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Tuesday, 16 March 1965

Senator COOKE (Western Australia) . - I have listened to the debate on this matter with keen interest. It would appear to me that the Government has jettisoned - temporarily, at any rate - a scheme which it assured the Australian people, particularly the people of Western Australia, that it would definitely carry out. Announcements made by Government supporters at election times and statements that have appeared in the Press vindicate the action of the Opposition in moving a motion designed to urge the Government to determine its position on this project. Virtually the same matter that was put before the Senate tonight was put before the Senate almost 12 months ago by myself, Senator Branson and others.

The Minister for Defence (Senator Paltridge) has argued that the economics of the scheme have to be examined, but Senator Scott, who claims to be very knowledgeable about the north west and about this scheme, has said that for an expenditure of £70 per acre a return of £200 per acre can be obtained. In the first year the farmers had considerable trouble with boll weevils and other pests but that problem was overcome and the farms were economic propositions. At the recent election in Western Australia Mr. Brand submitted very much the same case as has been put up in this chamber tonight, but this Government says that he was silly in that respect because the time is not opportune for the scheme, owing to a shortage of labour. However, we know that the Americans have begun some projects in this area - projects on which many Australians are anxious and willing to work, ft has been said on good authority that American capital is interested in this area and would be prepared to develop it if the Government made it possible to do so. However, the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) is appealing to America to let up on Australia because too much money earned by American investors is going out of the country. The degree to which American dollars are being used to buy up assets in Australia, to the disadvantage of this nation, is a matter of concern to the Australian Government and the Australian people. We still want America to be our close friend, but we do not want Americans to buy up our assets and cause a drain on our resources by remitting a large proportion of the profits overseas.

The following article appeared in the Melbourne " Age " of 3rd March 1964 -

Western Australia has asked the Commonwealth Government to meet the whole of a £19,300,000 bill to complete the Ord River irrigation project-

That is (he £30 million project -

The State Government has also made a parallel request for an additional £10,700,000 to finance associated development in the Ord region - the supply of hydro-electric power "and home building.

The article continues -

The Premier (Mr. Brand) yesterday revealed details of submissions to the Commonwealth

Government for the construction of the main OrdDam by 1967/68 and expansion of the irrigation area to 150,000 acres by 1976.

These are matters which have been put before the public by a responsible government which claimed that this would be done and which submitted it to the Commonwealth Government which, in turn, gave the Government of Western Australia to understand that it would consider this work as a project well worthy of development. The Commonwealth Government gave the Government of Western Australia every encouragement to think it would support the project. The article states, further -

The main dam, one of Australia's biggest, will cost £8.3 million. Irrigation channels and drains to widen the 30,000 acre first stage to 150,000 acres will cost £11 million.

Mr. Brandsaid farms developed under the Ord River scheme would cover at least 100,000 acres in the East Kimberley and 50,000 acres in the Northern Territory, with an estimated regional population of between 10,000 and 20,000 by 1975.

He made the point that this is not only development but also defence. I think the Government is slipping up and is avoiding its responsibility entirely in not making a decision on this matter and in not making it quite clear that this is not going to be another American dollar take over. It is now quite clear that the buying of our assets by American capital is causing embarrassment in the matter of the invisible and dollar payments that are going out of the country. If we are to believe President Lyndon Johnson the pressure will soon be greater for the return of earnings from Australia to America.

It is all very well to say that this is a nice scheme. The Government promised it to the people and got votes on it but it is being jettisoned at this time. Nothing was put forward by the Minister or by Senator Scott to prove that the scheme is uneconomic. If it were jettisoned at this stage that would be an absolute rejection of promises and the repudiation by the Commonwealth of assurances given to the people of Western Australia that this development would take place.

Senator Branson - Do you think it will be rejected?

Senator COOKE - I think the Commonwealth Government is delaying the matter to such an extent that at this stage some decision should be made about it. The scheme may not be rejected but, like many other big development projects, it may be so long delayed by the Government that other capital will come in and develop the scheme. Then it will no longer be an Australian scheme. It will be another scheme which has been promoted as an Australian scheme but ultimately taken over by foreign capital in the process of dollar infiltration. This article in the Melbourne " Age " continues -

Mr. Brandsaid the diversion dam already built would carry the Ord scheme to 30,000 acres by 1967/68.

The Government wanted the main dam completed by then so the scheme could be expanded continuously to cover 150,000 acres by 1976.

The Kununurra township now had 70 homes and 500 people, including the construction workforce.

They are gradually drifting out and the township is getting down to a normal situation. The tradesmen have gone and plant will have to be brought in to make a start there, but it is still not too late for the Government to make a decision. The " Age " states further -

Total cost of the first stage, including housing, and extension of the irrigation area to 30,000 acres is £8,400,000, of which the Commonwealth is contributing £5,716,000.

The Commonwealth Government has entered into this scheme and has committed itself to it. Settlers have gone up there and they have proved the area able to meet any reasonable demand. The figures given by the Minister and by Senator Scott are fairly good.

Senator Mattner - Five farms and how many million pounds have been spent up to date?

Senator COOKE - There are five farms, admittedly, and over £8.4 million of expenditure is involved up there. It is not just five farmers who are involved. When that expenditure was first agreed to there were no farmers there. The Government is adopting the attitude that it took to the Snowy River project. It delayed it and bungled it and pushed it aside until a decision was made to proceed with the scheme. Now that it is a world famous project Government supporters are proud of it. There has been tremendous expenditure on the Ord River scheme and it has been proven as worthy of reasonable development. The greater dam is necessary and justified. Honorable senators opposite .can have it whichever way they like. Either Mr. Brand is talking through his hat or they are. I have quoted him specifically. We say it is a matter of urgency to which the Commonwealth Government should give some attention because, if it is delayed longer, it will be more expensive. The Government has the same old attitude which may be expressed in the words: " We have gone through with the matter so far and now it oan languish until capital from outside the Government is available." If the Government of Western Australia cannot carry on with the project - it has tinkered with the idea of getting outside capital - the project will fall down as a result of a laissez faire policy after this Government and the taxpayers of the nation have been committed to an expenditure of £12 million or £15 million. I therefore say it is a matter of urgency. I say that there has been a Government pledge and promise over a period of 12 months according to the Premier of Western Australia, if he was sincere and proper in the impression he gave the people of that State concerning what would be done in the area. I believe that, at that time, he had confidence that the Commonwealth Government would co-operate with the Western Australian Government so that the development would be carried on. But this Government has failed to make a decision about the matter although the proposition was put forward 12 months ago. I have asked two questions about it in this chamber in the intervening period and received assurances from the Government that the scheme was progressing favourably. The same answer as given now was given then - that the Government was analysing the matter, that the scheme was approved and that although the expenditure could not be undertaken then, the Government had viewed the whole plan and an early decision would be given. It is now begging the question. If there is a problem of manpower I. point out that the Brand Government has given an assurance that it is capable of carrying out the scheme and that from the defence point of view it is necessary. But if the completion of the scheme has to wait until foreign capital comes in to develop it, that will be another shameful sell out of Australian assets to foreign capital, no matter how friendly those who supply the money may be. This could result in further serious embarrassment to this country such as exists now because of the drain of American dollars. If President

Lyndon Johnson's plan goes through it will be a still more serious embarrassment to this nation.

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