Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 25 September 1958

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lawrence (WIMMERA, VICTORIA) - Order! I ask the honorable member for Mallee to remain silent.

Mr COUTTS - Seeing that the story I am about to tell concerns water, I will make it as clear as possible. The right honorable member for McPherson gave an undertaking, when he was speaking in the township of Boonah, that if his party was successful the Government it supported would see that one of the projects which Queenslanders have been desiring to see undertaken for some years would be proceeded with, namely, a dam on the Burdekin River.

The Burdekin River has an enormous catchment, and during the wet season a vast quantity of water flows from the region to the sea. It irrigates a very fertile sugarproducing area in which there are great possibilities of developing other crops provided water is made available at the appropriate time. An investigation was made into the economics of the Burdekin dam project before construction began, and it was hoped that the Federal Government would assist materially by making money available. The cost of building this dam will be very considerable. As I have said, a representative of the Australian Country party gave an undertaking in the township of Boonah that if he became a member of the Government, to quote his breezy words -

We will build the Burdekin dam.

He was reported very favorably in the Queensland press along those lines. Of course, the Queensland electorate naturally expected the word of this gentleman would be honoured. They regarded him as being >a gentleman on that occasion. Of the eighteen representatives from Queensland sent to this Parliament at that election, fifteen were supporters of the new Commonwealth Government, being members of either the Liberal party or of the Australian Country party. But since that time no effort has been made by the Treasurer to honour his word. Rather, he has repudiated it and gives, as his justification for that repudiation, the excuse that the inforto him by the then Premier of Queensland,mation on the Burdekin dam project given the late Mr. Hanlon, was not in accordance with fact. That is quite an easy way to dodge the issue. He is not even prepared to make a token gesture by recommitting the scheme for further investigation to see what can be done.

That is an illustration of how this Commonwealth Government has refused to assist Queensland. The State government, from its own resources, which are quite meagre, in view of the size and population of the State, has itself constructed a very worthwhile irrigation scheme in the electorate of the honorable member for Leichhardt (Mr. Bruce). I refer to the vast Tinaroo dam, which- cost many millions of pounds. It was financed entirely from State resources, and will be largely responsible for settling many hundreds of families in the fertile areas of Mareeba and surrounding districts, where high-grade tobacco is produced, as well as other primary products for which markets will be readily available.

This shows what can be done by a government that has the drive to do something even though it may be short of funds. This work was carried out by successive Labour governments in Queensland to develop the northern part of that State. From time to time, it has been said by people of various political shades in the Commonwealth that northern Queensland must be developed because it is the area closest to that part of the world from which, should a war occur, we may expect attack. As we know, during the war years when Japan was bearing down on Australia, the target was northern Queensland. We must have population in that area if it is to be a bastion for the defence of the Commonwealth.

But this Commonwealth Government is adopting a " Brisbane-line " attitude. As far as it is concerned, Australia ends at the Tweed River. It is doing nothing at all either by grants or other assistance for national works to develop the State of Queensland. As the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) pointed out, a highly productive sugar industry is operating within a narrow strip along the coast of northern Queensland. It is the principal primary industry in northern Queensland. I gather from newspaper reports to-day, however, that that industry is being threatened by Japan, which is one of our principal buyers. A conference is being held in Geneva at the present time at which the right honorable the Treasurer is the Australian delegate.

Japan is adopting quite a threatening attitude in her efforts to have the price of sugar to the importing countries considerably reduced. If this attempt succeeds it will be another blow at Australia's export industries. We must take serious notice of the attitude of Japan in this matter, because last year Japan purchased from us sugar to the value of £5,600,000, compared with the previous year's purchases worth £1,827,000 - an enormous increase! I hope that the outcome of - the conference in Geneva will not be disastrous for Australia's sugar producers, but preliminary reports suggest that we can expect the outcome to be most unsatisfactory. I hope that the Treasurer will keep the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) and the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) well informed on the progress of this matter, and not leave us to discover one day that another great industry - the sugar industry - is being attacked by a decision of a foreign government, just as we have seen the lead and zinc industry attacked by the action of the United States.

