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Tuesday, 25 October 1949

Mr ADERMANN (Maranoa) .- This bill is designed to provide finance for the specific purpose of encouraging the production of meat in Australia. It is proposed that grants shall be made to Queensland and Western Australia for the construction of roads and that the Commonwealth shall pay .up to 50 per cent, of the cost of providing water facilities and making other improvements to stock routes. In discussing this measure, regard must be had to its real purpose. The Prime Minister recently discussed with the Government of the United Kingdom ways and means of increasing the production of meat in Australia so that the exports of Australian meat to that country can be increased. It is the intention of the Government, by means of this bill, to encourage Australian meat producers to increase the size of their herds so that that objective may be achieved. It would have been better if the Government had set out to achieve its purpose in a more practical way, but I shall not oppose any plan that will lead to the increase of the production of meat in this country. The money to be allocated to Queensland under the terms of this measure will be expended in the Maranoa electorate, which includes the area that is known far and wide as the Channel country.

I have studied the report of the Royal Commission on Abattoirs and Meatworks to see what recommendations that commission made regarding the best methods of expanding the Australian meat producing industry. In the report of the commission, which was published in 1945, it was stated that the annual output of fat cattle could be doubled by, first, ring-barking many millions of acres of worthless timber; secondly, the establishment of more water facilities and other improvements; thirdly, speying female cattle for age; fourthly, so organizing the industry that the best fattening land would be devoted more to the purpose of fattening than it is at present ; and fifthly, the adoption of other measures. No steps have so far been taken by the Queensland Government to give effect to those suggestions.

Since the publication of the report, the cattle position has deteriorated further owing to drought conditions during two of the last three seasons. The size of herds has been considerably decreased, and there has been a reduction of the number of calves branded. Further, since the end of the war the shortages of labour and materials have been accentuated, and the making of improvements to properties has become a slow and frustrating business for many owners and managers who are desirous of increasing production. Another factor that has made further inroads into our exportable beef surplus is the increase of the population of Australia. It is reliably estimated that if the population is increased by 100,000 persons, an additional 25,000 cattle will be consumed annually.

I believe that there is plenty of scope for increasing the production of beef in Queensland and the Northern Territory. I shall confine my remarks particularly to Queensland, because I am not conversant with the conditions that exist in the north of Western Australia and in the Northern Territory. While there is plenty of scope for an increase of beef production, the facts indicate that there is no hope of increasing our exports of meat immediately except by reducing consumption in this country. Any plan for an increase of the production of meat must, of course, be a long-range plan. I suggest that the Minister's estimate of the degree to which production can be increased within a comparative short time is exaggerated. Even if miracles happened, it would be at least five years before the first male calf from the first additional cow was ready to be sent to market.

The recommendations of the royal commission to which I have referred differ from the proposals that have been made by the Government. The commission recommended that a railway should be constructed from Bourke to Camooweal, with the Dajarra, Yaraka and Quilpie lines in Queensland connecting with it and with the main line from Camooweal proceeding out through the Northern Territory. Practical men associated with the grazing industry have discussed the most practical methods of transporting stock. There are differences of opinion on that matter. It was considered for some time that road transport was the best way of transporting stock, but, because of the considerable bruising that is suffered by cattle while being transported by road, the general opinion of graziers now is that rail transport is the best method. We all know that the main purpose of providing rail transport and thus avoiding droving is to avoid the considerable wastage of meat that is entailed by driving a beast to market. We must devise the most efficient and expeditious way of delivering cattle to market. An inquiry was made at one period by a business firm which desired to ascertain whether it would be possible to establish abattoirs inland, and transport chilled meat by air to various ports. The abattoirs would be constructed in the Channel country where they would be equidistant from Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane. If a ship at Port .Adelaide was awaiting a cargo of meat, the beef would be transported by air from the abattoirs to that, port. That would be the ideal way of carrying meat, because wastage would be avoided. The cattle would be taken direct from the station to the abattoirs, where they would be killed and the frozen meat could be delivered within 24 hours. I believe that the inquiry showed that at that time the cost of such a scheme was prohibitive, but having regard to subsequent increases of the price of beef, any government or firm, that was interested in a policy of increasing beef, production should examine that plan. I understand that the Bristol aircraft carries up to 20 tons of cargo, and I suppose that more modern aircraft would carry even greater loads. I think that that idea should be investigated.

