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Tuesday, 16 March 1965

Senator DITTMER (Queensland) - I listened with interest and rapt attention to the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Paltridge). I commend Senator Cant for raising this matter of urgency. I take some exception to the closing remarks of Senator Paltridge. If I may be permitted to digress for a moment, I wish to refer to his remarks directed to expansion in the north through the construction of railways and harbour works and through land development. These matters are relevant to a discussion of the northern half of Western Australia.

Honorable senators will recall that on the second last night of the sessional period before the Senate adjourned for the .1961 general election, we gouged out of the Federal Government a belated loan of £20 million for the construction of the Mount Isa railway, repayable at high interest rates over a period of 20 years. That is the story of the railways in northern Queensland. We also gouged out of the Federal Government on the last night of the sessional period finance for the beef roads scheme. The Federal Government advanced £650,000 to which the Queensland Government had to add £350,000, making a total of £1 million for the construction of the Normanton to Julia Creek railway, which was the first step in the beef road scheme. Honorable senators may also recall that a quarrel developed when I. said that ultimately it would be necessary to seal the beef roads.

I turn now to land development. [ was overseas at the time of the development of the first section of the brigalow lands. Not one penny was granted at that time by the Federal Government towards the development of the brigalow lands, nor was one penny granted for the construction of the Mount Isa railway, irrespective of the finance made available to the southern States through grants and loans repayable over a fifty year period. For the development of railways in northern Queensland a loan was made repayable at high interest rates over a 20 year period. The only contribution made by the Federal Government to the development of the brigalow lands was a loan repayable at high interest rates over a comparatively short period. There was no grant. With regard to harbour works in the north, Gladstone-

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Honorable Sir Alister McMullin). - Order! Is the honorable senator speaking to the matter before the Senate?

Senator DITTMER - I am speaking in relation to what Senator Paltridge said prior to your arrival, Sir. He made a statement and I am replying to that statement, which is my right. If he may digress, so may I, Sir. The Federal Government granted £100,000 and made a loan of £100,000 to the Gladstone Harbour Board. Having finished dealing with the boasting of the Minister, I shall turn now to the matter of urgency before the Senate - the completion and development of the Ord River scheme. Irrespective of what Senator Paltridge has said tonight, I pay a tribute to the Premier of Western Australia and to Mr. Court, the Western Australian Minister for the North West. They made a statement in all sincerity before the completion of the diversion dam at Bandicoot Bar. They said: " Let us face the issue. We know that we have 200,000 acres of good soil in the area - 150,000 acres of excellent soil and 50,000 acres of marginal quality which may be utilised. But do not let us disperse our labour force. Do not let our contractors leave the area before we make a decision as to our ultimate objective."

I think that Senator Scott and other Western Australian senators on the Government side will concede, as I do, the ability and the sincerity of the Premier of Western Australia and his Minister for the North West. They were wedded to the Ord River scheme and believed it to be part and parcel of a worthwhile setup. They realised the value of the agricultural land to be utilised and that it was not within the capacity of Western Australian Government finances to develop it as has been done, we concede, through finance provided by the Federal Government. For political purposes the Federal Government has provided £6 million by way of grants; £2,300,000 has been provided by the Western Australian Government. That money has been used to complete the first stage of the scheme. Farmers have settled there and have produced cotton. It has been established that those farmers can produce two crops of cotton in a season, which cannot be done in Queensland. I doubt whether it can be done in New South Wales.

The Ord River scheme is part and parcel of the development of northern Australia and we concede that the Federal Government did take certain action subsequent to the 1963 general election, but it went only part of the way. It established within the Department of National Development the Northern Division and appointed Dr. Patterson as director. But the Division has no real authority of its own. Let us examine whether a policy of northern development is justified. Dr. Patterson said when addressing the Australian Agricultural Economics Society on 12th February 1965 in Perth: " Whether a policy such as this -

He was referring to a policy of northern development - is a sound one or not depends on one's particular point of view. I have not the slightest doubt, however, that any sound-thinking Australian who is prepared lo take a hard look at the many issues involved with respect to our under-developed and empty northern areas will have no hesitation in agreeing with the Federal Government and the Governments of Western Australia and Queensland that a policy of developing northern Australia is nol only desirable but is in fact essential.

In the north lies some of the harshest areas of land in Australia, but the 200,000 acres at the Ord River contains some of the best agricultural land in Australia. In 1956 Sir William Slim said -

There is some discussion on whether resources and money spent in developing the northern areas would not be more remuneratively employed in the south. I could not answer this, but T would ask you for a moment to look at the problem through Asian eyes. If those twelve hundred million pairs of eyes looking hungrily for land see to the south of thenm a million square miles occupied by only 100.000 Australians, sooner or later they may nol be content wilh looking. Apart from the economic side of the problem of development there is somewhere in the future the compelling one of national existence.

In 1961 the Government claimed that it was acting in the field of northern development and that it had sponsored the construction of the diversion dam on the Ord River. The settlers there have proved that the land is arable and that they can grow cotton. Do not honorable senators agree that before the labour force and the contractors are dispersed from the area the Western Australian Government is entitled to a full investigation of the scheme? What will be the position now? From where will the labour force be obtained? If, as the Prime Minister stated in the other place today, the Government is looking at the position, what will be the situation when it comes to look for a labour force, in view of the shortage of labour and the shortage of contractors? It will not be in the race. Would not anyone agree with that?

In considering the importance of the cotton industry in that locality we must remember the importance of cotton seed to the pastoral industry outside the area. I am no expert in this field, but I understand that investigation has proved that cotton seed increases the fertility of cattle and enables them to hold their weight over a dry period. This means an improved pastoral industry in the adjoining areas, improved transport and an increase in overall production. Although less than 4 per cent, of the population is in the northern half of Australia, that portion of it which is in Queensland earns more export income per capita than is earned in the rest of Australia. This might not happen over the rest of the north. We have a responsibility. It is all very well to talk in terms of the defence expenditure that has occurred in the past six months. I support the proposition so ably put forward by Senator Cant.

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