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Friday, 28 June 1946

Mr JOHNSON (Kalgoorlie) (Minister for the Interior) . leaver-The North' eni Australia Development Committee was appointed by the Commonwealth, Queensland and Western Australian Governments to plan the development of Northern Australia in a co-ordinated way, and in a way which recognized that the Commonwealth has responsibilities to parte of the north not directly under its jurisdiction. The most important of these responsibilities is, of course, defence. The committee is responsible to ;i Policy Committee consisting of the Prime Minister, the Premiers of Western Australia and Queensland and myself as the Commonweal th Minister1 responsible for the Northern Territory. F.t consists of two members appointed by each of the two State governments' concerned, two representing the Department of the Interior, for the Northern Territory, with the Director-General of Postwar Reconstruction as chairman. Its members' ' are*- Dr. H. C. Coombs (chairman); Mr. J, A. Carrodus (vicechairman); Dr. A. E. V. Richardson; Mr. j., R. Kemp and "Mr. I. W. Morley, repre'senting the Government of Queensland ; and Mr. R. J. Dumas' and Mr. W. A. Leslie, representing the Government of Western Australia. I indicate, at the outset, that the work of the committee is not merely to prepare a- blueprint for the north which is to be rigidly adhered to, but also to co-ordinate development as it progresses a and so give the required emphasis to projects of highest priority. The task of the committee is therefore envisaged as extending over a considerable period.

The area with which the committee is concerned is north of latitude 26 degrees from the. Indian Ocean to longitude 141 degrees east, then south to the 29th parallel of south latitude, east to 144 degrees of east longitude and then north to the Tropic of Capricorn east to the Queensland coast. It will be observed that the whole of the Northern Territory is included in the area. The map may be inspected in my office.

The terms of reference include four main general objectives and a number of specific items for consideration and report by the committee. Theystate that -

The committee shall examine and initiate proposals to be financed entirely by individual States and the Territory or jointly with the Commonwealth Government, having as their objectives -

(1)   an increase in population:

(2)   the welfare and development of native inhabitants of the area;

(3)   increase in value of production; and (4) best utilization of the lands and other resources involved.

In particular, the committee shall inquire into and report upon -

(1   ) Measures necessary for the development and expansion of -

(a)   Industries including (a) pastoral, (b) agricultural, (c) forestry, (d) mining, (e) marine, (f) fuel and power, and (g) processing and manufacturing industries.

(b)   Services including (a) communications and transport, (b) water supply and irrigation, (c) housing, community facilities and town planning, (d) medical, and (e) educational services.

(2)   (a) Major developmental works, (b) immigration, (c) war service land settlement, and (d) soil erosion and methods of its control. (3)(a) Taxation, and (b) tariffs.

(4)   Any other proposals, works or schemes which, in the opinion of the committee, will promote the development and settlement of the northern portions of Australia.

Generally, the past record of development in the north of Australia is most unimpressive. By1 939, after more than 80 years of settlement, the total nonaboriginal population in areas north of the Tropic was only 282,000, of which 200,000 were concentrated along the eastern seaboard, 73,000 in the remainder of Queensland and about 4,500 each in

Western Australia and the Northern Territory. In all pioneering countries, knowledge of the resources and economic potential is naturally very scanty. Northern Australia is no exception, and this has given rise, in the past, to some fantastic and extreme statements such as " country fit only for the blacks " or " country of unlimited potentialities ". The truth lies somewhere between these extremes. Some parts of the north are undoubtedly worthless desert, whilst other parts receive a high annual rainfall; but even here half the year is dry, and if agriculture on any scale is to occur, expensive water conservation and irrigation plans must be put into effect. It is only in parts of the coastal belt, the adjacent areas of Queensland, and one or two other smaller localities, that anything like an adequate survey of resources has been made. Accordingly, one of the items of major importance to which the committee directed its attention is the survey of the resources of the area. Considerable mapping work had been done by military authorities during the war years. Much, however, remains to be done, and the National Mapping Council has approved a plan for the survey and mapping of the north. As a part of this plan, the Royal Australian Air Force is due to continue its aerial photography of the area as soon as weather conditions permit. The areas to be photographed are those within the red lines on the map.

It is already known that the value of the land varies considerably throughout thearea under review. It is therefore taken as a ruling principle that inquiries should be concentrated in the first place on those areas about which sufficient is known to indicate that development of them is possible. This would enable capital expenditure on developmental works to be concentrated in selected productive localities and would provide a more economic policy, at least in the early stages, than would the spreading of our available capital resources over too wide an area. Such areas are the DarwinKatherine, Ord-Victoria River, Barkly Tablelands and Burdekin regions.

