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Thursday, 15 October 1964

Mr BRIMBLECOMBE (Maranoa) . - Mr. Temporary Chairman, it is always interesting to follow the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) in debate, for he is a man who has lived in the Territory for many years and who has varied interests there. He is always abreast of what is happening in the Territory and he is always able to tell us something that is worth listening to and thinking about. This afternoon, he presented his case in a very practical manner. He appealed, towards the end of his remarks, for the establishment in the Northern Territory of a branch of the Commonwealth Development Bank of Australia to serve the interests of the people of the Territory, particularly in the southern portion of it. I could not agree more with his suggestion. I strongly support the idea because I believe that the remote control that has been exercised over the Territory has been one of its greatest drawbacks. Most Territory affairs are controlled from the south. I consider that more and more decisions should be made on the spot in administering the Northern Territory.

The first step to be taken should be to give the Legislative Council for the Northern Territory wider scope to consider matters that affect 3the Territory. I believe that at present the Council meets only about four times a year and discusses purely domestic matters. I could give numerous examples of important subjects that the Council is not permitted to consider. For example, it has no right to discuss money bills or grants made to the Territory. A great step forward would be taken if the Council were permitted to discuss these matters, and advise the Northern Territory Administration, control of which is centred in the south, on the expenditure of funds, particularly in certain fields. If this were done, we might be able to get a better spread of expenditure, and much more satisfactory results from it, than we get under the present arrangement with the control of expenditure determined in an office in Canberra.

The Council should be permitted to discuss also matters such as beef roads which have been the source of many problems exercising a great deal of thought in the Northern Territory for a considerable time. A fairly good job has been done in the construction of beef roads which have been of immense value to the Territory and the Commonwealth and have contributed especially, by indirect means, to the revenue of the Territory. But the Legislative Council is afforded no opportunity to discuss and consider proposals for the construction of beef roads. I do not suggest for a moment at this stage, at any rate, that the Council should have the final say in proposals for the building of these roads but I believe that much good would come from consideration of these proposals by people who live in the Territory and have its interests at heart.

I suggest, too, that the Northern Territory should have its own public works committee to discuss Territory works projects. We in this Parliament, of course, 'have our own Public Works Committee, which investigates various projects in the Northern Territory and makes recommendations to this Parliament concerning them. However, I can.sider that a committee composed of territorians could make a fine contribution by its recommendations on proposals for works in the Territory. I am thinking particularly of roads now. A Territory committee could make a better contribution than can be made by the Public Works Committee of this Parliament, which visits the Territory for a few days, has a brief look at the proposed site of a project, takes some evidence, returns to Canberra and makes a report. The approach of a local committee would be more practical and far better results would be obtained. I believe that these suggestions that I have made are in the interests not only of the Commonwealth, but, in particular, of the Territory. It has a big area - 520,357 square miles - and it is a valuable part of Australia.

I wish to pay tribute now, Mr. Temporary Chairman, to the excellent work being done in the Northern Territory by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, particularly in research in fields such as the growing of crops and the development of pastures. Some lime ago, I was privileged to visit the Katherine experimental farm, which is doing work that will be of immense value to the Territory, especially when It can be applied in conjunction with settlement schemes and when markets can be provided for the particular crops that can be grown in the north. We know that one of the great drawbacks in the north is the deficiency of certain elements in the soil. This requires the modification of cultivation methods. The latest report on the administration of the Northern Territory, Which we have just received, gives a number of illustrations of the research being done at the Katherine experimental farm. This research will be of the greatest benefit if taken beyond the pilot farm stage and followed up. This applies not only to agricultural crops but also to pasture improvement.

The members of the party with which I visited the farm had the benefit of seeing certain experiments with natural pastures supplemented by certain conserved fodders and crops such as Townsville lucerne. The results that were presented to us were remarkable. Whether similar results can be achieved on a larger scale is yet to be proved, but I believe that it is worth while going ahead with this kind of work on a larger scale than at present. I suggest that a bigger property should be acquired which would be typical of properties in the area. The C.S.I.R.O. officers could then see Whether they can carry out their experiments and duplicate the work they have already done on a much larger scale. This is important for the Territory.

There has been a gradual increase in the population of the Territory over recent years. Looking at the figures one finds there has certainly been no regression and that there has been a gradual increase, but is the population increasing at a fast enough rate for us to fill this part of Australia? I do not think it is. We see a gradual process going on with a gradual increase of population and of production. But is it fast enough? Can we wait, having in mind the proximity of the hungry people in nations to our north?

I am going to get on my hobby horse once again and present a suggestion to the Parliament that I have presented on previous occasions. I suggest that in this part of Australia we could carry out a very useful experiment. We could make Darwin a free port for everything other than immigration. I know that this carries all sorts of implications, but I remind the Committee that if we did this Darwin would become one of the cheapest places in Australia to live instead of one of the most expensive as it is at the moment. This would tend to attract population to the area, and once you bring in population you must expand. It would help the establishment and development of the various industries spoken of by the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson). The farming industry, for instance, would go ahead in leaps and bounds. We have the know-how, we know about soil deficiencies and we know what we can produce. If we had sufficient population we would get the whole of the Territory developed in no time.

Other countries have demonstrated the benefits of this device. I remind the Committee of places like Singapore and Hong Kong. What have those places got in their hinterlands to compare with what we have in the Northern Territory? I shall leave this suggestion with the House. I know that it will involve all sorts of problems, but at least we could try something fresh. We are not doing the job fast enough at the moment. If anybody else can put forward a better suggestion I will be quite prepared to listen to it. This is the only one I can think of at the moment' and I think it would be worth trying.

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