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Thursday, 31 March 1966

Mr FULTON (Leichhardt) .- I wish to support the remarks made by my colleagues, the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths) and the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. O'Connor). This is a protest, really, against what has been going on in the past as outlined by the honorable member for Dalley. I do not want' to go into this aspect of the matter but many projects have been put forward and not referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works. The Committee has been passed over. The Public Works Committee, after all, has been constituted as a watch dog on the expenditure of public money and to sec that work proposed to be carried out is warranted. The Committee has a- duty to see that projects are constructed in the best interests of the people, particularly those in the area in which the project is to be undertaken. I do not agree with the honorable member for Sturt (Sir Keith Wilson) who preceded me that the Australian Labour Party is against the development of the north. This is utter rot. It is not a matter of being against the development of any place. We are all for the development of Australia. But, at the same time, it is our duty as parliamentarians and it is the duty of members of the Public Works Committee to see that public money is being spent in the best- interests of the people and the area concerned.

There is no reason why this project should not be referred to the Public Works Committee.

Mr Curtin - There must be something fishy about it.

Mr FULTON - Many aspects of this project could be looked into. The money could be better spent and better treatment could be given to the people in this area rather than to the private enterprise concerned. We are not against this project at all. But we are against the method that is being used to push this matter through without thorough investigation. There are many other means of getting this ore to Darwin so that it can be shipped overseas, if it is necessary to do so. The Government refers to the urgency of the work. But as has been pointed but by the honorable member for Shortland, the urgency was not discovered yesterday. The Government has had this matter before it for a while now. It knew what was going to happen because it has an arrangement with the Japanese firm concerned. It is because the Government has to keep to this arrangement that the urgency has arisen. As the honorable member for Shortland pointed out, other roads in the area could be utilised. Probably a shorter route could be taken. Anyway, the matter should be looked into.

The honorable member for Sturt said that this matter had been examined by departmental heads. Has it? Or is it that the Government has accepted the proposition put to it by the private company concerned that it will meet half the cost if the Government meets the other half? Can the Government get away with this action? This kind of thing has to cease some time otherwise the Committee created by this Parliament will be overlooked all the time. Certain aspects of defence building programmes are not referred to the Committee because, we are told, security risk is involved. But no security risk arises in relation to the building of living quarters, for instance. Then there are the barracks to be built at Townsville for approximately £10 million. No security risk is involved in that work. A private constructor will be working on the job and, after all, the public will be able to see what is going on. There is no security risk at all in regard to that project.

The need for urgency in relation to this work does not really exist. If the matter were referred to the Public Works Committee, and it were noted as urgent, I can assure honorable members that it would not be delayed. We could carry out the investigation, in, say, three weeks. We could thoroughly look into the matter in that time. I feel that when a matter comes before the Public Works Committee, the public money is safeguarded. Not only is the money aspect dealt with, but also the Committee sees to it that the project is created in the proper interests of the people, and particularly those people who are going to use the project. The Committee investigates what further development can be achieved in the area concerned. The road proposed is to be constructed to carry this mineral for export because one company has developed a mine in the area. Surely we must look further ahead than this to find out what further developmentwill take place in the area. All of these aspects should be taken into consideration. Possibly a better system of exporting this ore could be worked out if the matter were investigated thoroughly.

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