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Thursday, 20 October 1949


Mr DEDMAN (Corio) (Minister for Defence and Minister for Post-war Reconstruction) . - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this bill is to make available to the Governments of Queensland and Western Australia special grants to meet, first, the capital costs of constructing or improving roads in the Channel country of south-west Queensland and the east Kimberley area of Western Australia and, secondly, half the capital costs up to specified limits of improvements of stock routes in those areas. The new and improved ' roads will facilitate the marketing of fat cattle from the two areas by enabling transport by road vehicles ; thus obviating the losses in both weight and quality at present caused by arduous journeys on the hoof. The stock routes in Queensland, which it is proposed to improve, serve, in the main, to bring cattle into the fattening areas of the Channel country. By improving these stock routes, the movement of store cattle from the Northern Territory and the north-west of Queensland will be facilitated. As the new road in the east Kimberleys will not tap all the cattle in the area served by the Wyndham meat works, it is considered necessary to improve certain stock routes along which cattle will continue to be moved to Wyndham on the hoof. This programme of road and stock route construction and improvement is part of the drive Australia is making to step up meat production so that the export surplus available to the United Kingdom can be increased. World shortages of meat supplies and the difficulties of purchasing beef in South American markets have prompted the United Kingdom to look to Australia as a potential source of further supplies. With this as one of its ends in view, the British Government early last year sent a party of experts to Australia under the leadership of Sir Henry Turner. They made various " on-the-spot " inquiries throughout the Commonwealth, and at the close of the visit submitted a report outlining their conclusions. Amongst other things, they recognized that northern Australia offered possibilities for increased beef production, and that a quantitative and qualitative improvement in turn-off could be expected if better transport facilities were available.

Discussions with the United Kingdom authorities were continued in London by the Prime Minister in July last year and !by Commonwealth officers during the following September and October. It was pointed out to the British authorities that much investigational work was necessary before the Commonwealth could put forward any firm proposals, and that, although at that time detailed figures were not available, it was clear that, to increase substantially the exportable surplus of meat, the Government as well as producers would have to undertake a considerable programme of development. Moreover,, meat supplies could not be expected to increase immediately but would increase by a gradual process spread over many years. A long-term meat agreement was sought from the United Kingdom authorities in order to safeguard the Government and producers alike in the commitments they would have ito undertake over a lengthy period to achieve greater output. In further discussions the Prime Minister had in London last April with United Kingdom Ministers, they stressed the importance of obtaining increased meat supplies from Australia, and urged the Commonwealth to promote developmental schemes designed substantially to raise exports to the United Kingdom to an agreed level within an agreed period. They declared their willingness, in return for an undertaking on the part of the Australian Government, to promote schemes offering a. good prospect of increased supplies, to enter into arrangements that will guarantee a market, at reasonable prices, in the United Kingdom for the whole of the exportable surplus of meat from Australia up to a specified ceiling during a period of fifteen years. It was than decided that negotiations for a formal agreement would take place as soon as the Commonwealth had completed its investigational work and formulated concrete plans for greater production. These negotiations are at present being carried on in London on the basis of a number of firm propositions which are aimed at encouraging meat production. Development, through the aid of better transport facilities, of the Channel country of south-west Queensland and the area served by the Wyndham meat works which also embraces the Victoria River region of the Northern Territory forms part of those propositions.

In the Channel country it is proposed to construct and improve 528 miles of roads, provide facilities for loading and unloading cattle at eight selected points along the roads, and improve, by the provision of more frequent watering places,' various stock routes serving the area. The details of these works are set out in clause 4 of the bill. Provision is made for the Queensland Government to be reimbursed for half the capital cost of the stock route improvements, up to a limit of £75,500, and the full capital cost of the other works, which is estimated to be £900,000. It is expected that, by facilitating the movement of cattle to and from the fattening areas of the Channel country, the present average annual turn-off of 60,000 head of cattle will be progressively increased over a period of five years to 100,000 head, and that the resultant increase in terms of dressed beef will be of the order of 12,000 tons a year. In the east Kimberley area of Western Australia, it is proposed to construct an all-weather road from Wyndham to Nicholson Station, a distance of approximately 282 miles. This will involve the building of a major bridge over the Ord River at Buttons Crossing. Improved watering facilities along certain stock routes are also proposed. Clause 5 of the bill outlines these works in detail. Provision is made for the Commonwealth to meet the full capital cost of the road, which is estimated to be £1,159,000, and half the capital cost of the stock route improvements, subject to an upper limit of £31,500. As the Victoria River region of the Northern Territory is also within the area supplying the Wyndham meat works, two feeder roads are to be constructed from the main WyndhamNicholson road to Victoria River Depot and Wave Hill Station. These feeder roads, which measure 225 miles, will he almost entirely within the Northern Territory. As their construction will be carried out by the Commonwealth, the provision of finance in the present measure is not necessary. Improved transport facilities in the area serving the Wyndham meat works will, it is estimated, enable the present beef output of 8,000 tons per annum to he increased to 18,000 tons over a period of ten years. When the expected increases of annual beef tonnages from the Channel country and the Wyndham area which amount to 12,000 tons and 10,000 tons respectively, are measured against the total quantity of frozen beef, exclusive of offals and canned meat, that was exported from Australia during 1948- 49, and amounted to approximately 85,500 tons, it will be seen that they represent substantial gains. These potential increases of the output of beef fully justify the works being undertaken with the greatest possible expedition. The bill provides for plans and specifications of the works in both States to incorporate the standards of design determined by the Commonwealth, but the States are free to raise these standards, if they so desire, at their own expense. It is proposed that the Treasurer shall make advances to the States and settle on the basis of halfyearly statements of expenditure certified by the State Auditors-General.

I add, as a matter of interest, that the Commonwealth's plans for encouraging meat production also include extensive developmental measures in parts of the Northern Territory outside the Victoria River region. The Government's plans for those areas1 provide for the construction of 1,400 miles of roads at an estimated cost of £337,000, and the expenditure of £170,000 upon improvements to stock routes. In addition, the Government has approved of a station development scheme for the Northern Territory. To assist in the implementation of the scheme the Commonwealth will contribute £1,500,000 towards the cost of additional watering points on stations. It is expected that, as a result of these measures and of co-operative effort on the part of private interests, the cattle population of the Northern Territory can be progressively raised from the present figure of about 1,000,000 to something like 1,600,000. This will, in turn, increase the number of beasts available each year for marketing, and enable an ultimate annual increase of approximately 38,000 tons of beef to be obtained after a period of, say, fifteen years from those parts of the Northern Territory outside the Victoria River region. I commend the bill to honorable members.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Francis) adjourned.







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