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Tuesday, 25 October 1949

Mr LEMMON (Forrest) (Minister for Works and Housing) . - I support the bill, because I believe that it is the first real effort that any Australian government has made to assist the development of the north-west of Queensland, and the north-west of Western Australia. Under this legislation, money is to be appropriated for the improvement of stock routes and the construction of roads in those areas. The plan is naturally associated with the development of the Northern Territory, but that fact is not disclosed in the bill because the necessary provision for that work was included in the vote for the Department of the

Interior for this financial year. The bill will play an important part in developing the north-west of Western Australia. That work is long overdue. An amount of approximately £1,500,000 will be expended on the construction of three good stock routes that will have bores at which travelling stock may be watered. Provision is also made for the construction of a high level bridge over the Ord river, so that stock may be brought in to the meatworks some six weeks earlier than is possible at the present time. Cattle are now unable to cross the Ord river when they are in a fit condition to go to the meatworks. The Commonwealth is also providing for the high level bridge to be constructed in such a way that it will be able to carry a railway line. The damming of the Ord river will lead to an important irrigation scheme in that part of Western Australia within a few years. When, that project is complete, thousands of acres of land will be irrigated, and that country will be used to top up beef that will come from the Northern Territory and the north-west of Western Australia. When the meat is in prime condition, it will be taken by train to the Wyndham meatworks. Wyndham occupies an important position geographically, and from that port Australia will send not frozen beef, but chilled beef, to the United Kingdom. Chilled beef commands a higher price in the United Kingdom than frozen beef does.

As I stated earlier, the Northern Territory is associated with this scheme. Three or four roads from sections of the Channel country will lead to rail heads in Queensland, from which cattle will be taken to meat processing and freezing works. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) complained that the Government had not subdivided large holdings in the Northern Territory so that ex-servicemen could engage in the production of beef.

Mr McEwen - The Minister will not be allowed to discuss that subject.

Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order ! The Chair, and not the honorable member for Indi, will decide whether the Minister is in order. The Chair did not permit the honorable member for Indi to discuss the subdivision of stations in the Northern Territory, hut he referred to one station in defiance of the ruling.

Mr LEMMON - I am dealing principally with the provision of bores that are essential for the development of beef production in the areas to which the bill refers. This Government is constructing bores so that the people who select land in the beef -cattle areas may immediately begin production.

Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order ! The Minister is not permitted to discuss that aspect.

Mr McEWEN (INDI, VICTORIA) - A good ruling, tool

Mr LEMMON - This bill provides for. the grant of financial assistance to the States of Queensland and Western Australia for the purpose of encouraging the development of beef production, and I must discuss some of the work that is being done in the Northern Territory. The honorable member for Indi is quick to seek the protection of the Chair when I am about to tell him a few home truths. Under the provisions of this bill, stock routes will he constructed and watering facilities will be provided. Not only does the hill provide for the construction of roads, but it also provides for the construction of tanks at intervals along the route. That policy is being applied throughout the northern areas of Western Australia.

The honorable member for Indi said that the Government had tried to squeeze the Government of the United Kingdom in order to get financial aid for the construction of the roads mentioned in the bill. That is untrue and it is another of the many untrue statements which the honorable member has made in this House. I have been a member of the cabinet sub-committee which, for the last three years, has concerned itself with beef production in Australia, and I know that at no time has the Government of Australia approached the Government of the United Kingdom for financial assistance for the construction of roads.

The honorable member for Indi also referred to the sale of equipment on the north-west coast of Australia which, he said, could have been used for road construction, and he condemned the Government for allowing the equipment to be taken away. The fact is that it would have been impossible for the Government to sell equipment with a proviso that it must stay in north-western Australia, or Queensland or any other place.

Mr McEwen - Why not?

Mr LEMMON - The honorable member must be aware that the Government could not sell an article with a spotted title. Once an article is sold, it becomes the property of the buyer. To sell on any other condition would be to cut across the principle of private ownership, and I am astonished that the honorable member, who always upholds the principle of private ownership, and noninterference by governments in industry, should have made the suggestion he did.

Mr Scully - The honorable member spoke with, his tongue in his cheek.

