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Monday, 20 May 1957

Mr HAMILTON (CANNING, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - I say that any honorable member, irrespective of what part of the Parliament he serves, ought to be downright ashamed of himself for making these sort of suggestions. It is only cheap claptrap and humbug. It is an insult to those people-

Mr J R FRASER - I rise to order. I wonder whether the honorable member is entitled, having referred to a statement he has read in the press, to link that statement with a member either of this House or in another place.


Order! In this particular case it is too late for the honorable member to take a point of order.

Mr HAMILTON - I hope that the next matter I will raise is not too late. It refers to certain portions of-

Mr J R FRASER - Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, I direct attention to the state of the House. [Quorum formed.]

Mr HAMILTON - It is the first time that I have had the privilege of having a quorum called upon me by a member of this Parliament who is not entitled to vote and who is not entitled to be counted when a quorum is called. The matter I was about to raise is related to the Postal Department. In Western Australia, the Labour Government proposes to close one-fifth of the State's railway system, involving 842 miles of railway line. Some of the railways are in my electorate. A telephone line has been constructed along these railway lines and is hired to the Postal Department to provide telephone services for country residents. If the railway lines are closed, it is a hundred to one chance that the Railways Department will not bother to send any one to maintain the telephone lines. I hope that the Postal Department will take warning from my statement and will discuss with the railway authorities in Western Australia, or with the State Government, the possibility of the Postal Department maintaining these telephone lines or of the taking over of the lines completely, so that it will be responsible for their maintenance and efficiency.

Another matter I wish to mention relates to the Royal Australian Navy. Some time ago, the then Minister for the Navy promised that ships from the Royal Australian Navy would hold exercises in the Indian Ocean, off the West Australian coast, but I think it is known - to most West Australians at least - that few such exercises have taken place. I do not deny that national service trainees from Western Australia have gone aboard training ships and have had periods of training in the Indian Ocean. However, if it was good enough for Admiral Stump of the United States Navy, on the occasion of his recent visit to Australia, to say that he would recommend the naval authorities of his country to send American warships to exercise in Australian waters, rather than to come here simply on official visits from Pearl Harbour or whatever their stations may be, it is good enough for the Royal Australian Navy to send some of its ships from the eastern seaboard to the western seaboard so that the people of Western Australia may see for themselves that the Royal Australian Navy is playing an active part in Australia's defence scheme and may gain some appreciation of what is being done to train Australian youths in the Navy.

The last matter I wish to deal with in the few minutes that remain for me to speak, concerns the development of northern Australia. Some Western Australian members have received what I consider to be a most impertinent letter from the " West Australian " newspaper. It is asking us to support a scheme that the Northern Rehabilitation Committee has devised for the development of northern Australia. The newspaper is asking us, not only for support, but also to bring pressure to bear on the Government. The exact question that it has asked is -

Would you be prepared to apply pressure to the Government to invoke the scheme?

That means to put this scheme into effect. I do not take exception to the scheme that has been devised - its sponsors want a tax-free period for the northern areas - although, personally, I think that such a scheme would be unconstitutional. This Government has tried to help the people in the northern areas under the zoning system, and that scheme could be challenged on constitutional grounds. Therefore this request to exert pressure is unwarranted. Insofar as the Western Australian portion is concerned, I have suggested before, and I say again, that the people in the northern parts of the State should be given an opportunity to say whether they would like to remain under the control of the Western Australian Government or would prefer to come under the control of the Commonwealth Government, as the Northern Territory did some years ago. Since the Commonwealth has had control of the Northern Territory, and particularly since the Department of Territories has been in operation, the population of the Northern Territory has increased considerably and development has gone ahead apace. That region is really getting somewhere.

While the north-western portion of Western Australia stays under the control of the Western Australian Government, it is too big a charge on the Government and on the small number of people in the State. I say that the people in the area should be given an opportunity, by way of a plebiscite, to choose whether they will stay with the State Government or come under the wing of the Commonwealth. If they choose to remain with the State, the State Government should set up a commission or some authority with head-quarters at Derby or Broome, so that these may have some liaison with the Government, instead of having to travel thousands of miles south to the capital city to seek help. If a plebiscite were taken, it could be the first step towards the creation of a new State. In my opinion, that must come eventually, because of the size and importance of this area.

I think it is tragic for people to be asked to support schemes that have no constitutional foundation and that may be challenged at any time. I think that we should be doing the people of the northern areas - I do not care whether it is north Queensland or the north of Western Australia - a greater service by either encouraging the State governments to set up some authorities in the north which the people could approach or by giving the people an opportunity to come under the wing of the Commonwealth. That would be much better than putting forward a mad-cap scheme that could be knocked over before it had really made a start. I think that we must give the people of Western Australia who live north of the 26th parallel or whatever other line we take an opportunity to say what they would like to do. If they decide to remain under the State Government, then it should set up an authority of the kind I have mentioned. The State Government should work on lines similar to those on which we have worked in the Northern Territory. Before the Department of Territories was established, we had centres of administration in Darwin and Alice Springs, which worked through Canberra. I realize that, as a result of this activity such things as steel quotas became possible, but since we have had a Minister for Territories the area has gone ahead. I hope that progress will continue and that something similar can be done for northern Queensland and the north of Western Australia.

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