Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 23 April 1915

Mr MANIFOLD (Corangamite) , - I do not propose to discuss at any length the subject of the Beef Trust, which seems to be always in the mind of the honorable member for Oxley, but I desire to make just a few passing remarks on the subject. In the last Parliament, the honorable member was continually hammering into the then Government his contention that if something were not done to check the operations of the Beef Trust in Australia the whole meat trade would be ruined. Now the honorable me"mber has a Government from his own party in power, and the best thing he can do is to convince them of his view when they are sitting in caucus upstairs. The honorable member has an opportunity of ramming this peril into the ears of the Government in the party room, and giving us a little peace in this chamber. Let him and the Government devise some scheme to save the meat trade of Australia. My principal remarks to-day will relate to the development of the Northern Territory. I regard this as a matter which should be dealt with by the House as a whole, and not by any one party. The Minister of External Affairs, in replying to the remarks of honorable members, practically told the House that he was new to his position, and was in such a fog that he did not know how to develop the Territory. Let me put this point to the Committee. The present Government have been in power for a considerable time, with the exception of a slight interval when the Cook Government held office, and if it is not possible for them to devise a scheme for the development of the Northern Territory, tl".e best thing we can do is to get rid of it altogether. That is the only sensible course to be followed. If it is to happen that one Minister of External Affairs is to experiment with his pet scheme for the opening up of the Territory, and, when a change of Government happens, the next Minister is to try to upset everything done by his predecessor, we shall make no real progress. It is absolutely necessary that this matter shall be put under the control of some person who will have a permanent policy for the opening up of the Territory on the lines which the people of Australia expect to see adopted. I quite agree that it will be impossible for a new Minister, on coming into power, to shut down works that have already been started, and say that the schemes introduced by his predecessor were to cease. We cannot decide whether such schemes are good or not until they have had' a proper trial. Any private business man knows that if he starts an enterprise, and finds after it has been in operation for twelve months, that there has been a little failure, he does not abandon the enterprise. On the contrary, he says, "I will give the scheme an opportunity, and see if it is going to do any good." I do not think that schemes like the Batchelor farm and the dairy farm are going to develop the Territory at all, but I quite agree with the present Minister of External Affairs and his predecessor that those schemes are on trial, and that we must wait to see what development results. It would be only foolishness if, after one Minister had started a dairy farm, his successor immediately decided not to allow the experiment to continue. If such a policy as that is to be adopted we might as well throw straight into the fire the money which the first Minister has expended. The main fact we have to look at is that until we get the Northern Territory really developed we have to devise means of getting the produce to market. That is the experience in the development of other parts of Australia. If a country, or a portion of a State, is without railway facilities, it is useless to go there to grow sheep if it is going to cost more to get the wool to market than to grow it; it is of no use growing pigs if it is going to cost more to get the pigs to walk through the mud to the markets than it costs to raise them. Until railway facilities are provided, the pioneer must grow something that will walk out of the country. We have the illustration of experimental wool-growing in the Territory. Something like 1,000 ewes have been purchased for this experiment, which will be all right if the books are properly kept, so as to show whether, in the event of the price of wool going back to normal, there will be any profit from the enterprise. The honorable member for Grey referred to the Avon Downs station, from which those sheep were purchased. They are very good sheep, and that is about the only sheep station in the Territory. All sorts of propositions have been put before people who have money to invest in the development of Australia. I have seen splendid propositions put forward; any one would think that they are most wonderful undertakings to put money into; the leasehold is to be bought at a cheap price, the sheep gave fine percentages of wool, and in some cases the percentage of lambs was very good. The whole thing looks like a scheme for picking up money. But we have to remember that as soon as the price of wool gets back to normal, although there is a profit to-day, it is going to cost the whole value of the wool to get it to market ; the proposition becomes no longer payable. Take the case of Avon Downs station. To get the wool down to the river, and thence to the seaboard, costs something like £10 per ton. I do not know what the distance is, but I know that that was the contract price in connexion with that little steamship enterprise which the Commonwealth Government undertook, and which proved a failure. But, having got the wool to the seaboard, the owners had then to bring it to one of the big cities of Australia or ship it to London, and all that carriage was only profitable while wool was bringing the price which it is worth to-day.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (INDI, VICTORIA) - "Was the freight cheaper by the Government service?

Mr MANIFOLD - Just about_ the same as the prices charged by private enterprise. The wool had to he stored at the riverside for a considerable time, waiting for the Government to do their part as contracting carriers, but eventually the Government boat failed, and the owners of the wool have had to fall back on private enterprise.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (INDI, VICTORIA) - I think the freights on those boats were less than those charged by private enterprise.

Mr MANIFOLD - I do not know whether the Government made any profit out of the service, but they failed to carry out their contract, and if I had been the owner of the wool I would have shown them up, and called upon them to complete the contract to carry the wool to the seaboard, which they could not do.

Where the grower has to pay enormous freights to get his produce to market, a policy for the development of the Northern Territory by sheep farming and that sort of thing is not likely to be a success. Many mistakes may be made in the development of any country. Mistakes were made in the development of Australia generally. They were made in Queensland, and we may expect them in the Northern Territory, and we may expect that the people who go there first, like the people who went into central Queensland, will lose money through not understanding the country. We know what happened in Queensland. First of all they tried the ordinary dam system which had been used in the development of other portions of Australia. That was found to be absolutely useless. Then there was the experiment of making an overshot dam, where there was a hole in a creek. When the overshot was running over there was plenty of water in the dam, and this was looked upon as a means of combating drought. But the result was that with the tremendous silt which takes place in that portion of Australia, when a 60-ft. dam. was full it contained 20 feet of water and 40 feet of silt. That, like the ordinary dam, was a failure. Then there was the circular dam built up on the banks of a creek. This was supposed to be the best scheme possible, and it was a good scheme up to the point that it would carry on over two years without rain, but the seven years' drought came, and at the end of the second year there was not a drop of water left in this dam. These are three schemes for the supply of water that absolutely failed in central Queensland.

