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Wednesday, 10 September 1958


Mr LUCHETTI (Macquarie) .- Mr. Temporary Chairman,the words " national development " should excite the patriotic spirit of every Australian, and the consideration of the proposed vote for the Department of National Development should be the highlight of the consideration of the Estimates by the Commonwealth Parliament. Unfortunately, the Department of National Development is a department with a name but without a plan and without clear objectives. It has no plan for a specified number of years - say, three years or five years - in the way that other nations have found it profitable to plan. It has no plan for this nation to perform a definite task or to attain a specific objective within any given period. Consequently, Sir, a new approach is called for in this challenging task of developing Australia. This is a field in which parliamentary committees might well be used. I submit to honorable members this afternoon that the Parliament, even in its dying days, might well consider the appointment of an all-party committee to act as a watch-dog and to work on behalf of the Parliament in ensuring that projects are brought to the attention of the Minister for National Development and of the Cabinet, and to enable the Parliament to be in a better position to pass judgment on them.

We have heard valuable statements by honorable members about national development. I have examined the estimates for the Department of National Development in vain, Mr. Temporary Chairman, seeking indications of practical action to tackle the urgent problems of national development facing this nation. We find provision for the expenses of administration. That is necessary in every department. Salaries and general expenses must be paid, and financial provision must be made for them. At page 74 of the Estimates, under Division No. 127 - Administrative - Other Services, we find provision for the Kimberley Research Station and gauging of the Ord River. Here, there may yet be a ray of hope that work on the Ord River scheme, which is long overdue, will begin. Provision is made also, in Division No. 127K, for the Division of National Mapping. There may be some ray of hope there that minor consideration is being given to important work.

In Division No. 128, financial provision is made for the Bureau of Mineral Resources, but I suggest that too little is being done in respect of the practical application of the bureau's work. I should like to see its activities extended in such a way as to allow our national resources of minerals to be measured against future requirements. Later, I should like to discuss coal and shale oil reserves. I am sure that the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) must be aware that insufficient is known of our shale oil reserves and that further action should be taken in this matter.

I have cast about to see where, throughout Australia, this Government is proceeding with national development. It is true that the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme - that magnificent undertaking begun by the Chifley Labour Government - continues to go ahead, and for that we are grateful, but not sufficient is being done in view of the migrant intake of 115,000 a year and the natural increase of the Australian population. With the population increasing as rapidly as it is, the tasks of national development should engage the attention of all honorable members, and the Government should make plans that would excite the imagination of all.

We can think of so much work that could be done. It may be said on behalf of the Government that bauxite deposits at Weipa are being developed. In response to such a suggestion, I would say only that there we shall have another instance of the plundering of Australia's resources of raw materials. The raw materials will be taken away, but little will be done to process them in Australia in order to provide products that are already essentia] and will become much more important as the years go by. We have seen what has happened at Rum Jungle, in the Northern Territory. All that is left there now is a huge hole in the ground. But what has become of the proceeds of the uranium sold overseas is another matter entirely. The exact amount obtained has never been disclosed to the Parliament.

Having studied the broad issue of the development of Australia, I submit, Mr. Temporary Chairman, that urgent work faces us in providing additional supplies of iron and steel. I made inquiries recently and received the information that we export something like £21,000,000 worth of iron and steel each year, and import a volume of iron and steel of almost precisely the same value, there being only a few thousands of pounds difference in the two figures. At a time when this country is faced with a balance of payments problem, it seems to me we should be producing more iron and steel, and should not have all our eggs in one basket. We ought to try to develop the production of iron and steel throughout Australia, and one area which suggests itself to me is the Collinsville area of Queensland, with Bowen as a port. There, with satisfactory coking coal and iron ore resources in close proximity, great development would be possible.

The establishment of an iron and steel industry in north Queensland would be an excellent way of triggering off development in northern Australia. Such an industry, established in that area, could supply the requirements of the Territory of Papua and

New Guinea and the Northern Territory, as well as supply steel for export to Asian countries.

We appreciate that the establishment of an iron and steel industry in northern Queensland would require a tremendous amount of capital. Perhaps the Government is not prepared to engage directly in such a project, but it could engage in it in co-operation with the Queensland Government, ,and with the help of some private capital. The establishment of the industry there would encourage the establishment of associated industries, which would go a long way towards helping in the development of northern Australia, a vulnerable part of our country which is so much in need of added population. I think it will be conceded that population trends in Australia are most disturbing. We need more people scattered over the whole of Australia instead of having the great bulk of the population concentrated in the capital cities, as at present.