The 'practical members of the royal commission on the meat industry, which reported to the Queensland Government in 1945, definitely recommended the provision of rail transport for carrying beef. The Commonwealth appointed a committee to investigate the possibility of linking the inland with the trans-continental railway. Sir Harold Clapp in his report recommended that, a standard gauge railway should be constructed through Bourke, Cunnamulla, Charleville and Blackall to connect with the Northern Territory. The Queensland Government opposed that recommendation, and favoured a proposal that had been submitted by the State Royal Commission on Abattoirs and Meat-works, but it has not taken any action to implement that finding. The difficulty ->f marketing cattle in a satisfactory condition, and the distances that stock are required to travel to rail heads over inferior and overtaxed stock routes have always been a serious obstacle to increasing the production of beef. That obstacle will remain until railways are constructed along the required routes. I agree with the provision that the Government has made for stock routes, and for increasing water facilities, because in my travels through the west, I have observed the problems confronting those who desire to drive their stock from place to place, especially at the onset of a drought. After a few herds of cattle and a few flocks of sheep have been taken over the stock routes, the ground is as bare of fodder as a bitumen road is. Herds of cattle which follow later have nothing to eat, and the distances between the water facilities are too great. We must overcome the problem of transport. The improvement of water facilities will not meet the requirements of drought conditions. Whilst we are improving fattening conditions, we must make provision to save stock in time of drought. If the numbers of cattle are increased by the establishment of new water facilities and the other means which are contemplated in this bill, the need for constructing railways along the desired routes will be accentuated, because with adequate transport, the overtaxing of stock routes will become more pronounced. Railways must be built to enable stock to be removed from drought-stricken areas to more favoured districts, where fodder is available. Without those transport facilities, stock cannot be saved in time of drought. Stock losses during droughts have been one of the tragedies of the cattle industry in Australia. Adequate transport facilities must he provided, otherwise stock will not be marketed in a satisfactory condition.

I refer now to a vital statement by the State Royal Commission on Abattoirs and Meat-works, because I consider that it is most pertinent to the debate. The royal commission reported -

The Far Western route would be a lini; which would definitely benefit the Commonwealth. Its influence upon Northern Territory development alone assures this. And it confers advantages on all the southern States as well as Queensland as the following illustrations demonstrate: -

Stock in drought periods, or at any other time could be transferred from the Northern Territory and from any part of the north, central or western Queensland to any district in the southern States. And. vice versa, stock could be transported from the southern States to the Northern Territory or to any part of the north, central or western Queensland at any time such transfers be desired.

The next remark by that royal commission confirms a point that I have already made. It is as follows: -

Intermittent droughts are unavoidable in Australia; they occur chiefly in the inland, yet there is no north-south inland railway by which to transfer stock in drought times.

Even if Sir Harold Clapp's recommendation for a standard gauge railway system were adopted, we should have the north-south rail connexion. I have often seen the tragedy of heavy losses of stock caused by the absence of a suitable connexion between the northern inland rail- way, the central railway from Rockhampton, and' the two southern rail systems in Queensland. It has often been stated that the Queensland Government will not take any action to link those rail services because it is afraid that, if Sir Harold Clapp's recommendation were adopted, trade would pass from Queensland down through Bourke to Sydney. In the national interest we must take a wider outlook than that of the Queensland Government. If that Government is so negligent in establishing railway connexions with cattle-producing districts, it deserves to lose the business of that industry to a southern State.

There is another factor which confirms my statements in this debate. Following the report of the Queensland royal commission, the State Bureau of Investigation despatched officers to inquire into the position. Those officers did not examine the situation so thoroughly as the royal commission did, but they went to the Channel country and investigated the Cooper River district. The bureau was able to form certain conclusions about the value of the fattening capacity of flooded country generally on the basis of its examination of the Cooper River district. The bureau confirmed the royal commission's findings in most respects, and particularly about the approximate area and the vegetation of flooded districts. What is more, the bureau selected the same route for a railway as the royal commission had recommended. The bureau did not agree with the royal commission's finding about the fattening capacity of the flooded areas, and somewhat reduced the estimate.

I come now to the Commonwealth's desire to encourage the development of meat producing areas, particularly the two that are mentioned in the bill. I should like the Minister to inform me who made that recommendation to the Commonwealth, and why practical men with local experience were not consulted about the matter. When I asked a question about this subject, the Minister replied that the Government intended to proceed with the proposal, and he did not indicate who made the report and why practical men, who disagreed with the Government's proposals for routes, were not consulted. I agree that the proposed routes are welcome and necessary, but I should like the Minister to inform me how those routes will assist the stock position. Men who have a thorough knowledge of the west disagree strongly with the Commonwealth's proposals in this matter. One of those men, Mr. J. "W. Fletcher, has sent to me the following telegram' : -

Courier-Mailthis morning reports Dedman's statement that proposed roads to Channel country will increase beef production from sixty thousand head to one hundred thousand head annually within five years. This is absolutely ridiculous as would virtually have no effect at all. In any event proposed roads follow wrong routes making whole business silly. Who were Government advisers on this subject? Cattle producers in Channels will laugh at whole proposal.

