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Tuesday, 13 November 1973
Page: 3225

Mr BONNETT (Herbert) - I appreciate being able to speak on the Estimates for the Department of Northern Development. This is the first time that we have had a specific estimate for a Department of Northern Devel- op ment, and it allows me the opportunity of mentioning a matter that I have been following closely for a number of years. It is nearly 6 years ago that I first advocated for the Ingham district in North Queensland, a reafforestation scheme which could prove of benefit to the north and to Australia's economy generally 6 years of feasibility studies and correspondence between State Ministers and Federal Ministers. I submit the proposal again today as one in which the present Federal Government could well become interested as a national project, and which would benefit our domestic paper industry in the future. At the time I first proposed this scheme, I mentioned that there would be a definite requirement for paper pulp for many years to come. This statement has been proved correct in the light of the alarming paper-pulp shortage throughout the world. Had we the foresight, Australia could have developed an industry that would have filled our domestic requirements and gained us important overseas markets.

Since the present Government has occupied the Treasury benches much has been said about decentralisation and urban and regional development. I have no quarrel with these policies but, in my opinion, decentralisation plays a vital part in planned development, and to achieve this sensible use of available land must be made and sensible thinking in the planning for long-term projects must be undertaken. Combining these thoughts of long-term planning, the use of land, planned development, decentralisation, benefits for the community and the State and the national interest, one industry to which I feel more attention should be paid is forestry. This should be high on the list of priorities for national development. Unfortunately the softwood planting program in Queensland, for instance, has been restricted considerably by the lack of finance, and although I appreciate that reafforestation is a State concern, unless the Australian Government can reconsider its approaches to State forestry allocations, finance will always be the problem, and the situation regarding insufficient softwood forests to meet our requirements will remain the same.

I mentioned the district of Ingham as a site for a reafforestation program for northern development for the following reason: The State Government already has a softwood nursery and some plantations in the Kennedy district just north of Ingham. This establishment is highly successful, but there is a definite need for expansion. The climate is such that softwoods can mature in a period of from 10 to 15 years and to ensure that this industry is viable and really worth while a project of planting would have to be undertaken on a major scale. This would require a fairly large amount of land. In this respect 100,000 acres are available in the Ingham district, which could be utilised for such a reafforestation scheme. As I mentioned earlier, the climate is such that there could be no doubt that softwood would flourish in this area.

Looking at the project in the light of longterm planning, I believe that when this timber is approaching maturity a pulp mill could be established and this, combined with the waste fibres from the sugar industry, known as bagasse, would produce a paper pulp that would develop into a healthy and prosperous industry, both for the domestic and the export markets. Coupled with this reafforestation project, another industry could be developed, which would be of decided benefit to our economic activities. I refer to the export beef industry. Northern Australia produces the major portion of our beef industry's exports, and further development could be nothing but good. The reason I couple the beef industry with reafforestation is that recently the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in North Queensland, in the course of its pastoral research, has developed a pasture which thrives in a forest such as the softwood forest project I mentioned. Store cattle could be brought from the western districts and fattened for the export market with no difficulty whatsoever. As the Ingham district is within striking distance of the largest of our export meatworks, this reafforestation scheme could fulfil a double purpose.

The previous Minister for National Development was keenly interested in this scheme, but it was realised that the State Government would decide whether such a scheme was satisfactory to it. In the past Commonwealth assistance towards reafforestation has normally been in the form of finance for plantings between what is known as base-year acreages and annual plantings. For instance, the Queensland Government would finance plantings of 4,060 acres, making a total of 9,700 acres. Unfortunately there was reluctance on the part of the States to allocate sufficient funds for their share of these plantings, and consequently the Commonwealth's financial allocation was reduced. I am aware also that the selection of areas to be planted under any program is a matter for decision by the appropriate State, and in Queensland the State Minister in charge of forestry regards the possibility of planting starting in the Ingham district as a sound investment. However, the problem of sufficient finance being available from the State's Treasury is such that the acreage of plantings would not be great, and it is because of this that I suggest to the Minister for Northern Development that a reafforestation scheme of the size I have mentioned be undertaken as a national development project by the Australian Government. The opportunity exists for a project of national importance to be developed in the north, and I think it is plainly a case of a decision by the Australian Government in co-operation with the State Government of Queensland, which could establish a paper pulp industry and expand the beef industry. This would certainly prove of benefit to the national interest for many years.

Another extremely important aspect of northern development that will have to be faced up to by this Government in the near future is that of water conservation. For far too many years this matter has just been talked about, and although I concede that some important feasibility studies on this subject have been undertaken, nothing positive has developed. In the southern areas of Queensland we have seen the establishment of the Fairbairn Dam at Emerald and the Bundaberg water conservation project; and in central Queensland we have had the Fitzroy basin investigation. However, too little has been done to increase the water supply for agricultural development and pasture improvement, and in the interests of industry and people in an areas that could be developed for the benefit of the State and the nation. I speak now of water conservation in the Burdekin basin, which also would provide sufficient water for the expansion of industry in Townsville and District. Again I realise that the final decision on the location of an area for water conservation rests with the State, but I feel that if the Federal Government were to display sufficient interest in the project as one that would benefit the national interest, the Queensland State Government would be more than willing to listen. For many years the construction of the Burdekin Dam in the interests' of water conservation has created a great deal of controversy, and I cannot help but feel that it is lack of foresight that has prevented this dam from being constructed. If this project had been established when it was first brought to the attention of governments, north Queensland would be enjoying the benefits of such water storage at the present time with resultant improvement to our economy. But from the latest reports it would appear that the establishment of this water storage project is as far away as ever it was.

But supposing this is the case as far as the Burdekin is concerned, I can see no reason why other water storage projects should not be constructed. One of these projects, which has already received a favourable report and which could be within the financial capabilities of the State and Federal governments, is the Urannah Dam scheme. This scheme is well known to the Minister for Northern Development who, I am sure, realises its potential. This project, small as it may be in comparison with the size of the Burdekin scheme, would fulfil a great need for the agricultural and pastoral industries in the Burdekin basin, and would probably also assist in overcoming the problems of water shortage for people in Townsville.

No longer will I accept the reasoning that the Federal Government has to wait for the /State Government to make its bid on priorities for water conservation. If this Federal Government is honest in its intention to develop the north - and it has appointed a Minister solely for this purpose - the initiative rests with the Australian Government.

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