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Monday, 20 May 1957

Sir EARLE PAGE (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - PAGE.- The honorable member should not ask me that. I was not in charge of the matter. Many honorable members will know that I have been advocating this since 1929 when I placed it before a Premiers Conference, and that in recent years, especially, I have not been idle. The time has come to do something about it. Another advantage of the scheme is that half a dozen large projects can proceed in each State at the same time. At present a big dam in New South Wales or Queensland takes five or six years to build, and while it is being constructed everything else stops. The priorities for many works are virtually the same. We would be able to get these things done very much more quickly and increase our production very much more rapidly if we used foreign capital in the way I have suggested.

We would have to get on with the job because the share-holders in the franchise would be looking for some return. They could not afford to let the project drag on for years and years. My long experience in these matters convinces me that only governments can afford to waste years and years. The governments can always sting the taxpayers to pay for the delays. As I have said, under the franchise arrangement personnel from other countries will come here and, in time, begin new industries. Moveover, the considerable public savings of this country would become available for schools, hospitals and other projects which must of necessity be undertaken by the Government. It would not then be necessary to cry out that this school was inadequate or that that hospital was not big enough. Projects could be paid for on a self-amortization basis as has happened with the Hornibrook Highway in Queensland. The particular electricity undertaking, or dam, would not be a public charge at all. The scheme seems to me to be a ray of hope in the gloom that surrounds us at the moment.

I have been in this Parliament long enough to realize that every honorable member wants to see Australia developed. We differ only as to the methods of attaining that aim. I have a very deep conviction about that. Let us get on with the job. But how is such a scheme to be implemented? First, it seems to me to have nothing whatever to do with the Australian Loan Council. We would not be creating any public debt. It would merely be a matter of a private undertaking making a deal with a council or authority, or State government, to carry out certain work. It would have nothing to do with creating or borrowing new loan money for governments. I have discussed the matter with many honorable gentlemen who have sat on the Australian Loan Council, and they agree that it would be no concern of the council. We would, of course, need an organization to handle the matter. It seems to me that a national development council could best do this. It would comprise a representative from the Commonwealth's own Department of National Development and representatives of the national development councils of the States. Those States which did not have councils could easily create them, as they did in the 'twenties. I would hope that local government authorities, and particularly county councils, would be represented on the State development councils. Most of the natural resources awaiting development are to be found in the country. I refer to minerals, timber and the great rivers. It is essential that the local people, who know all about those resources, should be on the State development councils. County councils would have to be given full power to handle projects and see them through to finality, following the policy laid down by the national body. They must have complete freedom of action.

The pattern of organization which I have outlined would not involve the creation of new fact-finding bodies in the States. A tremendous amount of information has been gathered as a result of the investigations that have taken place in the last few years. I am very friendly with State organizations and executives. They are very keen and have displayed much enthusiasm and interest, and the amount of work they have done is amazing.

Having obtained the necessary information, our job would be to publicize it. We must have a federal development council to control the publication of data in Holland, the United States, the United Kingdom, France and other countries where we could attract a substantial amount of money. We have great opportunities in mining, timber, transport, agriculture and power. I am sure that investors in other countries would be willing to undertake the construction of toll roads. Such roads would cost more than the amount that could be obtained from petrol tax. The capital must first be raised to build the roads. Overseas investors could amortize the amount over 25 or 40 years, and the work would pay for itself. When we introduced federal aid for roads, we found that it more than paid for itself by the saving of tyres and such things, and by extending the life of vehicles. The work, therefore, cost practically nothing as it paid for itself.

I come now to the question of how we should mobilize these matters. I have already raised one point before the Constitution Review Committee, and I shall mention it now. The Constitution should be amended so that the States would be obliged to pay just terms for property acquired, as the Commonwealth is required to do under the Constitution. I am sure that would be an excellent advertisement for our integrity and would help us tremendously in other countries. If we could do these things and reduce our taxes because then we would not require the revenue therefrom to carry out capital works, the States could have their own taxing powers again and that would create a substantial amount of competition between the States for new industries. That is really what has happened in the United States of America. The Government there insisted that an effort be made to disperse industries. That not only helps the transport position but also makes the effects of an atomic bomb less severe.

Development commissions have been established in 46 of the 48 States of the United States of America to encourage industries to disperse. Every State, except California and Texas, has altered taxation laws to attract industries and assist development. California and Texas have wonderful opportunities of their own and feel that they do not need a development commission because they are growing at a fast rate. I mention Louisiana as an example. Louisiana offers a ten-years tax exemption from all State, parish and municipal levies to attract industries. Other States, such as Arizona, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, have reduced their taxes. Pennsylvania offers 100 per cent, financing to industries to buy new machinery or, in certain cases, offers to lend money at 2 per cent, interest for 25 years. In Natchez, Missouri, the people raised 300,000 dollars to buy land to attract the International Paper Company. In other towns, plant valued at 500,000 dollars is being built to attract industry. As a result of this competition, the employed population of south-western States has increased by 47 per cent, since 1946 through the efforts they have made to attract industries. The employed population of the mountain States has increased by 33 per cent., and that of the mid-west States by 18 per cent.

I am satisfied that a similar upsurge of competition in Australia would contribute very greatly to development. It would lead to the dispersion of population, which would increase the safety of our people if there should ever be an atomic war, and it would help the dispersion of our industries for defence as well as for development. It would mean an influx of capital which would relieve the weight of government finance and that would indicate a just and fair means of restoring taxation powers to the States.

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