In addition to Mr. Fletcher's objection, other objections to the Commonwealth's proposal are published in the Queensland press almost daily. An examination of the bill reveals that three different routes are specified. The Minister, in his secondreading speech, did not suggest that they would be all-weather routes. Indeed, the money that has been allocated for the construction of 528 miles of roads is sufficient to provide only for grading, and does not allow for gravelling, except perhaps in places where the country may be boggy. Certainly, the estimate of £1,500 a mile does not provide for the construction of an all-weather road. The Minister, in his second-reading speech, did not claim that it would do so, but he stated that the Government would provide an all-weather road in the country around Wyndham.

The problem is to get stock to market in a time of need during a period such as the last three or four months of continually wet weather. Since the Government is not providing all-weather roads, it will not be practicable for the cattle to be taken to market in flood-time. Another vital consideration in taking stock to market from the Channel country is the unavailability of railway rolling stock in Queensland. Even with the present number of stock available, graziers are obliged to place their names on a waiting list before they can send their stock away, because the Queensland Government cannot supply sufficient rolling stock to meet all their requirements The Commonwealth should take the matter up with the Queensland Government. Graziers are becoming sick and tired of waiting for trucks. I know this country, and I know the proposed routes for the roads, but I will not venture my opinion against those of the practical men who have been consulted. However, I believe that the Government has made a mistake in not taking into consideration the opinions of graziers who live in the district. It is proposed that one road shall be used for conveying stock through Yaraka. I cannot understand the purpose of the Government in seeking to have stock conveyed north to Rockhampton, and then back to Brisbane. It may be true in romance that the longest way round is the shortest way home, but the principle is not applicable to the carriage of stock. Too much weight is lost during long journeys. The second proposed route is a good one. It is from Quilpie to Eromanger, and the road will eventually link up with the Charleville line to Brisbane. The third route is to connect with the southern States. However, we come back to the question whether the transport of stock by road is satisfactory because of the bruising that takes place. I believe that the scheme recommended by the royal commission which inquired into this matter is better than the one proposed by the Government.

I should like an assurance from the Government that clause 7 of the bill will protect graziers against the levying of toll by the State Government. This proposal will not be welcomed by the graziers if, after the Commonwealth has advanced money for constructing roads, the State Government uses them as a means to collect revenue by imposing a road tax of Id. per ton-mile. I approve of the proposal to provide an alternative method of delivering stock to market, but I should not approve of the imposition of another tax on graziers. That would not be the way to encourage production.

After the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) returned from England some time ago, he said that he had entered into a contract with the Government of the United Kingdom to take Australian beef for a period of fifteen years. I always understood that a contract of sale should specify a price, but no price bae been mentioned in connexion with the fifteen years' contract. It means nothing to the grazier to be told that there is a fifteenyear contract with the British Government, when nothing is said about price. Evidently, the Government of the United Kingdom is prepared to enter into a long-term contract, provided the Australian Government does certain things, but the things which the Government has undertaken to do are not sufficient to encourage increased production of cattle. They will be of assistance to graziers, but they will not tend to increase the number of cattle, which is the avowed purpose of the measure.

Recently, the Tariff Board recommended that the cotton-growers in Queensland should be taught how to grow more cotton, and yet they are expected to produce the cotton for a starvation price. I mention that matter merely to emphasize my contention that, unless graziers are assured of a satisfactory price for their meat, they will not be encouraged to increase the size of their herds. Unfortunately, neither the Commonwealth nor the States have done anything to conserve water in the area. The flooding of the Channel country is not regular. Therefore, the State Government should have undertaken works to conserve water. Recently, we saw the report in the newspapers of the engineer in charge of water conservation iu Queensland threatening to resign unless the State government did something to put permanent water conservation works in hand. A Labour government has been in power in Queensland since 1914, with one brief interruption, but it has done nothing yet to conserve water. Unless water is conserved, so that the country may be flooded more or less regularly and thus provide a continuous supply of herbage, cattle will in the future have to be removed to other districts in time of drought, just as has been done in the past. There will continue to be a period of good seasons, followed by a period of bad seasons, when cattle will have to be shifted, and the total quantity of beef produced will not be increased. If the Minister can assure the graziers that they will receive a satisfactory price for their beef, they will themselves be encouraged to spend money to improve their properties. The mere construction of a few roads, which will not even be all-weather roads, will, of itself, do nothing to bring about an increase of the number of stock carried in the Channel country.

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