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Thursday, 1 September 1960


Mr JEFF BATE (Macarthur) .- Mr. Temporary Chairman,I propose to discuss the development of northern Australia. Several major questions must be answered when an under-developed country faces the problems involved in expanding its development and increasing its productivity: What can the country produce with the minimum effort? Is there a reasonable market which will justify the development of a particular industry? In other words, can we sell profitably a commodity which the country is able to produce? On this occasion, we are concerned with the development of our northern areas. Therefore, a third factor enters the appreciation, for the effect of development on our security becomes of great importance. Indeed, in the development of our northern frontier areas, this consideration may become of more importance than are the first two.

With respect to the economic factor, we have had unhappy experiences in the establishment of industries that have proved to be uneconomic. When this happens, another question is posed: Does the Government have to subsidize an industry in order to keep it going, and thereby drain the public purse and contribute to inflation, or do we eliminate the industry and break it up, with consequent losses and unemployment?

In relation to northern Australia, we are concerned with balancing the economic and the security aspects. In the foreseeable future, we may even find ourselves in a situation in which we would choose a field of development which might not appear as sound an economic prospect as are others, because such development might contribute more to a long-range plan to expand the population and promote security and defence. In northern Australia, we do not need the security aspect to spur us on, because the need to develop the beef cattle industry, which has been historically associated with northern Australia, logically and overwhelmingly directs us towards the development of the north. We have a wonderful opportunity to develop an industry which is basically sound economically and which offers magnificent prospects of earning great wealth for this nation and all its citizens. At the same time, the development of the industry will promote our security and defence in the northern areas.

The development of the beef cattle industry not only will fulfil the aims which I have just mentioned, but also will open up primitive country in a way that secondary industry can never open it up. The pioneers who took their foundation herds into the north made tracks and roads. Beside these roads were found metals which gave rise to the rich mines which, in their turn, helped to develop the primitive areas rapidly by bringing to them amenities such as modern transport and water and electricity supplies. A new factory merely adds to the congestion of a metropolitan area, but expansion of the beef cattle industry or the development of a new mine takes people to the outback, increases our production and raises our export income.

We should expand the beef cattle industry if we want to develop northern Australia, not only because this industry has been historically associated with the north but also because there is a sustained and immense demand for beef. The world's population is increasing, as is that of Australia. Owing to mechanization, hard physical labour is being eased. As a result, fats and carbohydrates are no longer in demand for the human diet. But proteins are eagerly sought after, and meat provides protein in its most desirable form. In the world to-day, no new large range areas for the breeding of cattle are coming into use, although beef is in unprecedented demand. The demand for it within Australia is unprecedented, and at the rate at which the population is increasing, the demand will continue to grow steadily. Therefore, we face a great and lasting demand for beef. At the new high level of prices, the beef cattle industry is able to gear itself to meet increasing demand internally and to expand our lucrative and buoyant export trade in beef.

All of us know, Mr. Temporary Chairman, that the pioneers of this industry, particularly in the wide open spaces of the range country of northern Australia, have struggled for a century against the grim trials of the Australian outback. There is no need for me to tell the committee of these in detail. Long dry seasons, regular dry periods after the monsoons, long dry stretches of hundreds of miles with very little water in what is probably one of the least watered countries in the world, long droving trips to markets and inadequate transport have limited the returns to the producers and often they have not been able to afford even to muster all their cattle. Only the cattle that are easily accessible are mustered, so there must be hundreds of thousands of clean skins - cattle that have never been counted - in the huge areas of Australia. The low turn-off of cattle - it is sometimes as low as 7 per cent, of the known herds - coupled with the loss in number and of condition on the drive, has resulted in very low returns indeed to the cattle men. Often the cattle have brought less than £20 a head. In fact, we hear of prices much lower than that. But a change is taking place. The buoyant demand for beef in the world markets, including the boneless meat demand in the United States of America, has completely transformed the outlook of the Australian beef industry. More profitable returns are enabling the graziers to make many improvements which they could not make with their lower returns in the past. The home market, assisted by good export prices, has yielded a high return for 80 per cent, of the meat produced.

