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Wednesday, 29 June 1938

Mr JENNINGS (Watson) .- This proposal is made in consequence of the Government's decision to transfer the capital of New Guinea from Rabaul to Salamaua, which, I suggest, is of as much importance to the people of Australia as it is to the people of New Guinea itself, because New Guinea, the second largest island in the world, stands as a buffer to Australia in case of emergency. Salamaua is situated on a small peninsula, the country being low-lying similar to that about the Spit, Sydney, with the exception that Salamaua faces the ocean. When the proposed road is constructed, Wau will probably become the largest and most important centre in New Guinea, whilst Salamaua will be merely the nominal capital. Wau is situated on a plateau 3,500 feet above sea level, and its inhabitants are a vigorous people who are anxious to develop the district as quickly and effectively as possible. Its airport, situated in the centre of the town, is one of the finest in the southern hemisphere. There are about 35 aerodromes in New Guinea, and its air transport system is one of the most efficient in the world. When I visited Wau three years ago I met many of the prominent townspeople, and was impressed with their desire to help in the progress of the district. Even at that time they expressed a desire that the capital of New Guinea should be established there. Considerable building construction was in progress, this industry being facilitated by the fact that the district abounds with good timber. I feel sure that Wau will develop into one of the most progressive centres in New Guinea.

The proposal to construct a road from Salamaua to Wau is not by any means new, but previously the project was abandoned, I understand, owing to the great difficulties involved. The absence of road communication, however, has been largely instrumental in the development of New Guinea's fine airways system. The Minister for External Affairs (Mr. Hughes.) referred to the road from Wau to Edie Creek, which was constructed at a cost of £2,000 a mile, the road being twelve feet wide and negotiating many hairpin bends, with, in some place, only inches to spare from the edge of abysses 1,000 feet deep.From our experience, three years ago, we know that aeroplane flights in New Guinea offered no greater thrills than were experienced on a motor trip up this road. The cost of road maintenance in mountainous country of this nature is tremendous; owing to the torrential rainfall landslides are frequent. For these reasons the proposal under this measure should be very carefully investigated. I am very sorry that the Minister has not been able to give more details with regard to it. The average cost of constructing roads, eighteen feet wide, in the Federal Capital Territory in heavy country involving considerable rock excavation is £6,000 a mile. This road, which is to be constructed in similar country, is estimated, I understand, to cost £2,000 a mile. All I can say is that I hope that this estimate proves to be correct, because it seems a remarkably low cost.

Mr Street - The honorable member must remember that native labour will be employed in this work.

Mr JENNINGS - I am not opposing the bill, but merely suggesting, in view of the cost I have cited of road construction in similar country in the Federal Capital Territory, that the estimate of £2,000 a mile in respect of this road is a very low figure indeed.

Mr Curtin - I believe it will be found that the cost will be nearer- £180,000 to £200,000 than the figure mentioned by the Minister.

Mr JENNINGS - I would not be surprised if the actual cost will be much higher than the estimate, and that the cost crf maintenance of this road also will be considerable. I hope, however, that the estimate will prove to be correct.

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