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Wednesday, 10 September 1958


Mr BARNARD (Bass) .- Obviously, the honorable member for Bruce (Mr. Snedden) was not paying very much attention to what was said by my colleague, the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam). My colleague described the increase during the last twelve months in the number of persons registering with the Department of Labour and National Service, and in receipt of unemployment benefit. In one month only - September - did the figures decrease. The honorable member for Werriwa also pointed out that since June, 1957, the number of persons in receipt of unemployment benefit had increased by more than 12,000. I suggest at once to the honorable member for Bruce, who has devoted so little time to studying this subject, that the situation cannot be simply glossed over. Members of the Australian Labour party regard the unemployment position as most serious, and nothing has been said by Government supporters to indicate that they are willing to face that fact. As I said only a few nights ago, if there is one thing which we can expect from the Government in a crisis it is a display of absolute inertia. That has been .the Government's attitude to unemployment also.

Turning now to the estimates of the Department of National Development, I should like to enlarge upon the remarks of the honorable member for Cunningham (Mr. Kearney) concerning the failure of this Government to undertake national projects. The honorable member pointed out that the Government had not, with the possible exception of the St. Mary's filling factory, undertaken one major developmental programme in the last eight years.

I want to direct my remarks to the Australian Aluminium Production Commission's works at Bell Bay in Tasmania, a matter to which I have referred previously. The needs of that industry have been completely ignored by this Government. Certainly, it was obliged to give effect to the original intentions of the previous Labour administration concerning the establishment of . that great industry. The initial legislation was discussed in this House as far back as 1941. Indeed, it was not until Labour assumed office that appropriate legislation was introduced. It was brought down by the then Minister for Supply and provided for the making of an agreement between the _ Commonwealth and the State of Tasmania concerning the establishment of the aluminium industry at Bell Bay.

In fairness to the Government, it has gone on with the programme outlined by the then Minister for Supply; but it has taken no action whatever to enlarge the scope of the industry. The legislation envisaged an annual production of approximately 12,000 tons of aluminium. It was expected that Australia's annual requirements would, in the immediate post-war years, be approximately 6,000 tons. A perusal of the debates which took place on that occasion will show that even then, the present Prime Minister said that in his opinion only a raving lunatic would completely ignore the fact that in the post-war years there would be a substantial decline in the demand for aluminium. Despite the gloomy prediction of the Prime Minister on that occasion, the aluminium requirements of Australia to-day, instead of being 12,000 tons a year, which is the maximum production of .the industry at Bell Bay, are approximately 26,000 tons a year. Although recommendations have been made to the various Ministers for Supply in recent years, not only by me, but also by interested organizations outside this Parliament, the Government has refused to accept its responsibility and has declined to take action to double the production of aluminium at Bell Bay.


Mr Luck - Is that why they are out on strike to-day?


Mr BARNARD - If the honorable member for Braddon, who, to my knowledge, has not spoken in this House during the last six months, wishes to join in this debate, I am sure that the Minister will accord him the opportunity to do so after I have resumed my seat.

I believe that this Government has a responsibility, because of the importance of the industry at Bell Bay from the point of view of defence, to press ahead with the development of this vital industry. I have already pointed out that our requirements of aluminium are now, not 12,000 tons, but 26,000 tons a year, and to indicate the expansion that has taken place in the world demand for aluminium, I propose to refer to figures that have been made available in a recent publication dealing with minerals issued by the Commonwealth Statistician. In 1935, the world production of aluminium was only 250,000 tons. By 1956, production had increased to 3,250,000 tons, and it is. possible that by 1970, production will have increased to approximately 6,000,000 tons, or an estimated increase pf 75 per cent. between 1956 and 1970. Australia's requirements in 1956 were 18,000 tons, and it is estimated that by 1965 they will be approximately 35,000 tons.

I believe that production at Bell Bay could be doubled at very little additional cost to this Government. It has been argued by honorable members opposite that the Commonwealth Government would be obliged to find the finance necessary for such increased production, but I point out to the committee that the Tasmanian Government has provided £1,500,000 as a direct contribution to the establishment of the project at Bell Bay. At the same time, we should also take into consideration the finance that has had to be made available by the Tasmanian Government as a direct contribution towards the supply of power and the provision of homes required by the employees of the commission at Bell Bay, in addition to the funds required to provide a first-class road between Launceston and Bell Bay. The Tasmanian Hydro-electric Commission was required to expend £8,500,000 to provide the power for the industry. Therefore, I believe that it can be argued successfully that Tasmania has made more than a reasonable contribution to the establishment of the Bell Bay undertaking.

Production at Bell Bay must be increased. All that is required is for this Government to undertake the planning that is necessary. I suggest that such planning should be commenced immediately. There is no reason why we should wait until supplies of aluminium are required urgently. Even to-day, with the limited production of aluminium that we have in this country, we are expending valuable dollars in overseas countries to import aluminium. During 1957, the Aluminium Production Commission was obliged to sell some of the Bell Bay production overseas because a government department had issued licences to import aluminium from dollar sources. I believe that the problems involved could be overcome if this Government were prepared to adopt a more realistic attitude towards the industry at Bell Bay. After all, it is an essential defence project, and the Government should so regard it.

I have already pointed out that by 1965 the amount of aluminium required in Australia will be more than treble the present production. In view of the fact that there are now vast supplies of bauxite in Australia - I refer to the deposits at Weipa, where we have almost unlimited quantities - surely it is in the best interests of all concerned for the Government to press ahead with plans to extend the industry at Bell Bay. When the original legislation was introduced in this Parliament it was made perfectly clear that, although the maximum production of the plant at Bell Bay would be only 12,000 tons a year, if the demand exceeded that amount there was nothing to prevent the government of the day from increasing production as circumstances required. We have had three Ministers for Supply in control of this great industry, but not one of them has shown any real interest in it. As each Minister for Supply has been appointed, he has visited Bell Bay, assumed that the industry has reached maximum production, and there, so far as he and the Government have been concerned, the matter has ended. When a Tasmanian was appointed Minister for Supply I thought that at least some consideration would be given to the extension of the Bell Bay plant, but I must assume that he was only too pleased to hand responsibility for the matter to the Minister for National Development (Senator Spooner) who, during his term of office, has made one visit to Tasmania. Although he indicated in a press statement that he felt there should be some extension of the Bell Bay plant, since then he has remained silent on this important subject.

In addition to the Government's responsibility to increase the output at Bell Bay, it has a responsibility to provide for extrusion, as well as for sheet and foil aluminium production. If such production were possible, in conjunction with the production of aluminium ingot. all of Australia's industrial requirements of aluminium could be met. With increasing industrialization, if the output of the Bell Bay works were increased, it might be possible to attract additional industries to the area.


The CHAIRMAN - Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

Proposed votes agreed to.







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