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Tuesday, 13 November 1973
Page: 3235

Dr PATTERSON (Dawson) (Minister for Northern Development and Minister for the Northern Territory) - I do not intend to enter into an acrimonious debate about the origins of the beef roads scheme. This is fully documented. Nor will I in any way be drawn into criticising Sir Charles Adermann for whom I have always had the highest respect. Sir Charles was the Minister for Primary Industry when the second beef roads proposal was put forward. As the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) probably knows, I think it was in 1946 under the Chifley Government that the first beef roads scheme was put into operation, principally for the Channel country. However, it was under Sir Charles Adermann as the Minister in charge that the beef roads scheme as we know it was launched. The beef roads scheme was based on a tremendous amount of work. For example, from 1947 to 1960, countless investigations were conducted throughout the Kimberleys, the Northern Territory, the Gulf country and the Cape York Peninsula. Practically every cattle station in relation to land classification was studied. Various proposals were put up regarding the movement of beef by air and consideration was given to whether the air beef scheme in operation in Western Australia should be expanded. We considered whether a railway line should be built from Dajarra to Birdum, across the Barkly Tableland. However, all the evidence pointed to the fact that the best way to move cattle in the future would be on wheels. A series of submissions was made to a Permanent Heads Committee in 1960, further investigations were carried out and various Cabinet submissions were written. I think that I know the story better than do most people. In regard to the continuation of the scheme, I have nothing to say other than that I fully support what the honourable member for the Northern Territory has said. I believe it is one of the Commonwealth's schemes that has proved itself beyond doubt to be of major significance in the development of northern Australia, opening up the country not only for the cattle industry but also allowing more and more people to go into those areas.

The point made by the honourable member for the Northern Territory regarding the port of Darwin is noted. As he well knows, there are a lot of problems with respect to this port, but this matter is being examined by a fairly active committee. The last point mentioned by the honourable member related to the Darwin power supply. This situation certainly is very critical at present. He suggested that I have not taken any action, but I can assure the honourable member that I have taken action. I have asked the head of my Department to give it the highest priority with the Department of Works to try to overcome the problem which exists. We have even had investigated the possibility of an oil rig in the harbour generating power for the Darwin area, but the rig generates direct current whereas the commercial transmission is alternating indirect current. It is also being suggested to me that perhaps we should divert a battleship or even a submarine to the area to generate sufficient power for Darwin. I can assure the honourable member that this is being given very serious consideration. We are working around the clock to try to overcome the problem. A Swedish engineer is in Darwin. He has all the resources at his disposal that we can give him. It appears that the problem is due to the collapse of bearings and certainly, as the honourable member has said, there are boiler problems as well. But the problem is being looked at seriously and I assure the honourable member that although I have not received his letter, I can do no more than I am doing at present. If he or anybody else has any suggestion of how suddenly to overcome the problem which has arisen, whereby a major part of the supply of power to Darwin will be cut off because of the collapse of this unit, I can assure them that I will look at it very seriously.

I have even investigated this afternoon the possibility of using top experts from the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation who I thought perhaps could help because they have a tremendous knowledge of matters relating to power. However, this is a mechanical problem and one which we must solve in terms of ancillary power units. We are looking at the various resources of the Navy to see whether the Navy can supply equipment by transporting it quickly from Navy land depots. We are looking at the possibility of closing off or minimising some of the drains on the power by, say, the Australian Broadcasting Commission, Radio Australia and such operations. However, I can assure the honourable member that this matter is being given every consideration.

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