A year ago, America suddenly began to buy huge quantities of boneless meat at high prices. Fat cattle are not favoured by the hamburger beef market. The Argentine, which is historically the great meat producer of the world, because of foot and mouth disease has been denied the United States and West German markets and has been threatened with the loss of the United Kingdom market. The germ gets right inside the marrow of the bone and thus could spread throughout the country to which the meat is exported.

In the last financial year, Australia became one of the world's premier meat exporters. Meat became Australia's second-largest export income producer, yielding £110,000,000. If, as we are told, only 20 per cent, of Australia's production of meat is exported, for which we receive £110,000,000 a year, the annual income value of the meat industry to Australia is £550,000,000. However, I believe that figure to be a very optimistic one, because Treasury returns show the value of pastoral production other than wool at less than £300,000,000. Every honorable member knows that meat sold on the home market is bringing a higher price than that exported. As I have said, if one-fifth of Australia's annual production of meat has yielded £1 10,000,000, the total value of the meat industry is £550,000,000. Our income from wool last year was about £400,000,000. As from this year, the meat industry is Australia's largest single industry. This is fortuitous because we are now considering the settlement of northern Australia.

When we look at Australia's position as a premier world meat exporter, we see that from an estimated total of nearly 12,000,000 cattle. Australia exported £110,000,000 worth of meat, while the Argentine, with between 40,000,000 and 50,000,000 cattle, obtained £115,000,000 for ils export meat. It is obvious, therefore, that Australia is a very efficient meat producer. I do not say that we produce the best quality meat, but from a beef cattle population estimated at 12,000,000 we have gained export income of £110,000,000. T, personally, do not believe the beef cattle population of Australia is only 12,000,000. 1 believe we have at least double that number of cattle. From my experience of the industry, the cattle raisers do not muster all their cattle, and they are extremely conservative when preparing their statistical returns. I believe that Australia has a huge reservoir of cattle not yet mustered, which enables us to set a very high target indeed - one which would overcome the worry of our having to depend so much upon wool as our premier industry, particularly when the price of wool is easing a little. I should like to set a target to increase Australia's export income from beef by 100 per cent, within five years. In order to meet the demand for meat in Australia, and to increase the value of our exports, the number of cattle would have to rise by 54 per cent, in ten years. The chairman of the Australian Meat Board, Mr. Shute, has said that that is impossible. He is a person of great authority and we listen to him. But these facts must be taken into consideration: The shrewd wool-grower is changing over to beef cattle; already this year the number of beef cattle is increasing by at least 2 per cent.; and a great number of cattle has not been mustered. All that is happening in phenomenally rich Queensland. Therefore, I say that, with continued good returns and a bit of luck with the weather, Australia could double its meat export income within five years.

Already a great deal has been done in the north. The Queensland Government has embarked upon a programme of strengthening the Mount Isa railway, which runs through the centre of that State. To assist in that project, the Commonwealth has granted Queensland a loan of £20,000,000. The completion of that work will greatly facilitate the movement of cattle. Already, the Commonwealth Government, over a period of ten years has spent £2,860,000 on roads in the Channel country. The Queensland Government is spending another £3,250,000 on feeder roads to the railway so that cattle can be brought to the meatworks on the Queensland seaboard.

The Northern Territory Administration has done a very sound and common-sense job. It has provided dipping and inoculating facilities at all the important points. Loading ramps and yards, as well as watering places, have been provided. On the north-south road there are operating road trains which can carry as many cattle as 85 Commonwealth rail wagons can transport. A road known as the beef road runs from Wyndham, through Fitzroy Crossing, to Derby and on to Broome, where scales are provided so that the graziers can sell their cattle by weight.

The Commonwealth and the South Australian Governments have developed a clean area, so that stores can be brought down into the south-east of South Australia and the west of Victoria, which now has the densest beef cattle population in Australia, comprising 1,650,000 cattle. Stores, after being bred on the ranges of the Northern Territory, are brought down into the fattening areas. The Western Australian Government has co-operated with the Commonwealth Government in the establishment of a new town on the Ord River. Houses have been built, and a pilot farm is being ploughed. The construction of the diversion dam on the Ord River is being proceeded with, and cash crops will be grown there so that the cattle can be topped off in dry periods when nutritious feed is in low supply.

