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Wednesday, 5 May 1965


Senator PALTRIDGE (Western Australia) (Minister for Defence) . - by leave - Earlier today Senator Branson asked whether, if a statement in relation to the Ord River project were made in the other place by the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies), the statement would be made available to the Senate. I understand that such a statement has now been circulated. J shall read now the deferred answer given by the Prime Minister to a question asked of him in the other place. The text is as follows -

On 28th April, in answer to a question by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, I undertook to make a statement about the Government's decision on the request from the Western Australian Government for £30 million to assist with the completion of the Ord River irrigation project. T have since written to Mr. Brand, Premier of Western Australia, informing him of the Commonwealth's decision to defer new financial decisions until detailed results over a much longer trial period are available.

The Commonwealth Government has given long and exhaustive consideration to all aspects of the scheme, including, of course, our own policy in respect of northern development and the desirability of maintaining continuity of development in the Kimberley area. Honorable members will recall that the Commonwealth has already provided financial assistance of £5 million towards construction of the Ord Diversion Dam and associated works.

The Ord River project is the largest irrigation proposal which has ever been contemplated in Northern Australia. It is located in one of the most remote areas in our continent, and the establishment of a relatively large permanent population in such an area is a matter of great importance. Despite the agricultural and engineering research work that has been undertaken over the years, the Government considers that more detailed information needs to be known about such issues as the profitability of cotton production, the ability of the farmer to control insect pests which apparently abound in the area, and the behaviour of these tropical soils after intensive production has been commenced.

Last year was the first season of commercial production, but only five farmers were involved. An average yield of 1,330 lbs. of seed cotton per acre was obtained although it had been confidently anticipated that a much higher yield would result. Although the Government appreciates the difficulties confronting farmers growing cotton for perhaps the first time, more particularly in such an area as the Ord, it would be most difficult for us to give a favorable decision committing the Government on the basis of this limited evidence. This season, twenty farmers are growing crops on the project and the results of these operations will throw more light on many of the questions which we consider are vital to our judgment of the future of the scheme.

In view of the many unknowns associated with the project at this stage the Government has taken the view that the wisest decision is to wait until more essential information comes to hand which can only be gained by further experience with the project.

I present the following paper -

Ord River Project - Ministerial Statement, 5th May 1965.







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