Mr LEMMON - He did. The honorable member then waxed eloquent about the air lift of beef in Western Australia as an example of what private enterprise is doing. The fact is that the air lift - and I commend those who have tried to make a success of it - was subsidized by the Government of Western Australia. Even so, it has been, I regret to say, virtually a failure. It may be that, with experience, the difficulties will be overcome. A cousin of mine owns two stations in the area concerned, and the people operating the air lift contracted1 to huy his beef, hut they were unable to carry out their contract. The honorable member for Ind; spoke about the air lift being such a wonderful success-

Mr McEwen - I did not say that. I only said that it had been left to private enterprise to make the experiment.

Mr LEMMON - And private enterprise was subsidized by the Government of Western Australia. It was, in fact, private enterprise cum socialism, and socialism applied by the Liberal Government of Western Australia.

Mr Beazley - It was State-guaranteed capitalism.

Mr LEMMON - Perhaps that is a new name for it. I hope it will ultimately prove successful, but it has not been a success so far.


Housing (Mr. Lemmon), when explaining the bill, sought to convey the impression that the Government was embarking upon a colossal undertaking to encourage increased production of beef in Australia. When the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) returned from Great Britain recently, he told us that an arrangement had been made with the Government of the United Kingdom that £50,000,000 was to be expended in Australia in order to encourage the production of beef. Therefore, it was disappointing to have placed before us only this isolated scheme which provides for reimbursing the States for expenditure up to £2,000,000. Australia is a tremendous country, and the isolation of the outback areas cannot be broken down by the expenditure of £2,000,000. It cannot be done by constructing a road to Wyndham to facilitate an approach to the nearest markets, or by putting a few roads through the Channel country in western Queensland. We know that northern Australia could carry three or four times as many cattle as it is carrying now if provision were made for water and transport facilities. Nature has made provision for conveying stock down the Georgina River to be fattened in the southern parts of Queensland and in northern New South Wales, This route is open when other routes are closed. What nature has provided in the Georgina River country could be supplied on other routes by the provision of water at suitable intervals. The Minister actually boasted that it was proposed to build a bridge over the Ord River. No doubt, that will be a fine thing for stock which happen to be within walking distance of the Ord River, but it will be of little use in helping to bring stock quickly to the general Australian market. In the United States of America, the stock trains run from, the western States to Washington and Oregon across the continent to Chicago, and take precedence over all other traffic. In Australia, the reverse is true.

The Vice-President of the Executive Council is a practical man, who knows what needs to be done to facilitate the movement of stock. I agree with him that an all-weather road, sealed with concrete in preference to bitumen, because sand is plentiful along the route, should be constructed to cut the railheads in western Queensland. Along this road motor cattle trains would convey stock day and night to market, or from drought-stricken areas to available grazing in other districts. Branch roads would connect the main road to station properties. That would be the best way to increase the production of beef, because it would enable stock to be delivered to market in something like the same condition as they left their home pastures. The Government would be justified in spending millions of pounds on the construction of such roads. They would be useful for defence as well as for local general use by thousands of cars and trucks already there. When stock are transported by rail, there are long delays because of trains waiting to pass one another on single-track lines, as well as because of the shortage of rolling-stock. Those difficulties would be avoided in road transport. The graziers already have their motor vehicles; all they need are good roads, over which they can move their sheep and cattle in drought periods, provided fuel is available, and that can be brought from Java.

The scheme outlined in the bill will provide a small measure of assistance to graziers, but much more is needed. We must raise three head of cattle for every one that is raised to-day. The present high mortality among stock must be reduced. Scientific bureaus should be established at which scientists could investigate the difficulties which confront graziers, including the feeding of stock in such a way as to keep them healthy, and the control of the dingo pest, which is menacing the present population of sheep in central Queensland, and has already driven away perhaps two or three million sheep from some areas west of Winton. I have myself been a loser through attacks on calves. Those are among the disabilities that face the beef industry in Australia. We should attempt to revive the raising and breeding of stock in those areas where to-day pastoralists engage only in fattening stock. The establishment of bureaus throughout these areas to enable scientists to assist to combat the various disabilities that affect the stockraising industries would play a greater part in the future of those industries than the provision of a few roads, great conveniences as those roads might be. Scientific assistance in the provision of water would help to open up larger areas and would make the development of the Australian beef industry possible to the degree that, we desire. We should also provide railways superior to those now available in that district, so as to make access to markets easier. I commend any attempt to improve the meat production of Australia, both because of its value to our national development and also because of its assistance to Britain at the present time. This development would also be of great economic value to us. I am pleased to support this bill although I consider that it is a very small contribution to the development of the beef industry. I hope that it is just a start and that we shall expend up to £100,000,000 for the facilities I have mentioned.

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