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Tuesday, 16 March 1965

Senator PALTRIDGE (Western Australia) (Minister for Defence) . - In raising this subject in the Senate tonight, Senator Cant has taken the comfortable position of directing all his remarks to the fulfilment of a particular work in Australia, at the same time asserting that this Government had not done nearly as much as it might have done in respect of northern development. Before I sit down I hope to show that this Government has done more for northern development than have all the previous Commonwealth Governments, and that the Government has, by virtue of its support of State schemes and on its own initiative, instigated developmental and pioneering works which have been undertaken for the first time in Australia.

I wish to say something at once about the Ord River scheme which is the subject of this discussion. The honorable senator has taken the liberty of criticising the Government in respect of this work, but in any analysis of what has gone on at the Ord surely it is fair and proper to say that the work which has been done so far has been made possible only by Commonwealth support and Commonwealth aid. The honorable senator stated that the first two stages now completed - the diversion dam and the irrigation work which has been undertaken in connection with the diversion dam - had cost £8.4 million. He refrained from saying that of that sum, this Commonwealth Government had made £6 million available by way of grant or by way of gift. I put the simple question: Does such conduct by a Government indicate lack of interest, lack of sympathy or lack of desire to get on with developmental work? I repeat that what has been done at the Ord so far would not have been achieved had it not been for Commonwealth support.

The honorable senator misquoted what the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) said tonight in answer to a question asked in the House of Representatives. The honorable senator stated that the 'Prime Minister had indicated in his reply that the Commonwealth Government was awaiting the supply of further information. The Prime Minister said nothing of the sort, and the honorable senator may check the reply in " Hansard " in the morning if he wishes. The Prime Minister said -

No decision has been made on this matter. I cannot say at present when a decision will be made but it will be made as soon as possible after a complete examination of the project has been made.

Is it not right and proper that a complete examination of a proposal which involves the expenditure of £30 million of public money should be made before it is proceeded with?

If I want support for that point of view I need look no further than the comments of Senator Cant himself tonight, because on his own figures, he is asking for the immediate expenditure of £30 million on the basis of the operations of five farms during one season of cotton growing and cotton picking. I am just as familiar with the results that have been achieved as is Senator Cant. I share his delight at the fact that in four cases out of five a profit was shown. But the honorable senator must realise that in the first year of picking the average yield from these five farms was 1,330 lb. as against an expected yield of 1,700 lb. I repeat that for the five farms for one season the average yield was 1,330 lb. as against an expected yield of 1,700 ib. Does that offer sufficient justification for the expenditure of £30 million? I admit that in the second season, which is now under way, those five farmers have been joined by 12 other farmers who are optimistic about the results. Those 12 other farmers, as you are well aware,

Mr. Deputy President,can be accomodated on that portion of irrigated land which is at present provided by the diversion dam. I put it to the honorable senator that, as desirable as the scheme may eventually prove to be, an expenditure of £30 million on that basis is hardly one which any Government could be expected to rush into.

When the Prime Minister said, as he said tonight, that a decision would be made as soon as possible after a complete examination of the project had been made, what he said in effect, what he was justified in saying and indeed what the vast majority of Australian taxpayers would expect him to say, was that the Government wants to be very sure indeed that the evidence available to date provides conclusive justification for the expenditure of this public money. If the expenditure of this money proves to be justified. 1 say here in my place that nobody will be more delighted than I. But surely it is only fair and proper to say that this expenditure must be undertaken on a much more certain and established basis than that provided by the production of five farms in a single season. It may be that the results that will be achieved in the second season will strengthen the belief that this project can be supported. But surely, despite the understandable anxiety of the Western Australian Government, it is reasonable to ask that the test be further substantiated.

The honorable senator resorted to some unusual arguments in support of his case. As I said earlier, he took the comfortable position of addressing himself to only one particular project in Australia and of dismissing every other necessary item of government expenditure with a wave of his hand. I say to the Senate in complete seriousness and with a real sense of sobriety that today we are undertaking defence expenditure of a magnitude which far exceeds anything that was previously necessary in peacetime. As the Minister for Defence, with I hope a proper sense of responsibility towards my job, I think I am bound to say that the fact that defence expenditure must necessarily have priority might well, in the course of time, impose limitations on other forms of expenditure and development which up to this point of time we have regarded as just in the ordinary nature of things. But Senator Cant, despite this huge expenditure on defence which attracts newspaper publicity day by day, is prepared not to regard expenditure on the developmental project in question in the context of total government expenditure. Any analysis of a proposition such as he has advanced should take that factor into account. The honorable senator said further that we were spending certain sums of money in Papua and New Guinea, the clear inference to be drawn from his remarks being that some of that expenditure was either unnecessary or should not have priority over expenditure on the Ord River Dam. That is an interesting proposition to come from a member of the Opposition. I sit here year by year and constantly hear criticism from the Opposition to the effect that we are not moving fast enough and are not spending enough money in our Territories. If Senator Cant believes that some of our expenditure in Papua and New Guinea can be reduced, I suggest that an obligation rests upon him to indicate what that expenditure is. He referred also to expenditure under the Colombo Plan and on foreign aid generally. I do not want to rub the honorable senator, but, if I may say so, this might well indicate another schism within his party. It is quite common nowadays to hear the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in another place advancing theories almost day by day about how Australia should be spending much more of its national income on aid to South-East Asian nations and assistance under the Colombo Plan.

Before I resume my seat I want to take advantage of this opportunity to indicate to the Senate the nature and the scope of pioneering development which this Government has undertaken in the northern part of Australia, and essential development elsewhere. One has only to look at the list which I have in my hand to be able to dismiss completely the argument advanced by Senator Cant that we are not moving fast enough in this direction. This list sets out all sorts of developmental works in every State. It covers a wide variety of activities including water conservation, road building, coal loading works, beef cattle roads, land development in Queensland, the Mount Isa railway, rail standardisation, beef cattle roads in Western Australia, the Derby jetty, the Broome jetty and the KalgoorlieKwinana railway involving a total expenditure of approximately £140 million over a period of two years. I refer to this schedule merely to indicate that the criticism of the Government which is sometimes made by Opposition senators and the suggestions that it is insensible to pioneering development as a whole are quite inaccurate. I suggest that all around the Commonwealth evidence of the interest, the activity and the support of this Government is before the eyes of anybody who cares to look. He could look north to the Ord and see the new diversion dam. The first thing that must be realised about that particular work is that it has advanced to its present stage only because of Commonwealth support. As the Prime Minister said in answer to a question today, Mr. President, we will examine this work and we will make a decision as soon as the examination of the project has been satisfactorily completed.

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