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Thursday, 22 November 1973
Page: 3679

Mr CALDER (NORTHERN TERRITORY) - My question is addressed to the Minister for the Northern Territory and Minister for Northern Development. I refer to previous remarks and representations made by me to the Minister and the Minister for Works about the crippling power failure in Darwin caused by breakdowns at the Stokes Hill power station. In conjunction with his colleague the Minister for Works, has the Minister been able to find a solution, either temporary or permanent, to alleviate the torrid conditions and economic disadvantage being suffered at present by the citizens of Darwin?

Dr PATTERSON (DAWSON, QUEENSLAND) (Minister for Northern Development) - The Government is deeply concerned at the breakdowns of various power plants in the Northern Territory - the No. 3 and No. 5 sets and the boiler trouble with No. 4 set. Every possible move has been taken to try to alleviate the sufferings of the thousands of people in Darwin, particularly the elderly people and those with young families who are suffering most. But up to the present it has been physically impossible to find a solution to the problem in Darwin. We have combed Australia - and for that matter most parts of the world - to try to secure a plant for installation in Darwin to alleviate the problem immediately. This has proved to be an impossibility. However, we have located a plant of approximately 10 megawatts in Tasmania. Approval was immediately given by the Treasurer to spend $l.lm to purchase and move this plant from Tasmania to Darwin. That is in the process of being organised.

However, this action will not solve the immediate problem in Darwin because it will take time to move this plant from Tasmania to Darwin. The action of the Government has at least ensured that in the event of any further breakdowns this plant will be available in Darwin. I know that with regard to the immediate problem the honourable member and the people of the Northern Territory do not want sympathy; they want action. As 1 have said over the last 2 weeks, if anybody can suggest what can be done to solve the problem we will do it. However the problem has been impossible to solve, as the honourable member well knows. The latest information I have this morning is that the No. 3 set is still out of action but should be repaired by the end of next week with a spare part, dispatched from Sweden, which should arrive in Darwin tomorrow, 23 November. It will take several days, of course, to install. The No. 5 set was commissioned, I think only in February of last year at a cost of approximately $5m. 4 top level investigation is proceeding to ascertain why it has broken down. After all, these sets have been proven throughout the world. Not only is an inquiry being conducted by the Department, but also the Legislative Council of the Northern Territory has taken steps to establish the facts. I have instructed my Department that I want to know the facts, whether it is the fault of the machine or the Administration. This has to be flushed out into the open.

Mr Lynch - What about summarising it?

Dr PATTERSON - This is very important to the people of the Northern Territory, even if it is not important to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. Apparently he does not think it is important because he has the benefit of a grid in Melbourne. The situation which has arisen has shown the vulnerability of Darwin and other cities and towns throughout Australia that are not connected with a grid system. What I will be suggesting to various Ministers of the Government is the possibility of having in Australia at least one, or more than one, stand-by power plant that can be put into action when disasters like this occur again.

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