Research has been carried out very thoroughly at the Kimberley Research Station, in the Northern Territory, and along the Queensland seaboard. The story of research in northern Australia is such that Australian veterinarians and agrostologists can now make a tremendous contribution to the welfare of the tropical areas of the world. The people who live in the tropics have never properly developed their areas, as can be seen in Java, Sumatra, India, South-East Asia and elsewhere. Work has been carried out at the Kimberley Research Station for eleven years. No area has ever been prospected, in an agricultural sense, to the extent that the Kimberley area has been experimented upon by the Kimberley Research Station.

Excellent work has also been done by the Northern Territory Administration, and also by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture and Stock in Queensland. The famous centrosema, a Javanese legume, is bringing fertility to the wet tropics. Zebu cattle have been introduced. The honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Murray) has bred these cattle on his own property in the tropics. Extensive research programmes are being undertaken in the north of Queensland, preparing us for the vast expansion that I prophesy will soon occur.

Having dealt with what the Commonwealth and State Governments can do,

I turn now to the graziers themselves, the men who have battled through in these areas for years and years, and can now see their dreams coming true. These men have had to work in places where labour was scarce, and by humanitarian methods they have made good stockmen of aborigines. They have developed water supplies on their properties, and with the capital that they have now acquired because they have been able to get a decent return, they are undertaking programmes of improvement involving the laying of thousands of feet of pipes from new bores, putting up fences in areas that have never before been fenced, and providing bull paddocks so that the quality of their stock may be improved. They include men like the honorable member for Herbert, who introduced the zebu and the Brahmin, the heat-tolerant and tick-free strains, which will make such a difference to the quality of the beef produced in the northern areas.

The committee which I had the honour to lead in a visit to the northern areas in June last, and which was so well received there, saw Brahmin cattle 2i years old of 1,100 or 1,200 lb. live weight, alongside British strains weighing only 400 or 500 lb. We saw the almost incredible difference between the zebu and the bos indicus strains, on the one hand, and the British breeds, which are not tolerant to heat and are subject to the ravages of the tick, on the other.

We saw the work that is being done by the Clausen Shipping Company. The day before we arrived at Kurumba one of the company's ships had travelled up the Norman River and loaded 300 head of cattle, which were to be fed and watered on their four-day trip to Cairns. We were told that the value of cattle had doubled because they could now be transported in this way and brought to market in a fat condition, while throughout the preceding century cattle had to be walked hundreds of miles to market, some of them dying on the stony ridges and the others arriving in very poor condition. Transport facilities, of course, make all the difference in the world. The Clausen Shipping Company can send its vessels up the rivers and load the cattle at the stations themselves. This company, which is working in co-operation with the Amagraze organization, is receiving sufficient support to enable it to obtain more vessels, and when these are in operation the situation in the north will be completely transformed.


Mr Curtin - Who finances that company?


Mr JEFF BATE - As far as I know, the finance is provided by the company itself. Private enterprise is doing the job.


Mr Curtin - The Commonwealth Bank is financing it.


Mr JEFF BATE - Well, if a bank is finding the money, the bank will get its money back. It is not a contribution by the taxpayer.


Dr Donald Cameron (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - It is a public company. Its shares are sold on the stock exchange.


Mr JEFF BATE - I thank the Minister for that information. Another transport facility that is making a big difference to the situation is the road train.

There is a wonderful opportunity for young men who care to accept the challenge and go into the wet tropics, between Cairns and Townsville, where there is some beautiful country with an extremely high rainfall. There is an area of 500,000 acres waiting to be developed. A living area comprises about 1,000 acres. It costs about £15 an acre to crash the scrub and sow the pastures, and it is then necessary to wait only a few months until the para grass, the guinea grass, the molasses grass, and the centrosema get going, and then one bullock for every two acres can be grazed for four months. Finally a fattening project can be undertaken, bringing a return of £15 a head. With a carrying capacity of one and a half head to the acre, this will give an income of between £10,000 and £20,000 for one man.

