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Thursday, 16 March 1961


Mr MURRAY (Herbert) .- If the Opposition wanted to introduce a wantofconfidence motion which could be justified by the facts, instead of using the irrelevant rubbish that it has mostly used as arguments up to date, it would have done much better to have taken the Government to task for its failure to encourage the development of north Australia, where there are such tremendous opportunities to step up production in several major industries and to increase our export income. This debate has been of more than usual interest to me because so many honorable members have drawn attention in one way or another to the need to develop our empty north in order to boost our export income. Some honorable members speak with a good deal of knowledge of the subject - others with very little. But I think that most speak with sincere conviction that this country must face up to its responsibility, which it has shirked and side-stepped for far too long - the development of north Australia. That we can side-step it no longer is becoming more obvious day by day.

Responsible people inside this Parliament and outside are making statements almost daily on the need for development. There is a considerable variety of opinion on what could be done. I think that this variety of opinion emphasizes the great need for a properly constituted authority, such as a commission to be established in order to collate the information which is readily available in many places and to collect other information in the form of reports by various committees which is lying in many dusty pigeonholes scattered all over the country. Information would also be available from people and organizations which are closely associated with and interested in the development of the north and who know a good deal about this problem.

This Government has given far more attention to the development of Australia than has any previous government. But in doing so it has followed the familiar pattern, so that we see the gap widening between northern development and southern development. Whilst we have witnessed extraordinary development in the southern half of a continent where there has been vastly increased expenditure on production in primary industry and an unparalleled flow of very necessary investment capital from overseas, the gap is widening, because the situation has changed little in the northern half.

For decades we have been giving only lip-service to this problem of development in the north. The simple truth is that at least 95 per cent, of the members of this House live in and represent electorates in the southern half of Australia and 95 per cent, of our population is in the southern half. It is also true that there is room for many millions more people in the southern half. But we should be displaying a great deal of concern at the fact that only 500,000 people live in the northern half of the continent.

We must agree with what the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) has had to say on many occasions about the need for decentralization. Millions of words have been written and spoken on this subject, and no doubt when it is raised again, as the honorable member for New England will certainly raise it, there will be plenty of other honorable members ready to jump on the band-wagon and put forward their favorite theories. The honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) wants another dam on the Murray River to serve another great irrigation project. This, he says, is the most deserving case of any for developmental expenditure in order to boost our exports of primary products. I should think that every honorable member in this House could rise at very short notice and put forward a scheme which could be considered, of tremendous benefit to the nation as a whole. The plain, inescapable truth is that we have not the financial or physical resources to carry out more than a mere fraction of these great schemes.

Of course we should decentralize, but let us be fully aware of the fact that we have done nothing at all worth while as yet to encourage decentralization. What is more important, we have not yet made the major decision on the question whether we should place emphasis on the narrow, parochial kind of decentralization, such as that advocated by the honorable member for Mallee, or whether we should widen our initial planning and devise a bold and imaginative long-term national plan to establish population and industries in areas of known possibility, such as our northern areas. These northern areas are still regarded as remote. The very fact that in 1961 almost half the total area of Australia, the northern half of it, is regarded as remote is a pretty disgraceful reflection on the way our National Parliament has carried out its responsibilities since federation. We do little more than maintain the short-term parochial view here in the south by adopting the simple old principle of reinforcing success in our endeavour to hold our stability and boost our export income. This is a handtomouth policy to suit the present needs, and it keeps widening the gap between northern and southern development. The longer we postpone the fulfilment of our responsibility the more difficult it will be to justify economically the implementation of a plan for northern development.

The effects of our economic policies are felt very differently in different areas throughout the Commonwealth. It is often not fully realized that what is sufficient to dampen and restrain some industries in the south, where we have our major field and range of activity, may be a crippling blow to normal activity in another area. No one denies that some action had to be taken, but in areas like north Queensland, where there is an almost complete absence of alternative opportunity within the narrow range of industry, the effect of credit restrictions, at a time of the year when there is already a high level of unemployment in seasonal industries, this being a normal state of affairs, is most damaging and disheartening. It is quite useless to talk of moving men from one industry to another. The opportunities to do so do not exist in the north. Men are employed in a profession or in an industry. If the particular industry retrenches or closes down they are simply not employed at all.

There is little or no incentive to establish any industry in the north which must rely on major markets in the south. The cement industry provides an example of the difficulties. It is impossible for our cement industry in north Queensland, despite the fact that it is most efficient, to compete with Japanese imports. Japan can land cement in Cairns, a short distance from the location of our own cement manufacturing plant, for £4 a ton cheaper than we can produce it. The timber industry provides another illustration of the difficulties. We are told that in north Queensland, with present milling capacity, our reserves will last for about 200 years. The present credit restrictions will add a few years to that. With its principal markets in the south, it is quite impossible for this industry to compete and survive, under the present tariff and import arrangements and with crippling freight costs. Would it not be worth while for us to step in and provide some incentive to keep the industry alive, if we were satisfied with its standards of efficiency? I do not advocate that we should ever subsidize inefficiency, but if inefficiency exists in remote areas we should try, with industry co-operation, to eliminate it.

Industries already established in the north have mainly been based on the exploitation of natural resources. In the case of mining, the value of most minerals being mined is such that distance from markets is of relatively minor importance. Sugar is a protected industry, whilst meat, although a great deal of it is exported, suffers a price differential in comparison with meat produced in the south which is often quite unreasonable.

