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Tuesday, 13 November 1973
Page: 3238

Dr PATTERSON (Dawson) (Minister for Northern Development and Minister for the Northern Territory) - The honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) has mentioned water conservation. I remember him speaking about Julius Dam, but I did not quite hear another place he mentioned. He did not mention Three Moon Creek?

Mr Katter - No.

Dr PATTERSON - It is a fact that the present Government provided finance to the Queensland Government for its part in developing Julius Dam, and it is true that the present Government has laid down somewhat better terms and conditions for the repayment of the loan. Some months ago in the presence of the Commissioner for Water Supply and Irrigation, Mr Haigh, and senior officers of my Department I met members of the Mount Isa Council and discussed with them various proposals that had been made. As the honourable member said, it certainly will be a burden on the people of Mount Isa if they have to pay back the full cost of the provision of water - capital works and reticulation costs - because of the peculiar problems associated with the deficiencies of water in that area. This matter is being looked at. I asked the Mount Isa Council - I am under the impression it is doing it - to put forward a further case to justify its claims. There is very much competition for the finance available for water conservation projects throughout Australia. It is my impression that the Mount Isa Council is collecting information to put forward a further case, through the Queensland Government, to the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) for further assistance for the provision of water which will minimise or alleviate the repayment problems of the people living in Mount Isa. The Mount Isa mining company also has contributed substantially to this scheme.

The Monduran Dam project at Bundaberg, of course, has been going on for some years. It is one which a number of honourable members have repeatedly raised with me. It is within the electorate of the honourable member for Capricornia, the Minister for Health (Dr Everingham), but part of it eventually will also be in the electorate of the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Hansen).

Mr Katter - Kennedy also.

Dr PATTERSON - Yes. The Bundaberg scheme has been designed to minimise the effects of drought in an area which over a long period of years has suffered from recurring droughts with monotonous regularity. The cumulative loss of income over the years which has been sustained directly on the production of sugar and cattle production, and indirectly from the multiplier effects of that loss, is very large.

I think that the honourable member for Kennedy should have given us a few more facts. The delay in making a decision on this project is due to 2 facts. It is true that the previous Government helped this project by providing finance. But it is also true that the interdepartmental committee which considered this project judged it to be totally uneconomic, the same as it did with the Eton irrigation project, without any investigation. This Government refused to accept that conclusion without an investigation. The premise on which the previous decision was taken that the project was uneconomic was that if there is a drought in . Bundaberg the deficit could be made up by a surplus above peak production in some other part of the cane growing areas of Queensland. As is well known today, in the last few years in particular we have wanted every stick of sugar cane harvested. We have reached the stage where we have not sufficient sugar to satisfy the world market at the present time.

It is a very tight market. Consequently the premise, in judging the Bundaberg irrigation scheme to be uneconomic, is in fact incorrect. One of the first things this Government did after assuming office was to negate that decision.

We have not any figures to substantiate my hypothesis that it is a good project. The honourable member for Wide Bay, the honourable member for Kennedy, the Minister for Health and I all think that it is an excellent proposition. The honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) has been one of the most trenchent critics of governments over the years for mak. ing decisions which have not been backed at least by investigation into the ' economics of such decisions. This Government, in its policy speech before the last election, made it clear that in all these types of projects there would be evaluations. One of the first things I did at the change of Government was to call for an evaluation of the Bundaberg proposition. I knew that this project was in trouble.

Mr Katter - What about the Three Moons proposal?

Dr PATTERSON - Wait a minute. We are dealing with the Bundaberg proposal. There was no evaluation. I can assure the honourable member for Kennedy that this evaluation is going ahead at full speed. The resources of my Department, the Bureau of Agricultural Economics and the State departments concerned are investigating, as a matter of priority, the Bundaberg irrigation project. We must have an evaluation first. I think that I have answered the honourable member's remarks about road construction in answer to 2 previous speakers. Road construction in the north is one of the most progressive and constructive investment propositions that any national government can undertake. This investment has more than proved itself in terms of the economic benefits that have been derived by the national Government from time to time and also from a regional point of view. As the honourable member for Kennedy knows full well, the economics of the phosphate rock deposits project are being investigated by the Broken Hill South company. Those concerned with the project are looking at it very closely. One of the problems is to transport phosphate in a slurry form or some other form, by a pipeline or some other method of transport, to market it in an economic fashion.

The honourable member's point regarding the pensioners I will bring to the notice of the

Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden). The honourable member well knows that it has been brought to the Minister's attention many many times not only by honourable members on the other side of the chamber but also by honourable members on this side. We appreciate the very high costs involved in freight, and also the higher cost of living. One of the problems of the pensioner who lives in Borrooloola or Burketown or somewhere else in the north is that he or she is faced with a considerable increase in the cost of living in buying essential goods as compared with people who live in other parts of Australia. But again this matter will be brought to the attention of the appropriate Minister.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

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