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Thursday, 31 March 1966

Mr BARNES (McPherson) (Minister for Territories) . - At the outset, I would like to say that I hope the whole of this debate is well reported in the Northern Territory so that some of the remarks I have heard made by honorable members opposite will be known there. I, together with many honorable members on this side of the House, respect the Public Works Committee for its surveillance of Government expenditure. I and my Department on all occasions co-operate with the Committee and we are at a loss to understand why this project should be selected as the medium for a protest. Obviously, there are occasions when urgency arises in these matters. If there were not, the Public Works Committee Act would not provide the means for urgent matters to be commenced without an investigation. Two honorable members opposite have raised this more as a protest than a factual exercise. This does not apply to the honorable members for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths) and Leichhardt (Mr. Fulton), who condemn the work outright.

Mr Fulton - That is not right.

Mr BARNES - Well, let me go a bit further into the matter. It has been suggested that there is no urgency in this work. Both the honorable members for Leichhardt and Shortland said that these deposits have been lying here for years. But Australia contains many mineral deposits that have been lying there for years and they will lie there until we get somebody to buy them and until the economics of the situation make it worthwhile. 1 will go over the history of this development so that the House will understand. 1 made officers of my Department available to inform the Committee on these matters and I cannot accept the suggestion that they are ignorant. There are two deposits of iron ore reasonably adjacent to Darwin. One is the Frances Creek deposit, which is slightly in excess of four million tons. The other is very much smaller and is at Mount Bundey.

I think it was about 18 months ago that we received a request from a company to provide loading facilities at Darwin and to assist in transport arrangements to the loading facilities so that the ore could be shipped from Darwin to Japan. We investigated the economics of the situation and I eventually put a submission to Cabinet in which the estimated cost of the extension to the wharf, loading facilities and so on was given as £1 million. At the same time, the company undertook to build a railway spur line at its own expense from Frances Creek to the present Commonwealth line. A company called Nevsam, which then owned the Mount Bundey deposit, approached the Government for assistance to build a road over the Adelaide River so that it could enter into a contract with a Japanese company to ship ore. It intended to use the loading arrangements at the Darwin wharf. I approached Cabinet and received approval to go ahead. The company at Frances Creek concluded a contract with a Japanese company for the export of iron ore. On subsequent investigation of the harbour, it was found that, Because of unexpected foundation problems, it was necessary to make some adjustment to the piles. It was also found that the original expectation of the ore facilities were unsuitable and a different type of loading device, a portable one, was required. This necessitated the provision of further funds for the development and the matter was again brought to Cabinet. Cabinet agreed to the new arrangements.

There was also a time factor. The deal would fall through unless ore could be delivered by a certain date - I think it was the end of 1967. Cabinet agreed to the further expansion. In the meantime, the company that originally had the Mr Bundey deposit decided not to go ahead with its contract with the Japanese. Incidentally, the company had applied to us for assistance to build a low development road where this road is to be. We were interested in this road, naturally, because we have great prospects of development in the coastal plains area on the eastern side of Darwin. This is the area where we have quite a few abattoirs operating to treat buffalo and it is vital to have a short road to Darwin. Both the honorable members for Leichhardt and Shortland said it is much better to use the present road right round by Pine Creek and get to Darwin that way. This would mean travelling an additional 100 miles and would add to the cost of transport of all the produce that comes out of the area. It would be 100 miles against 27 miles.

Mr Griffiths - I said nothing about Pine Creek. I referred to Adelaide River.

Mr BARNES - The honorable member mentioned other roads to be built. The honorable member for Leichhardt did also.

Mr Fulton - I did not mention it at all.

Mr BARNES - The honorable members will see it in " Hansard " tomorrow. The suggestion is that we should go all the way around. I hope that the people of the Northern Territory learn also that the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) spoke of the Adelaide River as this marvellous river for water transport. I think he would be lucky to row a boat up there. If the honorable member likes to substantiate this, I think we could, if the time factor allowed, put in a bridge suitable for the shipping mat would go up the Adelaide River at mis point and he could open it. Unfortunately, time is the factor here.

Mr Luchetti - Why does not the Minister tell the truth? He is not talking to the Abos now.

Mr BARNES - I hope that the honorable member will guide the first iron ore ship up the Adelaide River. If he ever becomes a skipper he will have his work cut out. I have pointed out to the House that the company which owned the iron ore deposit at Mount Bundey dropped out of the picture, having sold its interest to Mount Morgan Ltd. Mount Morgan Ltd. made application to us for a road traversing the route of the original road as proposed. The company required a road of a higher standard because, as anyone who knows that area will realise, this is a flood plain. A low level road in this area could be used for only a few months of the year.

