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Tuesday, 15 March 1966

Dr PATTERSON (Dawson) .- A major portion of the statement of the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt) was concerned with the development of this country and the Government's justification of its policies on development. It is on those fields that I intend to concentrate. The Government's approach to development is somewhat analogous to the treatment of a sick draughthorse which occasionally, in an emergency, is given some sort of needle to revitalise it so that it can live another day. In the end it dies and this what is happening to the economies of many areas of Australia today. They are dying. If this country wishes to grow with a high standard of living and a high level of employment and to provide a consistently good pay packet for Australian families, it must have a solid base on which to grow. However, the vulnerability of the Government's economic base has been shaken. Clearly it is very susceptible to the forces of drought and other conditions which have plagued this country in the last two years. I refer principally to the adverse seasons.

I believe that drought and the shortcomings of rural finance have exposed classic examples of the Government's negative approach to development. The Prime Minister has said that the Commonwealth and its agencies have from the start viewed the drought as a national problem. 1 assume that the starting point referred to was last year, because at that time the current drought reached its height. Because of the drought the Government's approach to development can be clearly seen. It employs wait and see tactics. The Government's policy is to wait until an emergency comes and then to attempt to do something about it.

I listened with amazement to the Prime Minister say that the drought has demonstrated a need for greater investment in rural areas, particularly to guard against a recurrence of drought from which we have had the good fortune to be relatively free for a long period. I do not know in what circles the Prime Minister moves, but apparently they are confined to some parts of southern Australia. Had the Prime Minister been with me over the past 10 or 15 years in some northern areas - in the channel country, the areas of the Maranoa, the Burdekin and Fitzroy Rivers, the Gulf country, the Northern Territory and the Kimberleys - he would have seen some of the effects of the worst droughts we have had. It seems that the drought problem is not a concern of the Government in the area north of Brisbane. 1 admit that in some areas there is not much that we can do to save pastures and crops, particularly in the arid areas. It is here that the great value of credit and long term finance will be clearly demonstrated. But the higher rainfall areas of Australia are the areas with the greatest potential for increased development. This Government must stand condemned in the eyes of the Australian people for its policy or lack of policy on water conservation in this country. We have in the northern rivers in New South Wales, and in the Burnett, Fitzroy, Burdekin and Pioneer River areas in Queensland, some of the best water and land resources in Australia, but these areas are starving for the want of a constructive policy on development with respect to water.

I was very interested to hear the Minister for National Development (Mr. Fairbairn) say that the Government has recognised forestry as a national responsibility. Apparently the criterion adopted is that because imported timber costs us $200 million a year, forestry is now a national responsibility. If forestry can become a national responsibility, surely water conservation can also become a national responsibility because the losses caused in this country in the three major droughts in the post war years, that is, 1944, 1945 and 1946, the drought in 1951 and 1952, and the current drought, will be far in excess of the total bill for timber imports into this country for many years to come. Therefore, I cannot too strongly urge this Government to act immediately and establish a national conservation authority to develop the water resources in those areas which have tremendous potential and where the losses are growing to such staggering proportions today.

This all adds up to the question: How do we do this? We have on our doorstep the Snowy Mountains Authority. I think that the treatment of that Authority is one of the most scandalous things that this Government has done while it has been in office. All that the Authority wants is a positive answer as to whether it is going to be kept on as an Authority or whether it is to be deliberately disintegrated. I am afraid that if this Government adopts its present policy, it is going to be deliberate disintegration. It amazes me, and it amazes everyone to whom I have spoken, that we cannot utilise the skills of the Snowy Mountains Authority. The Authority consists of three major divisions. They are the investigational section, the design section and the construction section. These sections could be phased into work on major water conservation projects, in co-operation with the States, in the various areas of northern Australia in particular because these are the areas which have been most neglected in the past.

