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Thursday, 25 November 1965

Mr FULTON (Leichhardt) .- Mr. Speaker,I rise on this occasion to bring before the notice of honorable members a very important question concerning shipping along the east coast of Queensland and between ports on that coast and New Guinea. This matter should concern every member of this House. We have heard speeches about the development of the north from the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) down on the Government side and from the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) down to the back bench members on this side, particularly from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam). This problem concerns business people and firms who are already established in the north and who are trying to keep their staff fully occupied and to expand their enterprises. It particularly affects a firm of steel constructional engineers based in Cairns which is trying to keep its staff fully occupied and to expand its business. In order to do so it wishes to tender for Commonwealth works in the Territory of' Papua and New Guinea.

Tenders are at present being called for the construction, mainly of steel, of a bridge in the Territory and this firm wished to tender for the job. It inquired from the shipping companies what notice they would require for steel to be shipped from Cairns or Townsville to New Guinea for the project. The firm was informed that even if it gave the shipping companies five months' notice they could not guarantee that any ship would call to lift the steel. This meant that the firm would have to rail prefabricated material to Brisbane and load it on ship there for transport to New Guinea. Honorable members can see the problems with which the firm is confronted by such a situation. But this applies not only to the firm that I have mentioned. It applies also to primary producers and to businesses that are thinking of establishing branches or subsidiaries in the north. This situation represents a handicap and a hindrance. The steel firm that I have mentioned has already to rail steel to the north for prefabrication. Having met the cost of doing that it is now faced with the prospect of transporting prefabricated material back to Brisbane by rail for loading on ship for transport to New Guinea. This represents a considerable added cost and therefore the firm cannot compete against southern firms.

I have brought this matter before the notice of the House, Mr. Speaker, because I do not know which department would deal with the problem. The Queensland Government has no shipping line and owns no ships and the Australian National Line does not run regular services along the east coast of Queensland or between ports on that coast and New Guinea. I am sure that if we are sincere about trying to develop the northern part of Australia we should encourage those people who are prepared to invest their money in ventures such as this. We should ensure that a shipping service of some kind provides a link between Townsville or Cairns and New Guinea. This would obviate heavy transport costs incurred in railing goods from the north to Brisbane for shipping to the Territory. This handicap applies also to vegetable products. They cannot be shipped from Townsville or Cairns to the market in New Guinea, but have to be railed to Brisbane and loaded on ship there. This sort of situation represents a great hindrance to anybody who wishes to establish himself in the north. This is a real problem that will have to be dealt with. How can we encourage anybody to establish an industry in the north if in every instance this problem is encountered?

The firm of steel constructional engineers of whose circumstances I have spoken approached the Queensland Government for a reduction in rail freights on prefabricated steel material railed from Cairns to Brisbane for shipping to New Guinea. It receives no concession whatsoever at present, and even if it is lucky enough to obtain concessions from the State Government the burden of transport costs will still be so heavy as to make competition with steel constructional engineering concerns in the Brisbane and Sydney areas extremely difficult. Cairns and Townsville are about 1.000 miles from Brisbane. Ships that could provide a service between those ports and New Guinea already pass by and the ports are quite capable of accommodating the vessels but they will not call. I do not know of any way in which the shipping companies can be induced to provide the required service unless the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Freeth) can use his influence to prevail on them to do so.

Such a service would encourage the establishment of new enterprises in the north. New industries are needed to increase production and to help develop the north. The Commonwealth Department of Works also would derive considerable advantage, as would the Commonwealth Government generally, if firms in northern Queensland could tender for projects in New Guinea. Obviously with suitable shipping services such firms could submit tenders lower than those that would be submitted by concerns in Brisbane or Sydney. The establishment of additional industries in the north by southern firms would be encouraged by the provision of better shipping services. There is plenty of room for new industries there. We in the north need them to provide employment in off seasons for our seasonal workers. As I have said, additional industries in the north would be of advantage to Australia generally and particularly to the Federal Government in respect of its works projects in New Guinea. I appeal to Ministers who are present in the chamber or who are listening to the broadcast of the proceedings to consider the matter seriously and to advise me so that I may tell business people in northern Queensland how to overcome the problem of having to rail goods to Brisbane for shipping to New Guinea. I and the firms concerned would be thankful for any helpful advice. As I have said, any worthwhile action that can be taken in this matter would encourage more southern firms to establish subsidiaries in northern Queensland because they would have prospects of doing well.

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