On the recommendation of the committee, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research has organized a reconnaissance survey in the spheres of ecology, soils and pastures. The survey of the Darwin-Katherine region, is regarded by the Northern Australia Development Committee as a matter of urgency, as it is in this region that the bulk of war-time capital expenditure has taken place, and because the next few years will witness a further heavy capital investment by the Commonwealth Government in the rebuilding of Darwin and in the development of the areas adjacent thereto. It has been arranged that there shall be attached to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research party a Commonwealth geologist, whose duty it will be to pay particular attention to the possibility of developing water supplies by means of boring.

Following discussions between the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Senator Ashley) and myself, arrangements have been finalized for the resumption of geological surveys in the Northern Territory on a permanent basis. Attention will be given not only to the requirements of the mining industry, but also to the very important matter of advising on sites for bores for the development of underground' water supplies. Geological and geophysical surveys for oil and coal will be carried out in the vicinity of the Fitzroy River, in the Kimberleys. Although this work was initiated prior to the establishment of the committee, it will form an important part of the survey of the resources of the north.

Already the Government of Western Australia has carried out the preliminary survey in connexion with the Ord River damming and irrigation scheme, and is. conducting research into the pastures, crops and soils of the proposed irrigation areas. On the recommendation of the committee, the Commonwealth is to be actively associated, on a 50-50 basis, in the further and more detailed investigations, and will collaborate with scientific, technical and economic personnel.

The matter of rebuilding Darwin has already come before this House. Naturally, there is a close link, through "officers of my department, between the Northern Australia Development . Committee and the Commonwealth department which deals with this matter.

In some northern areas, the war has provided considerable stimulus to develop-

Mr., Wilison. ment. Roads, airfields, and other works which were constructed for defence purposes, will remain as a permanent asset. In other areas, the effects of the war have been little short of disastrous, for, in addition to enemy destruction - which fortunately was not very extensive - the war has left a legacy of deferred maintenance and disrupted industries. Roads and other public utilities must now be reconstructed, administration, social services and industries must be re-established and the lives of the people must be generally rehabilitated. These are urgent, pressing problems, which are being dealt with as speedily as possible by the three governments concerned. The plans for development and expansion must, in some degree, await the outcome of the surveys and investigations to which I have referred. The rehabilitation and development of the pearling industry may be regarded as an illustration of the manner in which urgent problems are being dealt, with. On the recommendation of the committee, the three governments concerned have nominated .expert officers to consider the matter.. The committee's report, which deals with the recruitment and training of labour, marketing, the procurement of ships, gear, &c, research and other matters, is now before the policy committee.

The committee is also giving urgent attention to the disabilities experienced by families and individuals living in isolated northern areas. It is well known that the lack of social services and amenities of life is a serious deterrent to development, and has contributed in some areas of northern Australia to a serious decline of population. The governments are anxiously awaiting the committee's report on the action which should be taken to overcome this problem.

On the standing agenda of the committee is the development of the natural economic regions of the north. Although such schemes as that of the Ord River and the rebuilding and development of the Darwin region, may have a certain parochial appearance in the replanning of the north, this is deceptive, as each natural region will be developed as a whole; although some regions, as I have already indicated, occupy a higher priority than others. The regions that are receiving early attention are those shown on the map. 0:her specific matters which have already been brought to the. notice of the committee, and on which preliminary investigations are in progress, include : (a) the development of the rnining and pastoral industries; (6) the development of the Blair Athol coal-field in Queensland; and (c) irrigation, hydro-electric and flood control schemes on the rivers in northern Queensland. The Blair Athol and Burdekin River development projects are in the survey stage, and it is expected that a full report will be put before the committee at an early date.

To our north ure hundreds of millions of people who are existing at present in sub-standard conditions, and in backward economies. But economically these countries are. stirring, and they constitute a growing potential market foi- the output of all the industries that can be established in Australia, particularly' in the north, which is 2,000 miles nearer to these neighbouring lands. Oriental development, therefore, is a direct challenge to Australia fully to develop its northern resources and thus reap the benefit of assisting in the raising' of productive and living standards throughout the East.

I lay on . the table the following paper : -

Northern Australia Development Committee - Statement by the Minister for the Interior on the work of the Committee. and move -

That the paper be printed.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Blain) adjourned.

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