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Thursday, 31 March 1966

Mr GRIFFITHS (Shortland) .- The Opposition opposes the motion moved by the Minister for Shipping and Transport (Mr. Freeth). We do so in protest at the Government's action in continually bypassing the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works by not referring to it proposals for work exceeding in value $500,000. We register also our resentment at the Government's flagrant disregard for legislation of its own creation and of its contempt for Her Majesty's Opposition by the manner in which the motion now before us has been introduced. Only six years ago, the Government amended section 16 of the Public Works Committee Act to increase from $50,000 to $500,000 the maximum value for work that need not be referred to the Committee. All projects costing in excess of $500,000 then had to be referred to the Committee. Exceptions were works which the Parliament had agreed should not be referred to the Committee because it was expedient to carry them out without such reference and works which the GovernorGeneral in- Council had declared to be of a defence character and in relation to which investigation by the Committee would be contrary to the public interest.

The Minister has claimed that the work referred to in his motion is of an urgent nature. He has asked the Parliament to agree to by-pass a Public Works Committee inquiry into whether the proposed work is warranted, whether the funds to be appropriated for the work are to be wisely spent, or whether there is an alternative proposal to the one now contemplated. In my opinion, the motion now before the House is an endeavour on the part of the Government to continue a practice which it has been getting away with for the last three or four years. It is a practice which the Parliament will see snowball. If the practice is not stopped we will see reference after reference dealt with by the Government in the same haphazard manner. I know that from time to time the Public Works Committee has agreed that certain types of work need not be referred to it but it has taken this course only to assist the Government to expedite certain proposals of which the Committee had prior knowledge. In some cases the Committee had discussed the proposals and even inspected proposed sites. Only recently the Fort Hill wharf proposal at Darwin, costing more than $3 million, was not referred to the Parliament for approval because the Northern Territory Port Authority had been established under the Ports Ordinance of 1962-63. In my view the establishment of the Port Authority under the Northern Territory Administration is just another way to by-pass the Public Works Committee, because the funds for the work that this Authority will carry out will be appropriated by this Parliament. The 1965-66 Budget Papers show under

Division No. 995, item 12, that £890,000 was appropriated as a first instalment on the work. Incidentally, the Fort Hill wharf is being constructed by the Government mainly for the loading of bulk ore carriers and the ore from Mount Bundey will be shipped to Japan from that wharf.

In recent years several proposals involving projects in the Northern Territory have not been referred to the Public Works Committee. In these cases the Government has claimed that the work has been of an urgent nature. Among other proposals, there were those relating to the Administration Block No. 5 and the cold storage plant in Darwin. In 1962 more than £4i million was provided for beef roads in the Northern Territory, but only one project was referred to the Committee. What happened to that reference is now a matter of history. The Wave Hill-Top Springs Road proposal came before the Committee after two years of bickering on the part of the Government. I am sure that the proposal approved by the Committee has been of much greater benefit to cattle man of the Territory than the Government's original proposal would have been.

To keep the record in order, Mr. Speaker, and so that I might not incur your displeasure, I should remind the House that in addition to providing a road for the transport of iron ore, it is claimed that the current proposal will lead to the opening up of the entire coastal plains area in which initially three pastoral holdings and several buffalo holdings will be served. This, in effect, brings the proposal into the category of a beef road. I have previously expressed the view that the cost of the DunmarraTimber Creek Road, which is estimated to be £2,520,000, was out of all proportion to its actual value to the cattle industry of the Northern Territory. Nothing I have seen since has induced me to change my mind. The proposal to build the Top SpringsWillerooKatherine Road which in my opinion is one of the most important in the Northern Territory, was not referred to the Committee. The present proposal, according to the vague information given to the Public Works Committee, is estimated to cost about £850,000 or $1.7 million. I submit that the Government's claim to urgency is fictitious and not according to facts. It is common knowledge that for some years the Mount Morgan company has held deposits of iron ore in the Mount Bundey area and that the company has been exerting pressure on the Northern Territory Administration and on the Commonwealth Government to undertake the building of a road and a wharf to enable export of the ore to take place. I understand that the Government initially refused to have any part in the building of the road because a sufficient abundance of ore was not proven and the area could not produce sufficient meat, hides or other exportable products in payable quantities. In the Opposition's view the Government must now show the circumstances that have caused it to change its attitude.

To our way of thinking, it is not just a question of building a road at a cost of $1.7 million. There are many other aspects of development in the Humpty Doo-Mount Bundey area to be considered. The indecent haste with which the Government has suddenly gone about this proposal savours to me of a vested interest by someone in the establishment of the road. So that honorable members will know why the Opposition opposes the motion and why it submits that all work exceeding in estimate $500,000 should be referred to the Public Works Committee, I shall read two letters that have been dealt with by the Committee. The first letter is addressed to the Chairman, the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe) and is from the Minister for Territories (Mr. Barnes). In substance it shows that there is no real urgency in having the work completed. The second letter, from the Minister for Works (Senator Gorton), deals with the proposal generally. On 16th March the Minister for Territories wrote to the Chairman of the Committee as follows -

I am writing to confirm oral advice given you recently as to why the proposal to construct a road from near Humpty Doo to Mount Bundey in the Northern Territory was not referred to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Public Works.

