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Thursday, 30 August 1928

Mr FORDE (Capricornia) .- I desire to call the attention of the Treasurer to a matter of vital importance to the whole of Australia, particularly New South Wales and Queensland, namely, the building of a railway line from the head of the Darwin railway across the Barkly Tablelands to Camooweal, and thence connecting the three east-west railway systems of Queensland - the Townsville to Cloncurry line, the Longreach line, and the Brisbane to Charleville line - with Bourke in New South Wales. The construction of such a connexion would be of immense value to the Commonwealth. I was glad to hear the Prime Minister repeat to-day that he realizes the importance of this big national undertaking. Millions of starving sheep and cattle die during drought periods in the areas which such a line would serve. Unfortunately, droughts are experienced periodically in this country, -but if railway facilities were available, stock could be shifted easily to well-grassed country within 200 or 300 miles, and their lives saved. At present it is necessary to travel them anything up to 1,200 miles during drought periods to keep them alive. This, of course, is most expensive, and often impossible. A study of recent statistics reveals that during the last big drought in

Queensland 7,500,000 sheep, and 2,500,000 cattle died. In addition, a natural increase of 2,500,000 sheep and many thousands of cattle was lost. It is estimated that approximately 10,000,000 live stock were lost. A large percentage of these could have been saved had this railway connexion been in existence. Such a railway would also provide a natural outlet for the rich Barkly Tablelands in the Northern Territory, for it would bring them close to the big centres of population that lie along the eastern coast of Australia. It is estimated that every five years Australia loses through droughts merino sheep to the value of £22,000,000. During normal seasons some of the finest wool in Australia is grown in western Queensland. If the Government would undertake as a national policy the construction of the railway that I propose, it would ensure a comparatively regular production of high-class wool from these areas. At present the production is somewhat spasmodic on account of droughts. Soon after my entry into this Parliament I urged the Government to convene a conference of representatives of New South Wales, Queensland, and the Commonwealth to consider ways and means of financing this project, for I believe that it could be thoroughly justified on economic and commercial grounds. Unfortunately, no conference has yet been held. The building of the line would be beneficial to the whole Commonwealth. It would be an important link between the Northern Territory and the big centres of population in the eastern States. The absence of transport facilities has brought complete ruin to many settlers and graziers in western Queensland. These hardy pioneers have on numerous occasions utterly exhausted their financial resources in trying to make a success of their holdings, and have been reduced to absolute poverty because they have not been able to tide over periodical droughts.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - The honorable member cannot exaggerate the seriousness of their case.

Mr FORDE - That is so. When the Prime Minister was visiting Longreach some time ago, he Avas entertained, as all distinguished visitors are, by the local residents. In the course of a speech which he delivered, which was reported in many newspapers throughout the Commonwealth, he made some interesting observations. He was reported in the Sydney Mail of 10th August, 1927, as follows : -

They must be provided with facilities to move their stock in drought times into areas where drought did not prevail. The great disadvantage obtaining in Queensland to-day was that they had three great railway systems running east and west, and they were not linked up in the western part of the State by a line running north and south, and, if possible, running south as far as Bourke in New South Wales. It might he advantageous to construct a line from the Federal Territory linking up the train systems of Queensland and New South Wales.

The right honorable gentleman indicated on that occasion to the representative men of western Queensland, whose guest he was, that he realized the importance of this project. Consequently I am greatly disappointed that he has done nothing to bring the proposal to fruition. It is not wise that everybody should be gloomy about the financial outlook. There is no reason whatever why we should not spend money on reproductive works. I submit that the cost of building this railway system would be saved in five years if a drought occurred during that period, for millions of live stock would be saved. There is no doubt about the suitability of the country along the back of western Queensland, adjoining the Northern Territory, for sheep raising. For practically the whole distance from Camooweal to Bourke, 930 miles, the country is most suitable for sheep and cattle. There are millions of acres of valuable open downs country, well supplied with Mitchell and blue grasses, which every one admits are invaluable for" sheep. Between Camooweal and Newcastle Waters, a distance of 434 miles, there is another large tract of splendid pastoral country. Hundreds of graziers could make a living upon it if railway communication were provided. Everything points to the probability that in a few years the Australian cattle producers will have great difficulty in maintaining our meat supplies. This makes it imperative that we should do everything possible to encourage graziers to develop our outback areas. Unfortunately, since the boom period, the bottom has dropped out of the meat market, and Australian cattle producers have had to be satisfied with London parity for beef, which does not give them a reasonable return for their labour. An intelligent and observant pastoralist in Queensland, Mr. A. J. B. McMaster, made these interesting observations some time ago when speaking on behalf of the United Graziers' Association: -

I do believe, however, that with the great increase in the Australian population, the cattle industry will soon become a paying proposition, which it has not been for a number of years.

To enable sufficient meat to be made available for an increased population it is essential that railway communication should be provided. The construction of the connexion to which I am referring would make available at a reasonable price hundreds of thousands more cattle for the consumers in the more settled areas. It is estimated that 80 per. cent, of our cattle are consumed locally. If our population were to increase by another 1,500,000 we should consume all the Cattle that Australia could produce. Seeing that this national; undertaking would bring Brisbane by rail about 1,500 miles .nearer to Darwin, Sydney 1,700 miles nearer, and Townsville 3,000 miles nearer than at present, I submit that it should be constructed. The cessation of railway construction work throughout Australia has caused the unemployment of thousands of competent railway workers, and the depreciation of much valuable plant. The Government would be well advised in the circumstances to undertake this work. If it did so, it would not only save the lives of millions of merino sheep and much other live stock during drought periods, but would be remembered gratefully in the history of the Commonwealth.