Dr MALONEY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - The circular dam is all right as a dam\

Mr MANIFOLD - It was all right so long as there was not continuous evaporation, and it could be filled every year. But in a country where there may be year after year of drought, and the circular dam cannot be filled, it naturally becomes empty.

Mr J H Catts - Over large portions of the Northern Territory there are ample supplies of water.

Mr MANIFOLD - I am not an authority on the Northern Territory, but if there are ample supplies of water then we have overcome a great difficulty. I will accept the statement that there are ample supplies, though honorable members on this side say there are not. Now we come to the question of fencing. Fencing has to be done in the Northern Territory. The mistake made in- Queans] and was that wooden posts were adopted. During thunderstorms, lightning set fire to everything, and the wooden fences went. They were absolutely useless, and they will be absolutely useless in the Northern Territory.

Mr Archibald - There is no fencing in the Northern Territory now.

Mr MANIFOLD - If we are going to develop the Northern Territory the people must fence, and I am pointing out the mistakes which are likely to be made there unless the settlers know absolutely what they are doing. Queensland has had to do away with wooden fencing on account of fires and white ants. I am informed that in the Northern Territory there is very little timber to be got, and people going in for fencing to any extent find that the carriage of wire is a tremendous cost. Then again, I would ask if sheep in the Northern Territory are going to produce anything like a reasonable percentage. Are they going to do better than in central Queensland ? On paper, sheep-breeding sometimes looks a very good proposition, but in central Queensland, with two lambings a year, the average amongst merino sheep is not much more than 45 per cent., putting the rams in twice. Are we going to have the same experience in the Northern Territory? If so, it will be a great drawback to sheep-breeding. I cannot understand this low percentage in Queensland in regard to sheep. Experts will tell you how this kind of thing ought to be improved, but the practical man doing everything that it .is possible for him to do has that experience. In the southern portions of Victoria it is found that merino sheep will remain together in the flock. If they were put into a paddock they would remain there, but in central Queensland they are apt to roam all over the place. People who have properties up there say the only explanation is that the rams cannot find the ewes. If that is the case, the ewes will have to be put into smaller paddocks. That is a workable arrangement in good seasons, but sheep cannot be kept in small paddocks when there is no rainfall. That experiment has been tried, and proved to be a failure also. I want to draw the attention of the Committee to the only way in which I consider it is possible to develop the Northern Territory. I am not going to take any notice of the little dispute which crops up every time this question is mentioned between the members for South Australia and Western Australia. Referring to the railway connexion, the members for South Australia say that the only possible way of developing the Northern Territory is by a railway system running from north to south. The honorable member for Grey states that if we run the railway up along the route of the telegraph line from South Australia we are going to have a backbone to start with. My view is that it would be a backbone without any ribs, and such a railway will not do much by way of development. Western Australia, we are told, only came into the Federation to secure the building of the east-west railway, while South Australia informs us that it only handed over the Northern Territory conditionally upon the north-south railway being built. Dealing with the Western Australian railway, the right honorable member for Swan - I do not know that any agreement was actually entered into - has always told us that it was the price paid for Western Australia coming into Federation. In my opinion - and I have always stated it - if either of these big railways is to be built, then that to the Northern Territory should be started first. The line from Western Australia should wait, because the Northern Territory is the most serious problem the Commonwealth has to deal with.

Sir John Forrest - We have the population.

Mr MANIFOLD - The right honorable member for Swan says they have the population. If they have, then they are developing their country, and they do not want the railway. They can travel round by the sea, but, in my opinion, the east-west railway should have waited until after that to the Northern Territory had been built. That should be the first, but honorable members from South Australia realize that, while an immense expenditure is going on on the east-west railway at present, they have not much chance of their Northern Territory railway. The Minister of External Affairs informed us that the reason why the northern railway cannot be proceeded with is that the plant is not available, and I gathered from his remarks that as soon as the east-west railway is finished that plant will be released and can go on to the northern line. I think, therefore, that the only possible way to deal with the Northern Territory at the present time is to connect it with our railway system through Queensland. When the time comes we may be able to develop it by the backbone line which the honorable member for Grey refers to.

Mr Poynton - Unfortunately for your argument, I never used the word "backbone " in my speech.

Mr MANIFOLD - Well, I am using the word "backbone," and I say, if we build that railway, it will be like the backbone of a barracouta; there will be plenty of backbone, but no ribs. I would like to see a scheme brought out for the development of the Northern Territory, with a commissioner appointed to control it. I do not care whether it is developed under the freehold or the leasehold system. It does not matter very much what tenure is used. If the people are given one that will enable them to spend their money and see something for it before their lease expires, well and good.

Mr Fenton - We have started at the wrong end.

Mr MANIFOLD - The honorable member is quite right. I think it is very little good starting to develop the Northern Territory at Darwin, which is absolutely shut off from the rest of Australia. I think it is very little use starting at Darwin to develop a country which is absolutely shut off from the rest of Australia, but I should like to see a man in charge who understands his business, and who will start the work of development on sound lines. We are absolutely certain to make mistakes, but do not start sheep-breeding or dairying and give it up before you have tested the possibilities of the country. Give the thing a fair trial, and by all means start at the right end. That end is not at the northern coast.

Progress reported.

Suggest corrections