I heard the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) deride the former Labour government of Queensland in relation to war service land settlement, his criticism being based principally on the fact that he had not been successful in his attempt to become a settler under the scheme. I think that the taxpayers of Australia have cause to be grateful that the Queensland government of the day did not settle the honorable member for Moreton on the land when it was found that he would have been a most unsuitable settler, because settling him on the land would merely have added to the losses incurred already under the scheme. We want men of the right type to go on the land and become producers, men who will make a success of things under that scheme. We know that the honorable member for Moreton was regarded as likely to be a failure in that regard, so it is a good thing that he was denied the opportunity to waste his efforts on this form of primary production. He has been sent into this place, and to judge from his behaviour here, and the lack of seriousness with which he is taken by members of the Government parties, apparently he is as great a failure here as he would have been on the land. He is one of the few left of the formerly large number of members on the Government side who shared the belief that we must not trade with Asian countries that do not belong to the democratic group. The vast majority of members on the Government side have now come round to the belief that we have to sell our products to people who are prepared to buy them.

I turn to the subject of north-western Queensland, where we have seen great development in recent years, and where we hope to see still greater development. A body blow has been struck against one of the principal mining products of northwestern Queensland, by a friendly nation, the United States of America. America is our principal market for pig lead. Trade returns show a gradual decline in America's purchases of lead from Australia, and this is reflected in the output of Broken Hill mines, which for some considerable time have been working with one reduced shift every fortnight. That has not happened at Mount Isa, as yet.

In 1957, we exported to the United States of America pig lead to the value of £12,600,000, but this year the export value has dropped to £6,649,000. These figures were supplied by the Commonwealth Statistician. Now we find that not only has the U.S.A. imposed a tariff on lead, but she has also instituted quantity restrictions on lead imports. Australia's exports of lead to the United States have been cut by the United States Government by 20 per cent.

It is idle to say that the Commonwealth Government did not know what was going to happen about lead and zinc exports to the United States. On 27th August I asked the acting Minister for Trade whether he was aware of the situation that had developed with the passing by the United States Congress of the Mineral Subsidy Bill providing for the imposition of tariffs on imported metals. Some time ago, the Minister for Trade, who is now overseas, made his first speech as leader of the Australian Country party at Bundaberg, in which he praised the president of the United States of America for postponing the adoption of the tariff proposal submitted by the United States House of Representatives Tariff Committee. He led the people of Australia, and of Queensland in particular, to believe that a great service had been done thereby to the lead producers of Australia. But the American President is faced with a hostile Congress, the majority party in which is not of his own political persuasion, and he could only postpone the passage of the bill pending an inquiry. So, from at least the middle of August, this Government must have been aware of the deterioration of Australia's position in the lead market in the United States.

Early in September, the United States Congress passed the Mineral Subsidy Bill, which imposed a tariff on all imported minerals. As the United States is our principal customer for lead and zinc, obviously the effect of the passing of that measure must have been quite apparent to the Government in advance.

Mr Bowden - What do you want us to do - declare war on America?

Mr COUTTS - Of course not! I am merely pointing out that the Government must have, or should have, known what was going to happen to the lead market.

Mr Bowden - You are denying the Americans the right to manage their own affairs.

Mr COUTTS - It is good to know where the members of the Australian Country party stand in this. They are wholeheartedly in accord with the blow of the assassin; they have no horror of the blackjack that has hit Australia's lead producers. Miners employed at Mount Isa and Broken Hill will suffer from this latest attack by the United States Government. It has been reported that the Minister for Trade is exceedingly angry about it, but he is not prepared to go to Washington to see whether something can be done.

Mr Roberton - Nonsense!

Mr Bowden - Of course it is nonsense! The honorable member should not be allowed to say these things.

Mr COUTTS - The Minister says " Nonsense ", and he is echoed by the honorable member for Gippsland. If it is nonsense, it is like the answer given by the Minister to a question concerning the powers of the Director-General of Social Services. I can only base my opinions on what I read in the press. The Melbourne " Herald ", a most reliable journal, said that the Minister for Trade was intending to go to Washington about this matter, but the press to-day says that the Minister will not go to Washington. So apparently the Minister, as leader of the Australian Country party, reflects the opinions of the members of the little group in the corner, who wholeheartedly agree with what has been done, and are quite enthusiastic about this blow to Australia's mining industry, and are prepared to let the matter drift along.