In December, 196S, Cabinet agreed to construct the road (about 27 miles long), including a bridge over the Adelaide River, at an estimated cost of $1.7m. subject to the acceptance of certain conditions by the companies concerned in the development of the Mount Bundey iron ore deposits. Cabinet also agreed that because of the urgency involved, the road proposal need not be submitted to the Public Works Committee.

The background to this decision is that Mount Morgan Ltd., through its wholly owned subsidiary Morgan Mining and Industrial Company

Pty. Ltd., obtained contracts for the sale of 1.4m. tons of iron ore from Mount Bundey to two Japanese companies. These contracts stipulated that the initial shipment of ore should be made no later than October, 1967. Mount Morgan then sought Government assistance and inter alia asked that the Commonwealth pay for half the cost of an access road to Mount Bundey.

It will be seen that four months ago Cabinet had agreed to construct a road, and a bridge, over the Adelaide River. It is clear, too, that there is no urgency about this work, because talk of it has been bandied round for four to five years.

Mr. -Barnes.- Is that the only argument? The honorable member has mentioned the date by which the ore is required to be delivered. Is not that an important argument?

Mr GRIFFITHS - If the Minister takes note of what I say a little later he will realise that they do not want the ore until April 1968. For four or five years talk of a road has been bandied round and suddenly it has become important, only because the Government now has agreed to build it to enable 1.4 million tons of ore to be exported. The letter continues -

The Department of Works advised that two dry seasons would be required to construct the road and bridge. To enable Mount Morgan to meet the terms of the Japanese contracts it was therefore vital to expedite the decision as much as possible. Even though this was done, the road will probably not be completed by October, 1967, and the Japanese have agreed to accept the first shipment no later than April, 1968.

The second letter, dated 28th March, from the Minister for Works, stated -

The Government has approved a proposal for the construction of a road from near Humpty Doo to Mount Bundey in the Northern Territory.

The road is required urgently to enable the cartage by road train of iron ore from the Mount Bundey deposits, via the new road, the existing road from Humpty Doo to the Stuart Highway, and then by rail to Darwin from Minn's Siding.

It is only 22 miles from Darwin to Minn's Siding yet money is to be spent on building hoppers and loading bins at Minn's Siding to transport ore to Darwin. The letter continued -

In addition, the road will serve three pastoral holdings and a number of buffalo holdings.

What do the owners of those properties do now? How do they get on? The letter continued -

It will also connect with existing roads and tracks through to Oenpelli and thus provide an important step towards opening up the whole of the coastal plains area.

Incidentally, Oenpelli is not even shown on pastoral or road maps. The letter continued -

Construction of approximately 27 miles of road is involved, including several miles of causeway to cross the flood plains of the Adelaide River and two bridges, one over the Adelaide River and a smaller one over Mount Bundey Creek.

The estimated cost of the work is $1.7 m. and this will be shared equally between the Commonwealth and the Mount Morgan Mining Company, which will mine the Mount Bundey deposits.

The agreed date for the commencement of shipment of Mount Bundey iron ore from Darwin is April 1968, and this requires that the road be available for cartage several months prior to this date. In order to meet this, it is essential that construction of the road be commenced as early as possible to make the most use of the 1966 dry season, particularly as the road has to cross the Adelaide River flood plain, which presents extremely bad road making conditions during the wet.

It will be seen that the proposal entails the building of 27 miles of road, two or more bridges and several miles of causeway along a flood affected plain. It also involves building the loading bin at Minn's Siding, about which nothing has been said. Of course, the company may be meeting that cost. Any honorable member with only a remote knowledge of the district will know that many problems are associated with road building in the coastal area of Darwin. As I see it there would have to be a much greater income producing potential than 1.4 million tons of iron ore now to be exported to justify, first, the closure of Adelaide River to marine traffic and, secondly, the cost of building a road that possibly will have limited use.

In my view the building of a bridge over the Adelaide River anywhere in the vicinity of Humpty Doo will most assuredly cause the closing of the river to shipping south of Humpty Doo. As it is, ships of up to 3,000 tons weight can tie up at Humpty Doo, and have done so for rice loading purposes. Why cannot the river be dredged to allow heavier shipping to use the river? What justification is there for closing the river by bridging it as is proposed, particularly as this will close the river for all time to shipping of a coastal type, shipping such as has been used in the rivers of New South Wales and in other places in past years. In New South Wales we call them " 60-milers ", and they draw 8 to ten feet. There is a good length of the Adelaide River that could be served by shipping if there is such a great potential for commercial and rural production as the Government now claims there to be. I am amazed that something has not been done much earlier than this to encourage the use of small vessels for commercial purposes in the Adelaide River if the district's production potential is anywhere near as great as we are being led to believe it is.

Why is the Government so anxious to have this road built so quickly and without referring the work to the Public Works Committee? Local maps show that there are roads and tracks leading to Mount Bundey from the Stuart Highway. In fact, one road appears to run from near the Manton Dam to Marrakai. Another runs to a point near the Batchelor turnoff and still another runs from just south of the Adelaide River. I should like to know from the Minister what study has been made of these roads, especially the one which commences south of the Adelaide River township. 1 suggest that a road through this higher country would be of much more value to the Territory than would be a road constructed through the swamp country. I also suggest that ore could be loaded just as profitably onto rail transport at, say, the Batchelor or Adelaide River sidings as it could be at the proposed loading point at Minns. As I see the matter, there is no justification for the Government's bypassing the Public Works Committee with this reference, and the Opposition proposes to vote against the motion.

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