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Tuesday, 6 March 1973
Page: 214

Mr BONNETT (Herbert) - Firstly I should like to add my congratulations to Mr Speaker upon his election to the Chair. I hope that in that job he does not lose the sense of humour that we have enjoyed from him over the last few years. I offer my congratulations to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, on your election to that position and to the position of Chairman of Committees. I know that you will do a good job. I now turn to the Address-in-Reply. One of the most outstanding omissions of Government policy promises in the Governor-General's Speech last Tuesday was in that portion dealing with regional development. Albury-Wodonga was mentioned as a site which would receive attention, but no mention was made of the promised development of Townsville. My remarks in this Address-in-Reply debate will be confined to the subject of regional development and to the statements made on this subject by the present Government during the last election campaign.

During this campaign much was said about the establishment of regional growth centres in the Albury-Wodonga area and in the city of Townsville in north Queensland. In fact these were the only areas mentioned as being specifically chosen for accelerated growth. This idea suits the people of north Queensland fine, but I would like to know whether, prior to these statements being made, consideration was given to the problems of making Townsville a regional growth centre. I should like to know, and I know the north Queensland people would like to know, whether the Government is honest in its intentions to implement this idea. If so, when is a start to be made? I should like to know also whether this statement about promoting a regional growth centre in Townsville was just another election gimmick to win votes in north Queensland. The reason that the. Government's statement on this matter is suspect is that during the campaign so much was promised to the people in the north that they are now beginning to wonder whether excuses will be found to delay the implementation of all these promises.

An additional reason which makes the Government's pre-election promises suspect is the purpose of the last Federal Conference of the Australian Labor Party being held in Townsville early in 1972. At the commencement of the conference the Federal President of the Australian Labor Party stated that the specific reason for the conference being held in Townsville was to assist in unseating the Federal member for Herbert. During that week Press statements were directed towards just that. In the ensuing period many magnificent promises were made by the Australian Labor Party candidate for the benefit of the area, presumably, as the people were led to believe through the Press, on behalf of the then Leader of the Opposition and the now. Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam). As many honourable members will imagine, I was tremendously upset at having to disappoint the Federal President of the Australian Labor Party by retaining my seat. This leads to one question. Is the Government honest in its intention to promote accelerated growth in Townsville? If so, has it considered all of the problems that will have to be tackled and overcome before this can be achieved? If so, when is a start to be made? Or was it just another election promise that will be fobbed off with excuses until it becomes another distant memory? If the Government is honest in its intentions would it define, loudly and clearly, its interpretation of 'regional development'? Does this just mean the development of an existing city or the development of surrounding districts as well as the city? It is said that the Albury-Wodonga area will become a planned city in which it will be a delight to live. This may be all right for New South Wales and Victoria but Queensland needs new cities like we need holes in the head because Queensland is the greatest example of decentralisation. This was acknowledged by the Prime Minister when he was Leader of the Opposition. In my opinion the existing cities and towns in Queensland and the districts surrounding them should be considered for development before there is any talk or thought of building new cities.

Let us look at what the Government has promised to do in respect of regional development. During the policy speech of the present Government prior to the recent elections, these were some of the statements that were, made on this subject: Rebuilding our existing cities and building new ones; promote a massive attack on the problem of land and housing costs; water and sewerage services to all premises by 1978; implement the recommendation that centres nominated for accelerated development be recognised for telephone charging purposes as extensions of the metropolitan area, whereby rentals would be equated and calls between these places and the State capital charged as for local calls; in its first term of office to concentrate initiatives and endeavours in 2 areas, Albury-Wodonga and Townsville; purchase land in co-operation with State and local governments, acquiring rural land before it is zoned and the land then to be released on a leasehold basis; freezing of land prices in growth centres such as Albury-Wodonga; provide money to build homes for 200,000 people on the southern outskirts of Sydney as a planned city, the land to be developed on a leasehold basis and allocated according to needs or ballot.

These are the policy statements the Labor Party made on this subject during the election campaign. Let us have a brief look at some of them.

I suppose the rebuilding of our existing cities and the building of new ones is the Government's contribution to the idea of decentralisation, but as I have mentioned Queensland needs new cities like we need holes in the head. What is meant by a massive attack on the problem of land and housing costs I do not know. In my opinion this situation certainly needs some control, but I think it will be most interesting to see how the Government mounts its massive attack on this problem without detrimental effect to complementary industries.. Then I guess the people who live in Camooweal, Cloncurry, Hughenden, Julia Creek and the dozens of towns such as these throughout Queensland and in the outback towns of other States would be most happy to have water and sewerage services laid on to their premises by 1978. During the election campaign and at a Press conference after the election, the piesent Prime Minister was most emphatic that Townsville would be regarded as a centre for regional development and accelerated growth, and while I think this is a highly commendable intention. I wonder whether he and other members of the Ministry have thought of the problems associated with this intention. These problems and the methods employed to solve them, providing the Government goes ahead with its intentions, could well become a guideline for centres designated for development in the future, that is, of course, if the Government really intends to proceed with its proposal.

I mentioned earlier that it was the Government's policy to regard recognised development centres as extensions of the metropolitan area for telephone charges and services. Townsville is close to 1,000 miles from Brisbane, and if the Government does implement its policy it will be interesting to see the effect on the people of Ayr, Home Hill, Ingham, Tully, Cardwell, Innisfail, Cairns, Mount Isa and other such places who will have to pay normal trunk line charges to Brisbane while people in Townsville will enjoy the privilege of being able to make the same trunk call for 5c. There is no doubt that it would suit the people of Townsville, but I would rather the new Government implement this policy than me, for I can imagine some very irate people in north Queensland will be asking why this privilege can be extended to 74,000 people in one centre and not to the whole of north Queensland.