Queensland has 200,000 acres of irrigated land compared with 2i million acres in the whole of Australia. Of that 2i million acres, 2.2 million are in New South Wales and Victoria: yet Queensland is potentially the richest State in the Commonwealth in terms of land and water resources. In conjunction with a national conservation authority I am of the opinion that we should do something about fodder conservation on a major scale. These vulnerable areas in northern New South Wales and Queensland have the ability to grow fodder in the good seasons, and they could grow it in all seasons if they had water. Storage of fodder would be of tremendous significance to primary producers in western Queensland and western New South Wales. If we could grow fodder continuously throughout the year and stockpile it strategically in these areas, I believe that we would make a tremendous contribution towards preventing losses of valuable breeders, ewes and other livestock in the areas concerned.

On the question of water conservation, I turn to the Ord River scheme. Here again, I believe, we have an arrogant display of power on the part of the Government. We will see the day when the Ord River scheme goes ahead. If this Government does not make a positive statement on the Ord River scheme before long, then I warn the Government that in Western Australia at the end of this year it may have a repetition of the result in the Dawson by-election.

The question of long term finance amazes me. I almost read my own words in some of the statements which were made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt). I put forward a proposal to the Government two years ago. Practically the same proposal has been put forward on this occasion. But when I put forward the proposal, the Treasury experts informed me, almost with ridicule, that there is no such thing as a shortage of credit in this country. I quoted case after case but the Government believed the Treasury experts and did not believe the people who had been working in rural areas, particularly outback areas, where everybody knew that there was a serious shortage of credit. Now the Government has done a somersault and long term farm loan funds are to be available. 1 shall explain why I say the Government has panicked. The Prime Minister said -

In addition, the trading banks will, we hope, be lending from the new funds. . .

Then he said that he hoped to be able to make arrangements " for the Treasurer and myself to discuss these matters with the Reserve Bank and the trading banks ". What sort of a Government is it that only hopes to be able to make these arrangements? How can the supporters of the Australian Country Party sit here while this type of " hoping " language is being used in the House? Is it that the trading banks will dominate this Government? What will happen if the trading banks say that they will not agree to the proposal? No details were given as to the rate of interest to be charged on the loans. Because of the Government's neglect of these areas, my advice to it is to give the producers a zero rate of interest in the developing period until they get on their feet and then they will commence to pay back, and they will happily pay back, the principal and interest on the money borrowed.

Now I come to the familiar statement - it has been made so often now that one begins to be weary of it - that 52,000 million has been spent on northern Australia by private and public enterprise. Reference is always made to what is spent by private and public enterprise. There is never any attempt made to split up the amount to And out what the Government is doing in the development of northern Australia. We find that over the last 15 years SI 00 million has been spent in the north. The sum of $60 million has been spent in the form of loans, of which $24 million was given to Western Australia as a grant and $16 million was given to Queensland as a grant. The magnificent sum of $40 million has been given to Western Australia and Queensland in the form of grants over the last 15 years. That is the figure about which the Government ought to be speaking, not the figure of $2,000 million. If the Government is proud of its record in this respect we must face the future with some dismay. lt is a very strange thing that when one analyses the development measures in the north, one finds them highly correlated with electoral pressures. With the exception of the amount provided for the Mount Isa railway and the amount of £1.6 million for the development of Weipa, which was the amount provided for northern development in the last Budget, every other project in northern Australia has been associated with some electoral reverse or some crisis in an electorate. The Government was only too happy to give the original grant of S5 million to commence the diversion dam on the Ord River scheme, but now the Government has different views on the major dam.

After the 1961 election we had a rash of promises in respect of beef roads, the brigalow country, coal ports, extra finance for the Ord River scheme and so on. We should be thankful for small mercies. The Government went ahead and financed those proposals. After the 1963 election we received nothing for northern development until the last Budget in which £1.6 million was provided for the development of Weipa. It is a strange thing that the decision to invest $50 million in the economy today in the form of long term loans has come in with such rapidity. I have no doubt that the result of the Dawson by-election had something to do with that matter. 1 had a clash last week with the Premier of Queensland regarding the brigalow country. I maintained that although I support the scheme going ahead at this stage with Area 3 of the brigalow is wrong and that the most urgent priority in Queensland today is water conservation. For example, in the Bundaberg area in the last two years $30 million was lost for want of water. At the present time we need to put money into these areas in order to conserve water. The brigalow scheme will keep. If we go ?head with the crash programme on the brigalow scheme today, all we will do is accentuate the shortage of store cattle and breeders which are already at a tremendous price in Queensland. Let us solve the priority problem first. The highest priority in Queensland is water. The Snowy Mountains Authority, in conjunction with the Queensland authorities, could commence work immediately on dams on the Burnett River, the Kolan River, the Camia Gorge at Monto, the Pioneer River and some of the more favorable Fitzroy River sites. All of these areas are established. All of them are crying out for water.