Members of the Labour party want to see some action, some attempt made to regain this important lead market. It is a bad thing that the United States has done to this country which, through thick and thin, and in the face of much criticism, has been an ally of the United States ever since World War II. At times, Australia has deviated from the path of the Mother Country, merely to support the United States Government. On this occasion, the United States Government has shown its contempt for the people of Australia by making this attack on this most important industry.

In northern Queensland lead is produced at Mount Isa, and I have no doubt that, from time to time, honorable members will hear the honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) extolling the virtues of this industry. I merely make passing reference to it. It has been proved that there is ample scope for development at Mount Isa. It is one of the big new mining fields of the world. It is one of the great discoveries of this age, but it needs money to develop it. One of the first requirements of a mining field is a market for its product. Now, a savage attack has been made on this important industry.

From time to time, the Queensland Government will, no doubt, make statements concerning what will be done to develop the State of Queensland. Nothing has been done for Queensland by the Commonwealth Government, but I do not want to attack only the Commonwealth Government. I think that somebody else should share the blame, and it must be borne, to some extent, by the State Government. Recently, the Deputy Premier of Queensland, Mr. Morris, and a large number of members of the Liberal party were sent on a grand tour overseas at the citizens' expense. The necessary money was paid out of the tax reimbursements granted by this Parliament. The purpose of the tour, to quote the words of the Deputy Premier, was "to sell Queensland to the investors overseas ".

After hearing this statement, one might envisage a flock of investors and manufacturers following Mr. Morris back into Queensland in order to invest large sums of money, establish factories, provide work, and produce manufactured goods. But the trip was completely abortive. Not one industry has been brought back to Queensland. On their return from this trip the Deputy Premier and those who went with him talked about the virtues of the Gold Coast and the value of the tourist industry. Of course, the virtues of the Gold Coast were known far and wide throughout Australia and in other parts of the world before these people made this tour. Tt was not necessary for. Mr. Morris to go overseas and spend the taxpayers' money merely to come back to Queensland and tell us of the advantages of the tourist industry to Queensland.

I hope that, when the Queensland Government applies to the Commonwealth for financial assistance, the social services which have been built up in that State over many years by successive Labour governments will not be attacked. Queensland, under a Labour government, was the only State with free hospitalization. Queensland has the best hospital system in the Commonwealth. Any citizen can go into a public hospital in Queensland, whether run by the State or by a religious institution, and receive free hospital treatment.

Mr Forbes - Who destroyed it?

Mr COUTTS - It has not been destroyed, but it is in danger of being destroyed by the present Government of Queensland. I have been reliably informed that the number of beds in public hospitals in Queensland is not being increased. Instead, more provision is being made in intermediate wards in general hospitals so that people will be forced, ultimately, to enter the intermediate wards and pay for treatment in them. The number of beds in public hospitals is not being increased commensurately with the increase in Queensland's population.

As I have said, in social services, Queensland leads the Commonwealth. I hope that that lead will be maintained and that the important social services which the people of Queensland have come to regard as their right will not be diminished. I fear that if Queensland does become a claimant State attempts will be made to reduce the standard of social services in that State to the level of social services in the other States of the Commonwealth. Consequently, I hold great fear for the future of the free hospital system in Queensland. Queenslanders would be horrified if they lost this.

Other features of Queensland's development are not being fairly treated by this Government, but I can touch on them, at another opportunity. I would say that the Commonwealth Government, in the eyes of Queenslanders, stands condemned for its refusal to assist in the development of Queensland. The Commonwealth Government has assisted every State in the Commonwealth except Queensland. The vast Snowy Mountains scheme is being developed for the benefit of New South Wales and Victoria. Big grants have been made to South Australia for the construction of the railway to the Leigh Creek coalfields and for the widening of narrow gauge railways to the broad gauge of 5 ft. 3 in. Vast sums have been granted to Western Australia for north-western development, for water conservation, and as a subsidy on gold. Millions of pounds have been spent in Tasmania on the development of the Bell Bay aluminium project. But not one item of national development can be cited in the State of Queensland in which the Commonwealth Government is interested. The people of Queensland must continue to express their horror at this attitude. They must not be complacent; they must assert their rights and insist that this Government pay some attention to the needs of their State. I hope that they will do that at the first opportunity that presents itself.

Suggest corrections