There is no doubt that the city of Townsville, the second largest in Queensland, is growing rapidly and that this growth has been continuous over the last few years. It has been doing this in its own right and it will continue to grow as the need for expansion arises; but there is one major problem which must be overcome before any talk of accelerated growth can even begin to be considered and this is the problem of an adequate water supply. The normal daily usage for people and industry in Townsville is approximately 15 million gallons. This supply comes from a dam erected in the mountains some 40-odd miles to the north and from weir catchment areas situated on the Ross River. Both these supplies are dependent on adequate rainfall, which is not always assured. Any prolonged dry spell means excessive water restrictions both for people and industry. In fact, the city was limited to a daily usage of approximately 9 million gallons over the last few months. At the beginning of this year the city had only sufficient water to last for 42 days at the rate of 9 million gallons a day. Fortunately there has been sufficient rain since to extend this period. The point I am trying to make is this: Before the new Government can take one step to establish Townsville as a growth centre, it must ensure that there is sufficient water to service this growth.

Mr Keogh - What did you do about it during the years you were in office?

Mr BONNETT - I am giving the Government a chance to. get off the very large hook it is on if its supporters would only listen. At the present moment there is a flood mitigation and water storage project being undertaken on the Ross River. If this dam is completed and if there is sufficient rain to fill the dam and keep it filled, it will ease the water requirement situation for a period of only a few years. The complete answer to regional development in this area is the construction of the Burdekin Dam. Whether the Prime Minister was angling for votes I do not know but he stated during the election campaign that this project would be proceeded with. This is easy enough to promise, but the construction of dams is not done cheaply and in my opinion the Burdekin Dam at this stage would cost approximately $400m to complete. Therefore the question arises: will he honour this promise or will it be shelved using the excuse of awaiting definite information on the project?

The Minister for Northern Development (Dr Patterson) made a statement on 1st February that immediate action was to be taken to accelerate the reappraisal of the Burdekin River basin, and that he was shocked at the almost complete lack of action on the part of

Federal authorities on this matter. He further stated that the evaluation could take several years to complete and that the Prime Minister had made it clear that the resources of the Burdekin basin were vital to the economical development of Townsville. In fact the statement implied that nothing much had been done and that it would be years before anything could be done.

Yet the 1971-72 annual report of the Commissioner for Irrigation and Water Supply in Queensland stated that work continued on the re-examination of the original scheme based on the Burdekin Falls Dam which was reported on in 1951. Topographic mapping of alternative diversion dam sites was completed and preliminary assessment of storage potential on 2 tributaries was commenced. The Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation completed a preliminary investigation of other dam sites on the Burdekin, and a more detailed study of another site was initiated. These and other aspects of the appraisal have been the subject of further discussions with Commonwealth departments. A joint Commonwealth-State technical working group was formed and commenced preparation of a detailed outline for study which would define the scope and responsibilities for the more detailed work to follow. In view of this report I fail to see how it could be said that practically nothing had been undertaken, and 1 would suggest that there is enough appraisal work completed for the Government to announce whether it intends to commence the Burdekin project and if so, when it would commence. If the Government feels that this scheme would be too expensive for it to implement, let it say so in all honesty. Perhaps then we can provide the answer for another project which would satisfy all of Townsville City's water requirements at a great deal less cost. But this water problem is the first matter that must be considered over and above anything else.

Another question I have regarding this development is: Does the Government intend to concentrate on the expansion of Townsville itself, or the region around Townsville, which would include the Burdekin, Charters Towers and Ingham districts? My own opinion is that the whole district should be developed if the Government intends to proceed with its idea of establishing regional development. Ingham for instance is an area which could be developed extensively for the benefit of that area and for Townsville. If this were accepted there is over 100,000 acres of prime forest land which is ideally suited for growing softwoods. At the moment we import a lot of our softwoods for local use, and yet this area, which could produce millable timber in from 10 to 12 years, is standing idle. Also these softwoods, used in conjunction with bagasse, the fibrous waste from sugar cane milling, could produce a pulp which would be acceptable for export marketing. This would mean the establishment of a pulp mill which in turn would mean continuous employment, both rural and industrial, for quite a number of people.

If the Government proceeds with the development of Townsville as it says it will in its first term of office, extensions to the port facilities will have to be considered. In the light of any growth these extensions would become a necessity, especially with the expansion of our mineral production. The problem of freight costs both to and from the north will have to be considered if any industrial expansion is to be undertaken, in order for us to compete in all markets and to ensure continuity of northern production. A definite increase in communications will also have to be considered, and by communications 1 mean transport and other services throughout the district. It would mean an upgrading of the road system and the sea and air services, something which could not be accomplished without huge financial assistance. The establishment of an international airport in Townsville is to be undertaken if the Government honours another promise, and this also leads to further heavy financial commitment by the new Federal Government. But please do not misunderstand me on this, because I wholeheartedly support the idea of regional development. But it is my opinion that this development must also include districts as well as cities and towns. The development of a city is useless without the development of surrounding districts. If the new Government is sincere in its intention to promote such development throughout the nation, then I am prepared to support it. But at the present moment, in view of the Government's confusing approach to regional development, I feel it may be some time before we will see any positive moves in this direction. The decision to make an area a growth centre is easy, but the implementation of this decision is going to be far from easy. In all sincerity I ask the Government: Are you honest in your intentions in this matter so far as Townsville is concerned, or are you not?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Scholes)BeforeI call the honourable member for Diamond Valley I point out to the House that this is the honourable member's maiden speech.

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