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Thursday, 9 December 1965


Mr FULTON (Leichhardt) .- I did not rise immediately, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I was waiting to see whether any member on the Government side was going to speak. Not one of them has so far opened his mouth. They have been quite silent on this measure which deals with a developmental project. On other occasions they are most vocal in insisting that they stand for the development of the north, but it is noticeable that when a particular proposition involving northern development comes before the House they are silent.

This is a Bill for an Act relating to an agreement between the Commonwealth and the State of Queensland with respect to developmental works at Weipa. The purpose of the Bill, as already outlined by my friend, the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti), is to obtain the approval of the Parliament to an agreement between the Commonwealth and the State of Queensland for the provision of financial assistance up to £1,635,000 as a loan for harbour works at Weipa in the Gulf of Carpentaria in my electorate. The Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) made an announcement about this, of course, in his Budget Speech.

Weipa is a very remote area. The Minister for the Army (Dr. Forbes) said that the potential of the bauxite deposit at Weipa was first recognised by the chief geologist of Consolidated Zinc Pty. Ltd. in 1955 and that a company was formed to exploit this deposit. Let me tell the House that bauxite was known to exist in that area long before that time. The Queensland Mines Department knew that it was there. It was well known that there were deposits of bauxite not only at Weipa but throughout the Cape York peninsula.

It is strange that although this deposit, according to the Minister, was discovered in 1955 by the company's chief geologist, bauxite was found in Western Australia much later and development in that State began much earlier. Fortunately I was able to visit Western Australia recently and I had a look at the plant established by the Alcoa organisation. That company is producing alumina at the plant. Yet we find that development at Weipa has not really even started. I think that if we are really fair dinkum about the development of northern Australia we would consider setting up a nuclear reactor to produce electricity so that it would be possible to carry out the whole process of producing aluminium. It is about time we took a step in this direction. Too much of our raw material is being taken from the place at which it is discovered to another area for processing, and sometimes to another country. We then have to buy back the finished article. There is no reason why we should not finance the whole processing chain in Australia. This would be a much more satisfactory arrangement. Employment would be made available in our northern areas, because most of the minerals are in the north. If we were to process the raw materials on the spot and continue the various processes at that place up to the production of the finished article we would save a good deal of handling and transport costs.

In any case I am glad to see that in this case the bauxite is not to go out of Queensland. Tt will go to Gladstone for processing. The Opposition does not oppose this loan. I am glad to see that the terms of the loan are more favourable than those of any other loan that has been extended to Queensland. Reference has been made in this House to the loan given to Queensland by the Commonwealth Government, the terms of which were most unfavourable from Queensland's point of view. I also remind the House that Queensland has received no such grants as have been given to other States for developmental purposes. I do not think that in this case a grant is warranted because the Queensland Government should be able to recoup its outlay from harbour dues that will be paid by the company using the port and other facilities to export the bauxite.

I am also pleased to see that a general cargo wharf is to be included in the project because 1 feel sure that when the bauxite deposits at Weipa are developed that project will be only the beginning of mining developments in the area. There is copper in the area and there are very many minerals that are most helpful in industrial processes. Scheelite and other hardening minerals have been found in the peninsula, and I am sure that once a start is made on the development of the bauxite at Weipa, the exploitation of these other minerals will follow. This is the kind of thing that happened at Mount Isa.

I am sorry to find that the agreement has not been arrived at, in my opinion and in the opinion of the people of Queensland, so much for the benefit of Queensland itself as for the benefit of the company. The agreement has not as yet been nearly as effective in developing the deposits as have some other agreements arrived at in Western Australia covering not only bauxite but also other mineral deposits. As I said before, the processing operations that are being carried on in Western Australia at present show how unsatisfactory has been the agreement between the Queensland Government and the company interested in the bauxite field at Weipa. I hope that we shall see more progress and vast development now that the funds provided for in this Bill are to be made available to the Queensland Government for the construction of a wharf and other works at Weipa. I am sure that Government's engineers are capable of carrying out the work that has to be done and I hope that they understand the particular problems that exist in the Gulf of Carpentaria. In the tidal waters of the Gulf there is a very heavy movement of mud and I expect that constant dredging will be required to keep the port of Weipa open, though I hope I am wrong in this because I want to see the port and the area generally go ahead. I do not want to see development there shackled by faulty works or false promises.

As I have said, I believe that the Queensland Government's engineers are capable of doing the job required. However, I hope that they will take notice of engineers resident in the north. When some of the early beef roads were constructed the advice of engineers resident in the areas concerned was not taken and trouble was encountered. Local government authorities deal with local problems every day and know the pitfalls and dangers associated with works of the kind envisaged in the agreement that is the subject of this Bill. Most local authorities in the Cape York Peninsula area do not employ full time engineers but engage the services of consulting engineers who have a close knowledge of the area. If they are consulted, they can provide much information that government engineers lack. Because this was not done, bad engineering resulted on some of the early beef roads. I am sure that the Queensland Government, when it receives the funds provided for in this measure, will seek advice from the best sources and take all possible precautions to ensure that the port at Weipa will be continually open for traffic, not only for the shipment of bauxite but also for the movement of general cargo.

This port will serve a big area and will not be used solely for the shipment of minerals. There is a lot of cattle country in the region and general cargo will assume considerable importance in the scale of traffic in the port. The needs of the agricultural, beef and other industries as well as mineral development will have to be met. As I said earlier, there will be further mineral development in the region and these developments will promote development of the north and particularly the Cape York Peninsula which could one day carry millions of people. The quicker we develop and populate the area the less chance we have of losing it.

This is a valuable region for Australia. Minerals have been found there for many years. If honorable members examine the history of the .Peninsula they will see that at one time there were thousands of people congregated in Cooktown and on the Palmer gold field. However, all this early mining development was scrapped. No big shafts were sunk and not much money was spent on getting the mineral out of the earth. The miners of those days were called gougers and they scratched around taking just the mineral that showed on the surface. When they had to take their operations deeper or into harder ground and as a consequence needed more finance than they had on hand, they simply abandoned their claims and moved to another place. Today one can see ghost towns all through the lower part of Cape York Peninsula. Many of these are reviving since the price of tin has risen to a more economic level. These mining areas are now beginning to go ahead again. The development of the port at Weipa will assist in the development of deposits of minerals other than bauxite. I support what has been said by the honorable member for Macquarie and other speakers on this side of the chamber. This measure provides for well worth while development of harbour installations at Weipa to be financed by funds that will be advanced to the Queensland Government by the Commonwealth.







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