I now turn to a discussion of the further development of the sugar industry as an aspect of national development. Perhaps some of the people who have played a part in the development of the sugar industry in Queensland will say that the industry established there is already sufficient for our needs. I acknowledge the great work done in relation to the sugar industry in northern Queensland, an area which was developed as a result of the establishment of that industry; but I put it to the committee that a sugar industry can be developed on the rich alluvial flats of the Northern Territory, and that would help considerably to populate that part of northern Australia. It could be developed in close proximity to Darwin. The opening of a sugar mill in the Northern Territory would encourage the cultivation of sugar cane, and undoubtedly we would find that, as happened in Queensland in many instances, a township would grow round the mill. We need such a development. We should not restrict ourselves as we have been doing in connexion with such matters.

There are some other matters with which I wish to deal. One of them, which I mentioned at the outset of my speech, is the need to get on with the production of oil from coal and shale. Recently, I addressed to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) a question which sought information regarding the shale industry, and the very fine experiment carried out at the Denver Research Institute in the United States of America in connexion with that matter. I have received an extensive reply from the Prime Minister, in the course of which he admits that, from information provided, the new manner of producing oil from shale in the United States has reduced the cost of production by some 50 per cent. In the course of his letter, however, he refers to the fact that shale is won very cheaply by open-cut methods in the United States - something which, generally speaking, cannot be done in Australia. Here is a case where the Bureau of Mineral Resources might engage in making a comprehensive survey of shale measures and basins in Australia in order to discover their extent. A general investigation into this subject is needed so that we can have a practical appreciation of the problem and see what can be done.

Whilst the winning of shale is considerably cheaper in the United States than it is here, the American shale is of a much lower quality and value than Australian shales. The range of yield from American shales is from 20 to 30 gallons of oil per ton of shale. We have the richest shale in the world, shale that can yield up to 100 gallons a ton. We ought to take this matter up seriously. If the United States, with its own great resources of flow oil, thinks it worth while to develop the production of oil from shale, surely we in this country, with richer grades of shale than America has, and with no flow oil, should be doing the same. I submit that that is a job which this Parliament should undertake, as a responsibility to the people. It should set about establishing an industry for the production of oil from our own resources, because, in the foreseeable and not too distant future, we may be faced with a very serious problem regarding our balance of payments. On that ground alone we should explore every possibility of producing in Australia commodities that can be won from our own latent reserves.

Even if the Government is not prepared to go the whole distance in establishing the retorts and other equipment, perhaps it would be prepared to establish a pilot plant. If it is not prepared to go beyond that, I put it to the committee that the Government ought at least to engage some of the idle mineworkers from the Newcastle district and my own electorate on the job of testing to see what can be done with shale. The Government could at least establish a shale bank - a great stockpile of shale which could be held against the future, and used when circumstances warranted, for the production of oil. I think that you will agree, Mr. Temporary Chairman, that that is a practical and feasible proposition which the Government cannot lightly brush aside.

The production of oil from coal is another challenging task facing a future government. It is interesting to know what is being done in this field in other countries, particularly in South Africa at the Sasol oilfromcoal works of the South African Coal, Oil and Gas Corporation Limited. That firm proposes to mine and treat 7,600 tons of coal a day for the production of petroleum products. I think that what South Africa can do ought to be done here also, in the national interest. The figures relating to the yield of products from coal treated by the South African firm are most enlightening and interesting. Here is a list of the quantities of petroleum products and chemicals that the firm expects to produce annually - Petrol, 55,000,000 imperial gallons; diesel oil, 4,300,000 imperial gallons; fuel oil, 2,300,000 imperial gallons; paraffin waxes, 18,000 short tons; ethanol, 3,950,000 imperial gallons; propanol, 2,000,000 imperial gallons; butanol, 525,000 imperial gallons; acetone, 210,000 imperial gallons; methylethyl-ketone 260,000 imperial gallons; mixed solvents, 60,000 imperial gallons; benzole, 500,000 imperial gallons; toluole, 280,000 imperial gallons; xylole and solvent naphtha, 500,000 imperial gallons; creosote wood preservative, 1,000,000 imperial gallons; pitch and tar road primer, 920,000 imperial gallons; crude phenols, 6,000 short tons; ammonium sulphate, 35,000 short tons; liquefied petroleum gas, 300,000 imperial gallons.







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