Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 11 October 1956

Mr NELSON (Northern Territory) . - I should like to make a few comments on the remarks of the honorable member for

Corangamite (Mr. Mackinnon), who criticized the probable extension of railways into the Northern Territory for developmental purposes. I invite him to contrast the present position with that which existed in central Australia before the rail link between Oodnadatta, in South Australia, and Alice Springs was constructed. Since 1928, a dramatic change has come over the scene, and central Australia, which was one of the most backward parts of the Northern Territory, has now become one of the most progressive, and certainly one of the most highly developed, areas in the Territory. In spite of its limited population, it supports a railway of some 900 miles in length, which shows a profit every year. Therefore, 1 do not support the honorable member for Corangamite's contentions about railways and the present state of affairs.

The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) rightly praised the report of Mr. F. J. S. Wise, the former Administrator of the Northern Territory, which was recently tendered to the Government. He was also correct when he said that, in that report, the former Administrator emphasized that far greater possibilities existed in the Northern Territory than were apparent. The only comment I should like to add is that before the possibilities mentioned by Mr. Wise can become realities, we shall have to solve the principal problem of transport. Until adequate facilities for transport by rail, road, sea and air are available, we cannot bring the former Administrator's plans to fruition in the way he desires. Transport is the most serious bottle-neck in the Northern Territory.

I pass now to the existing situation in the Northern Territory Legislative Council, of which the committee should be aware. As honorable members know, the Legislative Council is composed of nominated and elected members who represent the various districts of the Territory. Honorable members know, also, that owing to the predominance of nominated members, the Government has the final say in determining matters with which the Legislative Council deals. Its powers are limited. They are strictly defined, and are not in any sense all-embracing. A disturbing situation arose three or four months ago, when an elected member representing the

Darwin district resigned. The disturbing feature is not so much the resignation of an elected member, as the Government's failure to hold a by-election to fill the vacancy. Sufficient time has elapsed since the resignation for the Government to decide whether to hold a by-election to fill the vacancy, or to dissolve the Legislative Council some six or eight months before its term expires and have a general election. On 11th September, I asked the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) what the position was, and he informed me that the matter was under consideration. In answer to a similar question which I asked yesterday, he informed me that the matter was still under consideration.

The time has arrived for the Government to make up its mind to treat the people of the Northern Territory as they are entitled to be treated, and to take action immediately to fill vacancies in the Legislative Council whether it occurs as a result of the resignation of a member or for any other reason. The citizenship rights of the people of the Northern Territory are already limited enough, and they feel considerably slighted by this kind of treatment. The Minister should make a considered statement about what the Government proposes to do in order to make the Legislative Council again as effective an instrument o< the people as is possible.

I turn now to mining matters, which 1 consider are among the most important in their relation to the Estimates for the Northern Territory. I think we all agree - doubtless even the honorable member foi Corangamite agrees - that mining could transform the Northern Territory, because it offers the best prospects of rapidly increasing the population. It certainly offers far better prospects than does the pastoral industry, which cannot bring to the Territory the number of people required, no matter how much it expands. Agriculture, of course, could attract considerable numbers of people to the Northern Territory, and will be of great benefit, and earnest efforts should be made to encourage it. The annual value of production from mining is about £3,000,000, excluding the returns from uranium mining. This brings up a sore point among the people of the Territory concerning the manner in which this activity is administered. Uranium-mining is controlled by the Australian Atomic Energy Commission. The annual value of uranium production, 1 should say, is between £4,000,000 and £6,000,000. As it goes directly into the coffers of the Government it is not credited to the Northern Territory as revenue. In the notes circulated by the Minister for the information of honorable members during the budget debate we read that the estimated revenue of the Northern Territory for 1956-57 is only £846,000, excluding income tax collections. That statement is not correct. 1 consider that the Northern Territory is being cheated because it is not credited with the value of the uranium it produces.

Mr Hasluck - The figure mentioned by the honorable member was presented only as revenue collected by the local administration. I readily admit that a great deal more revenue is collected by other government instrumentalities.