There is excitement in that area. The place is completely changing because of these possibilities. An area of 500,000 acres is available, which would give us 500 farms, producing an enormous number of fat cattle, keeping up supplies to the meatworks in north Queensland. Further south, in the spear grass country around Rockhampton, almost magical results have been obtained by the use of Townsville lucerne. This is a rather scrubby-looking legume, of not very attractive appearance. The Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) would know it, because it is grown at the Katherine Research Station. It has the wonderful property of being able to take nitrogen from the atmosphere, where it is wasted, and enrich the soil with it. The research conducted by the C.S.I.R.O. at Wide Bay has shown that with the use of this legume the carrying capacity of the spear grass country can be increased eight times. There are now 3,250,000 cattle in that kind of country, so this number can be increased to 26,000,000. One section of the Commonwealth alone, central and southern Queensland, will be able to produce as many cattle as are produced in the whole of Australia to-day.

The demand for meat will shore up all our industries. There is no cause for pessimism in considering the meat industry. The wool industry can always turn to fat lamb raising and beef cattle raising. In the dairying industry in the south young cattle can be mated with Black Poll, Hereford and other beef breeds in order to provide an additional source 'of income. The demand for meat is assisting us in many ways. The ordinary working man living in or near a country town can fatten a vealer, or perhaps two vealers, or even up to ten of them, and thus provide a little additional income for himself.

Australia now stands ready to accept the challenge issued to it by the world demand for meat. The Argentine is out of the picture, perhaps because of bad luck or perhaps because of bad veterinary practice or the old philosophy of manana - leave it till to-morrow. The Argentine now cannot go into the Unit=; States market or the West German market, and it is threatened with the loss of the British market.


Mr Curtin - Why?


Mr JEFF BATE - Because the industry in the Argentine is afflicted by foot and mouth disease, which is most serious. We have been given an excellent opportunity to expand our meat industry. We have the assistance of our brilliant veterinarians and agrostologists, who have been doing research work and preparing us for the job that is ahead. We have many hardheaded graziers, who, contrary to the stories we have heard, have not slaughtered their breeders. They may have cleaned up a few culls and a few of the leaner cattle for the hamburger market, but they have held on to their breeders. One of the reasons why there is a slight temporary shortage at the moment is that graziers are hanging on to their breeders and building up their herds, which have already increased by 200,000 or 300,000 this year. This work will cost a great deal of money. Every honorable member knows that the financial relations between the Commonwealth and the States are bound into our financial structure. The States which do not have such great resources as others would find it difficult to finance propositions such as those that I have mentioned. But there is no need to go into the question of the financial relations between the Commonwealth and the States, because already the Commonwealth and the States have, as 1 have stated, strained themselves to do a tremendous amount. Certain financial institutions abroad supply funds for development such as this. There are the International Bank and other international financial corporations which assist private enterprise. Then there is the flow of money into this country from private investors.

May we remind ourselves that unfortunately in Queensland, because the land is owned by the Government, it is a little more difficult to attract private capital from overseas than it is in other States. In Queensland the Government owns 93 per cent, of the land. I hope that wise counsels will prevail in Queensland and that some State land will be made available to the outside investors who want to come in and assist to develop Australia. We know a man with millions of pounds who will come in and take up part of the land in the wet tropics and part of the breeding areas so that they can make their contribution to the development of the beef industry. Let us remember that Queensland has passed through 45 years of socialism, and it is pretty hard to change when the lotus has been tasted for so long.

The financing of this great job will, of course, be a matter for the Development Bank. This is a sound banking proposition because, as my friend the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Bandidt) said this morning, men who were making ten shillings a head out of their animals previously are to-day making £5 a head out of them. It is a sound proposition to lend money to those people because it will be repaid. This industry is buoyant.

It is a great honour for me to come to the Parliament and report this situation so that, in the best traditions of this institution, we can give the most powerful moral support to this movement which will not only bring wealth to Australia at a time when it is needed, but also develop our great northern area.

Sitting suspended from 5.58 to 8 p.m.







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