The major obstacles to development of industry in the north are, first, distance from main markets and restricted local markets; secondly, in general, large areas are only partly developed, and in parts they are undeveloped; thirdly, our knowledge of natural resources is inadequate; fourthly, freight rates operate against decentralization, except in the case of restricted local areas around particular centres; fifthly, very little, if anything, is offered by State and Commonwealth Governments to offset the disadvantages of decentralization or of setting up new industries; sixthly, in many areas transport problems are completely unsolved; and seventhly, living conditions in some centres are unattractive, the cost of living being high compared with that in southern centres, whilst there is often a marked lack of amenities.

Honorable members should bear these points in mind when they consider northern development. It is quite unrealistic to expect any great flow of private or risk capital into the north without proper incentives. We are now offering incentives to those who would explore overseas markets for Australian products; we are holding out incentives to any who will provide a greater financial return for the country in .the way of export income. Is it beyond our capacity to work out and offer some real incentives to those who would be prepared to establish new industries and put some risk capital into our undeveloped north?

Let us be realistic about this matter. At the present time practically every conceivable obstacle, both natural and man-made, stands in the way of further progress and development in the north. I have enumerated many of them. Any one foolish enough to endeavour to transport cattle from the northern rivers, where shipping points are nonexistent, to our export meat works on the north-east coast, as the Clausen shipping line endeavoured to do, must surely realize that the official attitude is, " Have a go if you like, but if you do not survive it is your own fault ". There cannot be one valid excuse for allowing that shipping line to leave our shores when we are talking of boosting our export income. A commission or other authority for northern development, even with only the smallest powers, would have encouraged and retained it.

Then there is the case of the Le Tourneau off-road transport. Who in this country or in this Parliament can say that this type of unit would not be a success for moving cattle in remote areas where conventional transport cannot operate, and where onthehoof movement is sometimes impossible, uneconomic or even shockingly wasteful? We have established a principle with regard to these machines by spending many hundreds of thousands of pounds on equipment of this ki'd, or embodying a similar principle, for our Air Force. Yet, when a few individuals are prepared to put up some money, asking for State and Commonwealth support to try one of these machines, there is nothing but backing and filling and buckpassing. Here again is a chance to boost our export income. Our lack of imagination and reluctance to take even the smallest risk is, I think, most lamentable.

Now we talk of Commonwealth assistance for developing and constructing roads in the north, where it is clearly beyond the capacity of the State to construct them. These roads will obviously be, in the main, beef cattle roads. We welcome this development, but we realize that it must be some years before the roads can be constructed, and. therefore, effective. In the meantime, we must have fifteen or twenty shipping points in the north for shallow draft vessels such as those that the Clausen line would operate, inexpensive shipping points like those established at Burketown and Normanton, costing about £2,000 each or less, to move cattle out as required. We should, as a matter of urgency, secure an off-road transport vehicle, such as the Le Tourneau, and give it a trial. I feel sure that it would succeed. If any honorable member has ever walked cattle over the Murrami track, he would know why I advocate this form of transport. There is a tremendous scope for it in Australia, if only as a feeder to conventional transport on good roads.

The construction of a sealed road system across the north, from Townsville right through to Wyndham, with similar access roads north and south, is vitally necessary. I have pointed out in this House many times that we have not one all-weather road or railway linking the north of Australia with the south. There are, therefore, periods in every year during the wet season when we have no road or rail communications for defence or trade. We certainly need roads, but they must be designed on a plan calculated to do the utmost good for the industries they will serve. We must not accept the thesis put forward with a great deal of vigour that cattle from the north must move over a system of roads to the southern States for fattening and slaughter as being the answer to the problems of our beef cattle industry. We have a clear responsibility to develop this industry around permanent fattening areas in the north. We have a responsibility to north Queensland to support any scheme put forward by the State which aims at year-round killing at our meat works and at eliminating the curse of seasonal unemployment which, unfortunately, we have grown to accept as normal.

We welcome the decision by the Minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (Dr. Donald Cameron) to establish centres for plant and animal research at Townsville. I congratulate the Minister upon his early decision. I have always advocated that the key to the establishment of a sound and prosperous beef cattle industry is the raising of the level of nutrition. Any one who has any knowledge of the problems of the north knows full well that native pastures fail completely in the dry season of each year, that 50 per cent, of all calves branded never reach a market and that even if there were a sealed road to every major stockyard across the north we would not get sufficient cattle for a day's kill at any of our meat works in the off season.

We have vast opportunities for expansion in our beef cattle industry to the point where Australia will become the world's greatest producer of beef. T emphasize that this opportunity is staring us in the face, but if we are not prepared to give encouragement and assistance where they are needed to existing industries, and to attract others by using our own financial resources, then we should be looking to other countries to help us out. At our present rate of progress, we are missing out on a great opportunity, and we are showing little justification to the rest of the world of our claim to hold this vast area of rich, undeveloped land. Our right to hold it can best be demonstrated by the establishment of an authority or commission whose aims and terms of reference are simply the progress and development of northern Australia.

I believe that this censure motion is weak in the main. On the points upon which the Government has been attacked, it can show justification for its actions. I could not support the motion, but do believe that the Government would have a difficult task to justify its lack of encouragement to the establishment of industry in the north and the movement of population to that part of Australia.







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