Mount Morgan Ltd. stated as a requirement of the road that it would have to operate for almost the whole of the year. Therefore, we had to build up the road above the wet season flood rivers. Anybody who knows that area knows that the whole of it is inundated for at least two months of the year and an ordinary road is nearly impassable for almost another month. The proposed higher level road requires a high level bridge which greatly increases the cost of the project. As the honorable member for Shortland has said, the cost of the road increases from £650,000 to about £850,000 simply because of the high road level. In its application to me, Mount Morgan Ltd. assessed that only 400,000 tons of iron ore was available in Mount Bundey. The application by the company was refused by the Government because, as we pointed out, this was not an economic proposition.

Mr Griffiths - When was that?

Mr BARNES - In August last year.

Mr Griffiths - The Minister should get his facts right.

Mr BARNES - It was in August last year. Subsequently the company showed us that 1.4 million tons of iron ore was available. The honorable member for Shortland suggests that we should have refused the application when we were shown that extra iron ore was available.

Mr Griffiths - That would not be enough to justify construction of the road.

Mr BARNES - The honorable member suggests that 1.4 million tons of iron ore is not sufficient to justify the road. He should - tell that to the people of the Northern Territory who are interested in exporting iron ore and in developing the Territory. I point out also that the company will meet half the cost of the road. I have said already that we will be able to use the road and that it will be open to the general public. It will be used by tourists and it will be available for all activities on the coastal plain area.

The honorable member for Shortland said that he could not find Oenpelli on the map. I point out to him that Oenpelli is a district in the Northern Territory and districts are not shown by a dot on a map unless he refers to the mission. The position is that on the reassessment by Mount Morgan Ltd. of the iron ore body we gave approval for the road to go ahead. However, there was a difficulty. Mount Morgan Ltd. had to begin deliveries of iron ore by the end of 1967, a date which was subsequently extended to April 1968. So we had to meet this deadline. Obviously the honorable members for Shortland, Leichhardt and Macquarie do not seem to realise that unless this road is finished by the end of 1967, and before the wet season starts, work on the road will have to cease. The honorable member for Leichhardt should know that.

Mr Luchetti - Why was it not started earlier?

Mr BARNES - I remind the honorable member that this project was not acceded to by Cabinet until just before the Parliament adjourned in December.

Mr Luchetti - That was four months ago.

Mr BARNES - The honorable member said that we have had four months, but I remind him that Parliament has been sitting in this sessional period for only four weeks. The honorable member's arguments are ridiculous. The situation is that we are already spending £1.7 million on the development of the port of Darwin so that it can -take the ore. By getting this additional contract which will involve a considerably greater tonnage moving through the port of Darwin we will amortise the whole of our works in that area. We would not be able to do this on the Frances Creek deposit alone. I would also point out for the benefit of those honorable gentlemen who would like to stop this effort that with the tremendous development of iron ore deposits in Western Australia we would not have a hope in the world of selling in a few years time the small deposits in the Northern Territory. I have mentioned Mount Bundey and Frances Creek; but other prospectors operating in a small way will be able to come into the district and work these areas.

The Government has maintained that we must have good roads in all these areas so that we can open up the country. The road which we are discussing will not serve only one iron ore deposit; it will open the whole of the north eastern area of the Northern Territory for development. The building of this road is a great step forward and I have pushed hard to get it and to have the bridge built across the Adelaide River. This project will be a vital matter in the development of the Northern Territory. But, of course, we do not get very much credit for this development. This is one of the great mineral deposits for which we have attracted private investment. It is the responsibility of a Government to bring about a climate of opportunity for investment to come to the Northern Territory. I issued a Press statement the other day on the first shipment of manganese from Groote Eylandt in which I said that this was the first step in the development of the great mineral resources of Gove and the McArthur River area in the Northern Territory. But does any honorable member think that I received any credit from the Press of Australia? I ended up with, I think, one newspaper printing about one inch of one column on the subject. No one is interested unless the honorable member for Shortland or someone else says that the

Government has been robbed in respect of expenditure of this sort.

I think I have made it clear that if we do not ship this iron ore by April 1968 the whole of the scheme will fall down and we will not be able to ship any more. This matter is urgent because the contract provides that the ore must be delivered by that date. Otherwise the whole thing will fall through. The honorable member for Shortland said that he intended to oppose this scheme. I have no doubt that there will be a division when this is put to a vote, and I will be interested to see how the Opposition lines itself up in the division. If this project does not go through it will mean that within five years the Port of Darwin will have lost the opportunity to increase its export tonnage by 1 00 per cent.

Mr Luchetti - Mr. Speaker, I claim to have been misrepresented and I wish to make a personal explanation. The Minister for Territories (Mr. Barnes) in my opinion tried to mislead the House by saying that my remarks to the effect that the Government had had four months in which to refer the proposed road to the Public Works Committee were not in accordance with fact, because the Parliament met only four weeks ago. He stated that by presenting this motion to the House in the fourth week of sitting the Government was bringing the matter before the Parliament as speedily as possible. I want only to direct the attention of the Minister and the House to the fact that in accordance with the terms of the Public Works Committee Act this project could have been referred to the Committee at any time after December, when it was determined that the road would be built.

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