I have on several occasions brought under the notice of the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Gibson) the necessity of building a new post office at the important seaport town of Gladstone, in my division. The present building is an absolute disgrace to the Commonwealth. Unfortunately, hitherto, the PostmasterGeneral has turned a deaf ear to the requests that the Gladstone Chamber of Commerce, Town Council, Harbour Board, and other important bodies have made in this connexion, as well as to the case I have submitted to him on the floor of this chamber and by personal communication.

Mr Fenton - A number of post offices are being erected in the electorates of Ministers.

Mr FORDE - A great deal more attention is being given to the provision of post offices in those electorates than is given in private members' electorates.

I hope that the Postmaster-General will take early action to establish a new reinforced concrete building at Gladstone. The people have been asking for a post office for some considerable time, but the excuse has been that there is no money available for the work. The Prime Minister and the Treasurer have visited Gladstone. When requests were made to them for a new post office they promised to give the proposal the fullest consideration. I emphatically protest against the policy of procrastination which this Government is adopting in respect of the building of a very necessary post office. The railing in front of the present post office has collapsed, and the wooden portion of the building is infested with white ants. In addition, some of the plastering in several rooms has fallen down. The building is certainly not in keeping with the growing importance of a town which is an outlet for the trade of a great hinterland. Before long the railway through to Monto will he completed, and the whole of the Northern Burnett trade will then pass through Gladstone. The PostmasterGeneral has always courteously considered any proposal that I have put before him, but I ask him to do something practical, and not depend upon any report that he may receive from an officer of the department. I know that the head of the department in Queensland is a very efficient and capable officer, but no doubt he has to act under instructions to cut down expenditure. I believe that, if he were given a free hand, he would recommend the building of a new post office at Gladstone.

I disagree entirely with the miserly policy adopted by the PostmasterGeneral's Department regarding the construction of new telephone lines, because, in many cases, the local people are asked to be ar a portion of the cost of erecting and maintaining the lines. It is unfair that people should be penalized simply because they live in the outback country districts. Although many" concessions have been given to those districts, a great deal more could be done, and I certainly expected that the Postmaster-General, who represents a country constituency, would be more liberal than he is in providing country postal, telephonic and telegraphic facilities. Day after day I have received from the department the reply that the construction of certain lines or the provision of certain facilities would not be a commercial proposition, and that the local people must contribute £20 or £30 a year towards the cost of the upkeep of the lines. It is our duty to make the lives of outback country people as attractive and congenial as possible.

I wish to say a few words regarding the provision of a new rifle range at Rockhampton. A few days ago I received from the Minister representing the Minister for Defence a communication to the effect that, unfortunately, the position of the finances would not enable the Government to provide a new rifle range at Rockhampton. There are in Central Queensland some thousands of enthusiastic riflemen who make a hobby of rifle shooting on Saturday afternoons. Many of them take part in various competitions throughout Australia. Unfortunately, the Rockhampton rifle range was closed by the Defence Department some months ago, and the Rockhampton Rifle Club and other interested clubs asked the Commonwealth Government to provide a new rifle range. Up to the present nothing has been done, the excuse being that the position of the finances does not permit of this expenditure. I know that the Minister is interested in rifle clubs, and I ask him to give this proposal his sympathetic and generous consideration, and to make a definite statement regarding it before the House rises.

I wish now to bring before the Minister for Trade and Customs the need to provide the lonely lighthouse keepers on the coast of Australia with wireless receiving sets. For some two years the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. A. Green) and myself have been asking the Government to grant this convenience. It would not cost very much, because there are only a few hundred lighthouse keepers altogether. To their credit let it be said that their unceasing vigilance has saved the lives of thousands of our citizens. Many of the lighthouse keepers have gone to the expense of installing their own wireless sets. They should get a refund of the cost. Surely they should get some slight recompense for being deprived of the opportunity to attend picture shows, dance halls, and. theatres, such as are established in the large centres of population.

The people of Rockhampton and Bundaberg have, for some considerable time, been asking the Commonwealth Government to establish aerodromes at those places. The Rockhampton Chamber of Commerce and the Rockhampton City Council are keenly interested in these projects. Rockhampton is the chief city of central Queensland, and has a population of nearly 30,000. Aviation has recently made great progress at that city and also at Bundaberg. the native town of that wonder aviator, Mr. Bert Hinkler. The cost of establishing these two aerodromes would be comparatively small, not more than £3,000 eacch. I should be one of the first to give the Minister credit if he saw fit to establish these aerodromes, and thereby give a great impetus to aviation in Queensland. It is of no use the Minister saying, as he did before, that, as soon as aviation begins to extend in those districts, aerodromes will be established. "We must, first of all, establish aerodromes to encourage aviators to provide services in those districts. I know that companies are being floated with a view to providing aeroplane services between Longreach, Rockhampton, Bundaberg and Brisbane. I urge the Minister to put in hand immediately the work of providing aerodromes at both Rockhampton and Bundaberg, and thus make it possible for new air services to be established in central Queensland.

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