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Thursday, 31 March 1966

Dr MACKAY (Evans) .- Mr. Speaker,I have listened to this discussion very carefully. I have been considerably astonished at the amount of heat and the partisan attitude that have been evoked on the Opposition side of the chamber. It seems to me that the matter is relatively simple. In the first place, it is admitted that the proposed road is to be constructed as a matter of urgency. The decision not to refer it to the Public Works Committee has been made for good reasons and with full recognition of the traditional right of the Committee to examine public works. The Minister for Territories (Mr. Barnes) gave an adequate explanation of the reasons for not referring the project to the Committee. He has told the House that officers of his Department have been made available to the Committee to explain the factors involved. Though we have been told all this, we have just witnessed an unprecedented display of hostility by the Opposition. I ask myself: Why has the Opposition exhibited this behaviour and taken this attitude?

I was deeply astonished at some of the interjections that were made by Opposition members. The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) said that it was unworthy of the honorable member for Sturt (Sir Keith Wilson) to say that Labour members of the Committee wanted to go on a jaunt to have a look at the area through which the proposed road is to be constructed. If the honorable member for Sturt did say something like that, he perhaps used an unfortunate expression. It was also unworthy of the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith (Mr. Curtin) to interject to the effect that there seemed to be something fishy about this whole matter, as if to suggest that there was some kind of financial or economic indecency about what is proposed. Another suggestion was that the Government was trying to hide something.

What are the facts? A road is to be constructed in the Northern Territory in an area that is of great interest from the standpoint of national development - an area where a tremendous amount of exciting enterprise is taking place. When one talks about these developments to the Administrator of the Territory, one realises that there is a new access of interest throughout the region extending from Groote Eylandt and Gove in the north across to the area through which the proposed road is to be built. As the Minister for Territories has just pointed out, it is urgent that we promote the kind of interest in this area that has attracted Mount Morgan Ltd. to undertake development there. What kind of arguments have been used by Opposition members in this last ditch stand made for the purpose of preventing the Government from going ahead with this project, which is further evidence of its interest in northern development? They have used the sort of argument that was put to the House by the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths), who said that there was not enough ore in the area to justify the construction of the proposed road. It is estimated that 1.4 million tons of iron ore from this region will be exported, Mr. Speaker, and I point out that this will mean something like $12 million or $14 million in export earnings. The cost of the proposed road is estimated to be $1.7 million. However, this is not just for the road itself but also for major bridging works. The private enterprise company concerned is prepared to spend half the money required, or $850,000. I suggest that this fact alone indicates that there has been careful scrutiny of the economic value, feasibility and desirability of the proposed work.

The Minister has also told us a good deal about the background to this project and has outlined the history of recent experience in developing Darwin as a port that will provide an adequate export outlet. This tremendous and exciting development m the north will enable us to develop a large export trade in minerals. All this, however, meets with no sympathy and no understanding on the Opposition side of the chamber. The Minister told us how projects such as this are submitted to the Cabinet and discussed with its advisers, the Cabinet devoting a good deal of its time to projects of this kind. When it is now clearly demonstrated that the construction of the proposed road must be put in hand without the delay that would be occasioned by its being referred to the Public Works Committee if the contingencies of monsoonal weather and meeting the deadlines for export commodities are to be met - now that it ls demonstrated without question that this is an urgent project, we witness on the Opposition benches the sort of display that we have seen this afternoon. The attitude of Opposition members is most unfortunate. There was no justification for their treating the Minister as they have done or for the honorable member for Macquarie to sneer that the Minister " is not talking to the Abos now". Quite apart from the social implications of that remark, the honorable member's attitude seems to me to be completely unworthy and not in accordance with the accepted standards of debate in this place. In conclusion, Sir, I submit that the construction of the proposed road is a matter of urgency. This is a nationally desirable project. No-one can doubt these things in the light of the Minister's remarks. Therefore, I believe that the Parliament must immediately sanction the proposal.

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