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Thursday, 25 March 1965

Senator PALTRIDGE (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) (Minister for Defence) - In anticipation of this question being asked by Senator Sir Walter Cooper, I have obtained the following information -

The Minister for National Development announced on 17th November 1964 that the Commonwealth Government wished to see an accelerated search for phosphate deposits in Australia. There was a rising demand for superphosphate in Australia which had been encouraged by the Commonwealth Government subsidy of £3 a ton. The greater usage was being reflected in increased productivity in our primary industries. New records in the volume of rural production are being set, due largely to the expansion in pasture improvement; superphosphate is a vital factor in this development.

The Government felt that there were prospects that an intensified search for phosphates would lead to the discovery of workable deposits. It therefore wished to encourage private enterprise to play an active role in this intensified search. The Government felt that participation by private enterprise would not only add to the size of the exploration effort, but also to the diversity of approach and the variety of techniques used in exploration programmes.

Any search by private enterprise would be supported by the Commonwealth Bureau of Mineral Resources carrying out its traditional role of undertaking basic investigations and regional studies and in providing basic information required by the mining industry. In addition, much valuable support and assistance could be provided by the Mines Departments and Geological Surveys of the various States.

Subsequently on 13th January 1965 the Minister for National Development announced that approval had been given for the Commonwealth Bureau of Mineral Resources to engage two specialists from overseas to further the search for phosphate deposits on the mainland and offshore area of the Australian continent. The two specialists are Dr. Richard Sheldon of the United States Geological Survey and Dr. Van Andel of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Dr. Sheldon has had long experience in the search for and assessment of phosphate deposits in the United States and overseas countries including Turkey and Chile. Dr. Van Andel is a leading specialist on marine geology.

In the Minister's statement of 13th January the point was made that the first step is to make a comprehensive review of basic data and an assessment of possibilities as a firm basis for an expanded and systematic programme covering the whole field. This comprehensive review has been commenced by the Bureau of Mineral Resources and is now in progress.

Dr. Sheldonand Dr. Van Andel are not expected to arrive in Australia until the middle of this year. For the moment Dr. Sheldon is completing a tour as a visiting professor at Harvard University in the United States.

One of the first actions of these U.S. consultants will be to study the basic data now being assembled by the Bureau.

The Bureau of Mineral Resources is continuously active in this matter in the course of its normal day to day work. Bureau parties on Royal Australian Navy vessels take every opportunity to obtain samples from the seabed which are studied in the Bureau's laboratories.

In a search which is just beginning in the Bougainville area similar action will be taken by the members of the Bureau field party which will operate from a small vessel.

It is important to remember that all regional geological mapping work of the Bureau is relevant to the search for phosphate as to other minerals, and the field parties and laboratory staffs are continuously alert for indications of phosphatic occurrences.

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