The Government has made quite a play on beef roads. I ask the Minister for National Development: Where is the comprehensive report on beef roads which was completed last year by his Department and which was promised last year to this Parliament? Where is the Loder Committee's report on transport costs which was described by the former Prime Minister as one of the most important reports to be released? The Loder Committee was set up two years ago. Its report was finished six months ago and still we have not seen it. I ask the Minister whether the people of Australia and members of this Parliament will have the privilege of reading these reports before the substance of them is completely out of date?

Regarding the question of sugar, I noted in the Press today that the Minister for Trade and Industry in a talk to the sugar producers in Queensland told them that he had received a savage kick in the stomach - they are his words, not mine - from the Dawson byelection. That does not surprise me. It does not surprise anybody who has worked in the Dawson electorate or anybody who was in that area during the election campaign. The fact of the matter is that the Government is out of touch with what is happening in some of these areas. The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. McEwen), when he delivered his policy speech, made no mention whatever of the drought despite the fact that people in certain areas along the Pioneer River, only 15 miles from where he was, were or had been on their knees and in a desperate 'financial position for want of water. He made no mention of water conservation or of what could be done or of what the Government might do in the future. There was no mention then of rural finance. That came after the result of the Dawson by-election was known. There was no mention of what might be done in the cane industry regarding a stable income for growers. In fact, the Australian Country Party ridiculed the Australian Labour Party and myself for putting forward the suggestion that the sugar industry needed a stabilisation scheme desperately. I hope that the Deputy Prime Minister read of the decision four days ago of the Queensland Cane Growers

Council in which it endorsed completly a plan for stabilisation.

I want to refer to the New ZealandAustralia Free Trade Agreement. How could a responsible government put forward an Agreement like this to a drought stricken area in which the average individual income is well under $1,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, when these people were and still are in desperate financial straits? The Government is rubbing it in by allowing additional imports into Australia. It is simple economics that if a greater supply of a commodity is introduced its price must be reduced. Is it any wonder that the dairy farmers have reacted to the Government's proposals in the same way as the cane growers?

Another contributing factor to the Government's defeat in Dawson was the treatment accorded by the Country Party to the former honorable member for Dawson, Mr. Shaw. It is not something to be proud of. It sickened me to hear some of the laudatory comments made by members of the Country Party during the election campaign. This is not a very pleasant subject. Mr. Shaw was a very disillusioned man. He was not consulted by this Government on sugar. He was not the voice of the sugar industry as has been stated here time and time again. If honorable members opposite do not like this statement, they should ask his relatives.

Again with regard to the Dawson electorate I want to refer to television. There is no television in the Mackay area. It will be the last place in Australia in terms of a concentrated viewing public to get television. Also, Mackay is the only port in Australia which has not a road to its hinterland. All these points add up to one thing: The Government was so far out of touch with what was happening in Dawson - with the problems of the farmers, with the problems of the people of Mackay, Biloela, Monto, Gin Gin, Proserpine and other areas - that it lost the Dawson byelection.

The Government's record over the last 16 years in the fields of co-ordinated and positive development is unquestionably deplorable. If there is one field of development in which this Government will stand condemned in the eyes of the Australian people it is its failure to initiate a national conservation authority. I cannot stress this too much. If the Government continues to ignore water conservation and continues its deliberate policy of disintegration of the Snowy Mountains Authority it will do so at its own risk and will have to take the consequences at the next election.

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