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Tuesday, 16 March 1965

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (Western Australia) . - I should like to think that having brought this matter before the Senate tonight, Senator Cant, had done so with the idea of trying to help the people of Western Australia. To do that I would have thought he would bring forward a well documented case, giving both sides of the picture as we see it in Western Australia. Instead of that, he spent a great deal of time saying he believed that this Government was insincere in its efforts to develop the north. Senator Cooke said that, in his view, the Government had run out on the submissions made by the Government of Western Australia for financial assistance for the Ord River project.

First of all, 1 want to have a look at the situation. This large area in the northern part of Western Australia is very sparsely populated. The rich soil is the equal of some of the most fertile land in the world. I was one who stood up in the Senate campaign and said I was in favour of granting money to the Ord River scheme. I am not afraid o) it. In addition to this large fertile area, there is one of the biggest rivers in Australia literally running into the sea untapped. I believe that something can be done with it. We know from the experiments that have been carried out at the Kimberley Research Station that all sorts of things will grow in the area. Senator Cant spent a good deal of time telling us of some of the returns that the farmers in that area have received over the last 12 months. These, I believe, are very good returns in the first year of trying to develop farms in that area. But we did not hear anything of what the future is likely to be on those farms.

The mere granting of Federal money to this scheme in Western Australia does not mean that it is assured of success. Private capital will be put into this scheme by men and women like ourselves. What the Federal Government has said at this stage is that it wants to have a look at the submissions made by the Western Australian Government. I have referred to the tremendous amount of land there and also to the river. I believe that this area will go ahead at an even faster rate than the Esperance

Plains development and the land settlement scheme in Western Australia progressed. But those two schemes met with a great deal of difficulty in their early days and, in each case, men and women walked off their properties. They did so despite the fact that, in the land settlement scheme, noone was to be settled on a property until certain requirements in respect of development were met. Has Senator Cant said anything about these matters tonight? No. All he is interested in is that some people in this country are crying out for the development of the north. It does not matter to him whether men, women and their children sink their capital into these developments and then, in a few years' time after all their hard work, walk off their properties.

Senator Cant - Why did you not say that during the Senate election campaign? Why be two-faced about it?

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - I am not being two faced. All I am saying is that the Commonwealth Government has asked for time to have a look at these matters. That is all it has done. I do not make the decision. I am in favour of granting money to this area. I believe, having studied the case, that men and women who go up there can make a success of it.

But I put this further question to Senator Cant: What is the future of the cotton industry in this country? If large areas of land are brought into production, then large quantities of cotton must be produced. At the present time, the cotton industry in this country is subsidised. The Federal Government has to make a decision as to how much subsidy it is prepared to pay on the increased production. The Government wants time to work out the potential of this area and estimate how much money it will be required to provide by way of subsidies in the years to come. Has Senator Cant said anything about that matter? No. We know that there is a great demand for cotton, particularly in Japan which, last year, bought from America approximately the equivalent of 3 million acres of cotton. Perhaps Australia could get a portion of that market. But how much could we get of that market? Does Senator Cant know? He does not. These are the matters which the Government has to consider. Senator Cant says that this is not so, and he is overlooking them.

Let me take honorable senators backto the wheat industry in the 1930's when this country was growing a great deal of wheat. We had wheat to burn. Yet men and women walked off their farms because they could not get a decent price for their wheat. Are honorable senators prepared to see the same thing happen in the Ord River district? I am not, despite the fact that I believe from my own investigations that these things will not happen. But am I sure of that? No. The Commonwealth Government has asked for time to investigate this point. I believe that it is doing the right thing. I want to see the northern part of Australia developed. I want to see Federal money put into its development because I know that Western Australia cannot develop this area on its own. But I do not want to see in ten years' time people walking off their properties and all the money we have put into their places plus their own money going down the drain.

Senator Cant - Do we wait ten years?

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - No. I am talking about what might happen in ten years' time if the Commonwealth Government gave the money now. I only hope that the Commonwealth Government can and will see its way clear to grant this money. But I am fully behind the Government at this stage in making a thorough investigation into all the facts of the matter.

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