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Thursday, 6 September 1928

Mr GREGORY (Swan) .- Included in this proposed vote is an amount of £180,000 for expenditure under the provisions of the River Murray Waters Act 1915-23. The first .estimate of the cost of the works, we have in hand on the river Murray was £4,600,000, but we have since been informed that the actual cost will be in the neighbourhood of £14,000,000. It has also been said that the Government intends to reduce the volume of work to be done and the expenditure upon it. Seeing that the loan indebtedness of Australia is assuming such huge proportions, and that the total interest bill of the Commonwealth and the States last year was £87,000,000, it is high time to economize. We are told that money should be spent only on reproductive works. Our railways are classed as such, although since 1914, the last year in which an aggregate profit was shown, notwithstanding that the rates have been increased 60 per cent., huge amounts have been lost in operating them. From 1914 to 1926, the total losses were £24,500,000. Our railways are not profitable to-day, and very few of our public utilities are returning as much as was expected from them. The Development and Migration Commission has recommended that the planting of fruit trees along the Murray valley should be stopped because there is an overproduction of fruit in Australia. In these circumstances, it is time that a halt was called. No one was more pleased than 1 was when it was decided to undertake this huge Murray developmental scheme. 1 thought that, we should be able to settle tens of thousands of people along the valley of the river, arid that the whole proposition would be a financial success. Unfortunately, those hopes have not. been realized. It may be possible to do something in this area in the Iambraising industry, but, the planting of fruit trees and the production of special crops appears to be hopeless at. present. In these circumstances, the Government should give us an indication of the policy that it intends to follow in respect of these works in the future. We are justified in asking for the fullest information on the subject.

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