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Thursday, 1 December 1960

Mr FULTON (Leichhardt) .- Mr. Deputy Speaker,you yourself are aware as are other honorable members who have had an opportunity to visit my electorate, that it is the most northerly electorate in Australia. It extends to the tip of the Cape York Peninsula. Immediately off the tip of the peninsula is a small island - Thursday Island. Relative to its size and population, the exports of that island are one of our biggest dollar earners. This brings me to a matter which I took up earlier with the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner). I suggest that he is not taking the development aspects of his portfolio seriously enough, and that if he did, he would appoint an active, energetic and virile committee to deal with development; problems. Such s committee could co-operate with the States, and I believe that the State authorities would be very happy to. co-operate with such a Commonwealth committee in planning the development of undeveloped areas. It is essential that we do what we can to make all our land, productive. I believe that no land is so arid as to be useless, and we should not waste the land that we have.

Year after year, we spend millions of pounds in assisting people in other countries to develop their undeveloped areas in order that they may live happily and enjoy a better way of life. Yet we have in this country .no plan' for the organized develop ment of areas that could be made productive. After all, the engineers have a saying that the difficult can be done immediately, but the impossible takes a little more time. I believe that nothing is impossible when the full powers of man's inventive genius and intuition are brought to bear, and that all these areas that are at present unproductive and undeveloped should be made useful by a planned scheme of development.

There is no better way of proceeding with such a scheme than by putting it in the hands of a Commonwealth committee able to co-operate with the State authorities. Each State could appoint a committee to co-operate with the Commonwealth committee and place before it problems concerning wastelands in each State, with suggestions as to what can be done and as to whether irrigation and power projects or roads are needed. If State committees submitted such suggestions, a Commonwealth committee would be in a better position to establish a proper order of priorities for the progressive development of undeveloped areas. A Commonwealth committee of this kind would also be able to take into account the demand in other countries for products which could be produced in these undeveloped areas, and could determine which crops should be grown. The establishment of such a committee would be a positive step in the development of our undeveloped areas.

This brings me to the growing of tea in northern Queensland. I put this matter before the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) some, time ago, and he has informed me now that he has passed my representations on to one of his colleagues. I do not yet know which one. I suggest that we could develop the tea industry in the north. Every year, imports of tea cost us millions of pounds) and I suggest that the tea industry could be- made a very worthwhile one for Australia. If we developed it, we could save ourselves millions of pounds. I believe that the biggest problem at the outset would be picking the leaf, which ordinarily is picked by hand. However, I made inquiries and found that a mechanical harvester has been developed in one country. I passed on to the Prime Minister a pictorial representation of such a harvester and asked him to inquire into the cost of manufacturing such a machine and the principle on which it is based, and to get any other information that he could obtain. Tea has been grown in the north of Queensland for many years, and so has coffee. The tea industry could greatly assist the development of the north; and I firmly believe that we could make it a worthwhile industry by using it to develop areas which at present are undeveloped. The Queensland Government already has an experimental station near Innisfail, and a doctor in northern Queensland who is very keen on establishing the tea industry has many plants under cultivation.

I understand that in the country in which the mechanical harvester has been developed, the production of tea is not just a matter of putting in the plants and watching them grow. The harvester is so made as only to skim over the tops of the plants and take the choice upper leaves. I understand that the agricultural experts in the country, concerned set to work and cultivated a tea plant to suit the requirements of the harvester. Surely we have inAustralia brains just as keen as are those anywhere else in the world. We ought to be able to do the same sort of thing. I believe that there are possibilities in this field and that the matter should be considered more sympathetically by the Commonwealth.

I- should like to- take the minds of honorable members back to the early days of the tobacco industry in northern Queensland- in order: to- illustrate what can be done. In the early- days of the tobacco industry, the growers suffered greatly because they did not receive a sympathetic hearing from the Commonwealth Government. The growers could not produce 'leaf of sufficiently good quality, and they lost- everything that they had put into their farms. Eventually, the Commonwealth Government saw the light and came to the assistance of the industry. As a consequence, it went ahead and it is to-day, with the exception of the sugar and timber industries, perhaps the most important agricultural industry in northern Queensland. Much the same considerations apply to the tea industry. Unless we see a concerted effort on the part of the Commonwealth and the State authorities,, the industry will remain in the doldrums, as did the tobacco industry in its early stages. I do not want to see that happen. Those who pioneer industries such as these deserve a fair reward and should be given all possible opportunities to establish themselves properly while their industry is young.

A Commonwealth development committee of the kind which 1 propose could take an interest in these new industries, exercise some control over their development and give those engaged in them valuable advice. I feel sure that such a committee, by developing new industries in this way, would do a great deal to promote the development of areas which at present are undeveloped. This is the sort of thing that the national government must consider: We contribute millions of pounds year after year to help other countries develop undeveloped areas, and we must not lose sight of the fact that in this great country with its huge area so sparsely populated, we have no right to hold what may be required by other people unless we ourselves do something worth-while with it.

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