Mr NELSON - That is correct. I intended to mention that. If the value of the uranium produced in the Northern Territory were credited to the revenues of the Territory, I think it would be found that the Territory is almost, if not actually, paying its way. I know that in the past it has been regarded as a mendicant territory because it receives a hand-out of revenue every year to conduct its essential services and to promote development. However, I think that if the Government were to reveal the true state of affairs by crediting the Territory with the revenue from the production of uranium it would be found that it almost pays its way. It would certainly be in a far better position than are some of the States which have to ask the Commonwealth for grants in aid. I am sure that if the Northern Territory can almost pay its way now although the mining industry is as yet only in its infancy, it would pay handsome dividends within the next five years if the industry were properly developed. The South Alligator uranium field, for instance, is as yet hardly tapped. No revenue earned by it as an uranium producer has yet been taken into account, although I believe that one lot of uranium from this field where there are no treatment facilities, has been sold for approximately £1,500,000. The ore has merely been packed into drums and shipped overseas for treatment. We are not getting the full benefit of the uranium we produce from these fields, lt should be treated in the Northern Territory, where it is mined.

Other metals also are of great importance to the Northern Territory. Copper is playing a very big part in the territory's development, and it is expected that within twelve months the territory, with an annual output of approximately 10,000 tons will be the second largest producer of copper in Australia. Admittedly, the territory will not produce as much as Mount Isa produces, but it will produce more than is produced at Mount Morgan, which has been an important copper field for many years. The financial editor of the " Sydney Morning Herald ", writing in yesterday's issue about the Peko mine at Tennant Creek, which is the main copper mine in the territory, made the following significant comments: -

One of the weirdest success stories in the recent history of Australian mining has brought Peko Mines to a stage where the most sceptical observers must accord it a considerable measure of national importance as well as financial respectability . . .

This will be one of the finally decisive strokes making Australia self-sufficient in copper metal compared with its position as a heavy importer four years ago. If such a national asset was stumbled upon almost by accident, what other mineral wealth lies in the remote interior of the north? Peko's luck has already stimulated other prospectors in the Territory.

He urged further tax concessions so that other capital would be attracted to the Northern Territory. Even at Tennant Creek, the Government is not doing as much as it should. It started work only recently on the reconstruction and renovation of the public battery there. I congratulate the Government on doing that, although the battery should never have been shut down for four or five years. The water supply at Tennant Creek is still most unsatisfactory. Residents still have to cart water, even for domestic requirements, for 6 or 8 miles. Yet that field is producing almost £3,000,000 of wealth annually. Provision is made in the Estimates for the expenditure of only £7,000 for the extension of the water supply at Tennant Creek. The Government should decide to link up the existing exploratory wells which have been sunk, and which are capable of supplying 15.000 to 20,000 gallons of water an hour. It should then install a system of reticulation, and run the water into the town. It would not be giving the people more than their due, and they have paid dearly for it in the past. That field alone provides about £50,000 a year in royalties to Commonwealth revenue. It would be only fair to plough back some of the money the Government is taking out of that area.

The overall assistance to mining that is granted by the Government is not sufficient. On 22nd March last, the Minister for Territories replied to some questions I put to him, upon notice, regarding the assistance in respect of prospecting, machinery and equipment that was made available to the Northern Territory in each of the years from 1950 to 1955, inclusive. The Minister replied that, in 1950-51, £37,047 was made available for assistance to the mining industry, including advances to miners, advances for purchase of tin concentrates, cartage and crushing subsidies and the purchase of tailings. That was a self-balancing item, so that the outlay is not as large as it appears to be. In 1951-52, the amount provided was only £1,561 and, in 1954-55, no money was made available.

It is true that the Government has given assistance in other directions. It has extended services for the benefit of the mining industry in the area, but I still say that the prospector, who goes out with a pick and shovel, is the man who contributes largely to the development of mining in the Northern Territory.

Suggest corrections