and in their policy speeches that they regarded the project as of a national character and stated that they would assist in carrying it through on a non-party basis. I do not know whether the Commonwealth has done anything about the request made by the Queensland Premier for £10,000,000 to finance the strengthening of the railway line that I mentioned, which is in a very bad state, and the provision of new rollingstock and locomotives; but it must be known to everybody, particularly members of this Parliament, that it is impossible for the Queensland Government to finance such a project from the amount of loan money allocated to it annually by the Australian Loan Council. The Queensland Premier's request for additional finance was made to meet extraordinary circumstances, and the people of Queensland are anxious to know just what the Commonwealth intends to do about assisting in this way to develop the very important Mary Kathleen uranium field. In addition to the sum of £ 10,000,000 required for the strengthening of the railway and the provision of new rolling-stock and locomotives, there is also required the sum of £400,000 for the building of an allweather road from Cloncurry to the Mary Kathleen field and to Mount Isa. I have seen in the press a statement that, since the Premiers conference was held, representatives of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development have visited the Mary Kathleen area and made a close examination of the railway line, the rolling stock and the locomotives, for what purpose I do not know. Probably the Queensland Government knows, and probably this Government would know through the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden), because I am hoping that the visit by the representatives of the bank was brought about by this Government. I do not know what the report of the bank's representatives contains, but I feel sure that those representatives would agree that the application made by the Queensland Premier at the Premiers conference was a good application, and that the position is as he stated at that conference - that is, that it is absolutely essential, if that valuable uranium field is to be developed as we hope it will be developed in the near future, for adequate transport facilities to and from it to be provided. Of course, quite apart from the development of the Mary Kathleen field, we must never forget the further development of the wonderful mining project at Mount Isa. ( understand that new development is going on there which will throw extra loads on to the already overtaxed railways in the area. I also understand that the Mount Isa interests are commencing the construction of a new huge treatment plant near Townsville, the operations of which will also mean that an extra load will be thrown on to the railways, because a great deal of the byproducts of mining at Mount Isa will be treated in that plant.

Another project in Queensland which is worthy of mention, and which I hope the Commonwealth will assist in every possible way, including financially, is the rich bauxite deposit discovered in the gulf country in north Queensland, which is estimated to be the richest bauxite discovery yet made in Australia. It is true that in certain parts of the Northern Territory bauxite deposits have been discovered, but according to information received the gulf country deposit extends over a very wide area and is very rich in alumina content - so much so that I understand that several overseas companies have sent representatives to Queensland to seek for further deposits of bauxite in the area. I am sure that there is no need to impress on honorable members the necessity for developing that bauxite field in Queensland, because we all know that the Commonwealth's own aluminium project at Bell Bay, in Tasmania, depends solely, at present, on imported rock bauxite for its raw material. What a boon it would be to the people of Australia if this project in the Gulf of Carpentaria supplied sufficient bauxite to enable all the aluminium that we require to be produced! I feel sure that we would then be able even to export aluminium profitably. It is believed that when the field is properly developed a second Bell Bay may be established somewhere around Cooktown. It would be a national project, it would bring greater population to northern Queensland, and it would be especially valuable from a defence point of view.

I hope that this Government will not lose sight of the application by the Queensland Government for financial assistance amounting to £10,000,000, to enable it to carry out the work that I have described.

It is proposed, in the very near future, tt> turn the Mary Kathleen field into a regular little township. If this Government is tohonour its promises it must treat this as a national project and give more financial^ assistance to the Queensland Government. Queensland has been neglected - especially by this Government - over a long period, and has not been given the financial assistance that it needs for its development. Instead, it has been trying to carry on with the meagre sums that it has been able toobtain through the Loan Council.


Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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