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Monday, 24 May 1965

Senator PALTRIDGE - The Minister for National Development has furnished the following reply to the honorable senator's question -

(a)   and (b) Australian production of all of the metals and minerals listed in the question is insufficient for local demand. Except for blue asbestos, of which an exportable surplus is produced, the deficiencies are all major, (c) (i) Arsenic has not been produced in Australia since 1952. The greater part of the arsenic produced was a by-product of gold production from gold mines which are now closed. Deposits are known from which arsenic could be produced as a major product. The economics of production are doubtful at present price levels, (ii) Australia produces an exportable surplus of blue asbestos from the extensive deposits in the Hamersley Range in Western Australia. One small mine in New South Wales produces about 1,000 tons of white asbestos annually. A number of localities elsewhere in Australia are known which have produced some white asbestos and from which further production is possible. Many of these are in isolated areas with high transport costs, (iii) Large deposits of chromite are known at Coobina in Western Australia but in an isolated locality. The building of the railway to Mount Whaleback for iron ore transport may assist the re-opening of the Coobina deposits, (iv) Cobalt oxide is recovered at Risdon in Tasmania as a by-product of electrolytic zinc production. Some deposits are known from which cobalt was mined as a main product in the past and from which some further production may be possible. (v) There has been no production of mercury in Australia since 1945. A considerable number of small and mostly worked-out mines are known. (vi) Nickel has not been produced in Australia since 1938. Large areas of nickeliferous country are known in the Tomkinson Ranges in the north west corner of South Australia and in New Guinea. Some prospecting has been done in both areas but no workable ore body has yet been found. (vii) South Australia has an annual production of 4,000 tons of low grade phosphate rock. Some other Australian low grade deposits are known. Until recently it was thought that the prospects of discovering a major rock phosphate deposit on the Australian continent were small. The discovery of indications of rock phosphate at Rum Jungle and in the Amadeus Basin, both in the Northern Territory, has greatly enlarged the area of search and enhanced the prospect of discovery of workable deposits. In this connection I refer you to a statement on the progress made in the search for phosphate in Australia and nearby islands given in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, 5th May 1965, by the Minister for National Development in reply to a question by Mr. Molten. M.P. In that statement the Minister also referred to the fact that phosphate had been found on the southern tip of Papua, (d) With the exception of rock phosphate and white asbestos, it would not be worthwhile to mount an exploratory campaign for the minerals and metals listed for the supply of the local market only. A number of exploration companies have taken up areas to search for phosphate. Other companies are investigating known white asbestos occurrences with a view to production. -For the rest it is reasonable to hope that the very vigorous exploratory campaigns by the companies actively searching for minerals in Australia may result in some discoveries of the other metals and minerals referred to in paragraph (ii).

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