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Tuesday, 13 November 1973
Page: 3231

Mr WENTWORTH (Mackellar) - I cannot hope to match the eloquence and oratory of the honourable member for Banks (Mr Martin), who has just sat down. I am afraid that I cannot even meet him on untriteness and untruisms, which he so rightly deprecates. I was a little distressed by what the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) said about the Minister for Northern Development (Dr Patterson). One knows that the Minister has had his disappointments and that his ineffectuality has rather soured him. But I do not think that it is altogether cricket to lay into him as the Leader of the Country Party laid into him a few minutes ago. Rather let us extend him a little sympathy. This question of northern development is always bedevilled by a number of difficulties. One thinks, of course, of the interests of our Aboriginal people in the north, and one hopes that the policy which the former Government implemented of involving Aborigines in the advantages of development will be continued and maintained.

But I want to mention one or two specific matters. The first is this: The world food shortage it seems, is now becoming endemic since population apparently has overtaken the margin that was afforded us by the impact of the green revolution. If this is so, food production in the north may become more important than we have been inclined to think. Meat, of course, is the primary food product of the north. I do not know that it will always remain so. Rice cultivation may still come into the north. With areas in the north being suitable for the long-grained rice and with an assured water supply, the north may turn out to be the main rice bowl of Australia.

The honourable member for Banks remarked that this northern country was dry and arid. Of course, he could not have been more wrong. The north of Australia has not only the highest rainfall in Australia but also it has the most regular rainfall. It is true that it is concentrated over a few months of the year with the monsoon, but it is .till a high and regular rainfall and it can be utilised for production. I say, therefore, that in the future the top of Australia may well be one of our most important food producing areas. I well remember going to Alice Springs - I think it was in 1950 but certainly it was many years ago- and speaking to people who alleged they were experts in pastoral and agricultural projects in the Northern Territory. In referring to the Top End- that is, the Arnhem Land and Daly River areas - .they said: 'There is only one thing to do with it and that is to get a bulldozer and push it into the sea'. They could not have been more wrong, because that high rainfall area will turn out to be the food production area, in the major sense of the term, for the Northern Territory.

Cape York Peninsula as well as the Northern Territory has immense possibilities, both in its eastern and western falls. In parts of Western Australia - although the land is not as promising as that in Arnhem Land or Cape York; the surface is not as good - in some of the valleys, particularly in the Ord River valley, there is a chance for major development. But overshadowing food production is the possibility of mineral development. I believe that we have not yet been paying sufficient attention to the possibility of phosphate development from the southern tip of the Gulf of Carpentaria. This is an area north of Mount Isa. Its possibilities have not yet been sufficiently evaluated.

I know that there is always difficulty about a port on the Gulf of Carpentaria because nearly all the water around its shores is shallow. In the past there was a tendency to believe that the deep water port would be to the west of the Gulf by Borroloola at the Pellow Islands there. This was thought to be where at would go. But with the possible development of high volume phosphate exports from the eastern side it may well be that the deep water port will have to be established in the Burketown area. Wherever and whenever it is established, there is a large hinterland which, not only from the agricultural point of view but even more from the mineral point of view, will be susceptible to major development.

I wanted to draw the Government's attention to the need to develop a deep water port on the Gulf of Carpentaria and to the possibilities of mineral exports from it, particularly the large volume phosphate exports from the very considerable phosphate rock resources which lie in that whole area. That area is one of the most highly mineralised areas of the world. Mount Isa has been found, but I believe that there is every reason to expect that other Mount Isas will be found in this area. We have here a mineral treasure which I consider to be one of the great assets of Australia.

Finally may I say something about the roads and communications to the north. At present there is a good railway to Marree and a rickety railway from Marree to Alice Springs. The past Government decided, and I believe the present Government will continue with the plans, to abandon that rickety railway from Alice Springs and put a line up from the Kingoonya area, from the transcontinental railway, along higher ground, passing to the west of Oodnadatta and going up into the Alice Springs area. I think that this is probably a good decision. But when it is made and when the old rickety line is abandoned, as it will be, the road should go up from Marree roughly via the line of the old railway line, because the old communities cannot be left stranded without communication.

I had an opportunity only recently of travelling along this road. I believe that there is some misapprehension about the difficulties of the area and the way in which they can be met. The area is, for a large part, swampy, low-lying, muddy and difficult to get through. But with modern earth-moving machinery it is possible to bank up the road. What would have been expensive before we had this modern earth-moving machinery is now a comparatively cheap method of building an all-weather road. The clayey loam in the area, if heaped up and allowed to consolidate, will be a solid and permanent base. Not much water runs through it, and the major streams that do run through it can be met effectively with concrete dish drains or later on with larger permanent bridges. There are not many of them, and the engineering difficulties are much less than were previously supposed.

I suggest that when the correct decision is made and the railway goes up to the west, the road from Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney should be taken up through the Marree area. This would be the proper line for a road into the Northern Territory. I will not go into the details of it. I can only tell honourable members that I have been over the area. I happen to know the area personally and I am quite certain that this is the correct thing to do.

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