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Thursday, 14 March 1968

Mr FULTON (Leichhardt) - Mr Speaker,first of all I wish to congratulate the honourable member for Capricornia (Dr Everingham) on his maiden speech. Having listened to the speech just delivered by the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Jess), I point out to the House what a change of attitude has taken place. I disagree with the honourable member completely when he says that the Australian Labor Party is not for the soldier in Vietnam. We will support any member of our Army. We are definitely against our soldiers going to Vietnam. We were opposed to the legislation that lead to their going to Vietnam. But we will support the Australian soldier. We will give him all the benefits to which he is entitled when he returns. This is more than the Government will do for him.

What amazes me is the change of attitude that we have seen on the other side of the House. We are not against the soldier involved in this incident. We want to clear his name. As the honourable member for La Trobe has said, this matter has been reported in the world Press. Every nation knows what this soldier has been accused of. If we do not clear his name or hold this inquiry I am afraid that a number of other nations will take up an attitude completely different from the one adopted by the honourable member for La Trobe. This is why we are supporting this soldier. We are not against him in any way. What a change in attitude for the honourable member for La Trobe. What about the other fellow who recently was accused of certain things respecting the 'Voyager* tragedy. The honourable member for La Trobe said that he was accused wrongly.

Mr Jess - It was a slightly different case.

Mr FULTON - It is the same thing.

Mr Jess - There is no similarity.

Mr FULTON - A witness was not given a chance at the first Royal Commission hearing to give his evidence because nobody supported him. Nobody would listen to his story. The honourable member for La Trobe did. But he has changed his attitude. He is not prepared to listen on this occasion. This soldier has been accused of something. We want to have his name cleared. We do not want the matter hushed up. The more it is hushed up the worse it will be for him in the Press. But I do not wish to carry on a discussion of this matter. I have a number of more important things to say in this debate. Other speakers from this side, more capable than I am to deal with the honourable member for La Trobe, will take this matter up. But I do not like the imputation which came from the honourable member for La Trobe that I was not a supporter of any soldier who fights for this country in Vietnam. I am against our soldiers going to Vietnam. But while our soldiers are in Vietnam I will support them in every way I can.

In my maiden speech in 1959, 1 spoke of the need for northern development. I warned the members of the Parliament then that if Australia did not persist in developing that area it would lose it. A certain amount of northern development has taken place, but it has been nowhere near what I expected. I thought that the north would be developed by Australians for the benefit of the whole nation. But today we find that other countries are achieving by money what they could not achieve by the use of arms. More foreign countries than ever before are engaged in exploiting our natural resources in the north. I know that we want capital to develop certain industries. But I do not think that the Commonwealth Government, in particular, has played its part as it should have.

Australia's natural resources are being mined by private enterprise. They are being sold overseas. They are being taken away in their raw state, processed, and then sold back to us. What a difference it would make if we could process these natural resources. Employment could be given to those people who have been made redundant by mechanisation and other causes. The product that we would produce could be sold to overseas countries. This is a sorry state of affairs. We find now that all we are ending up with in the Northern Territory and North Queensland is holes in the ground. All the resources that we have - I am speaking particularly about bauxite but I include other minerals such as iron ore and phosphates - will be taken in the same way. These resources will be extracted from their natural environs in our country, taken overseas and processed. Then we will buy the processed product back from the overseas country concerned.

I agree wholeheartedly with the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr Hansen) who said that we should be processing more of our own raw materials. We should be doing this. We should be building our own ships. We should be doing all these things. It is not much good to say that we have not the technicians or that we have not the know how. I believe that we do have these things. If we do not, why should we not buy them? We did not have these things before the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme was commenced. We had to buy the men. We have them here now although the Government is not doing much about retaining their services. I would like to see more done about the retention of the whole of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority. It could work particularly for the conservation of water which is vital to the nation. At the present time, the southern part of Australia is dry. In the northern half of the country water is running straight out into the ocean in millions and millions of gallons. This water could be conversed for drought purposes. The north experiences its droughts just as much as the southern area of Australia does. But when there is a drought in the southern part of Australia there are more squeals because there is a bigger population. More cries are heard from these areas than from outlying places where not so many voices are found.

There is another interesting subject to which I would like to refer. It concerns the Great Barrier Reef. This great phenomenon is a world wonder. It is a large mass of coral comprising fauna and marine life. It is an outstanding attraction for scientists from all over the world. Amateur scientists and other people interested in marine life, as well as the professional scientists, are drawn to the Great Barrier Reef. Many people are interested in what is going to happen to the Great Barrier Reef.

A case was heard a little while ago in the Innisfail Court of Petty Sessions. A certain person made an application for special mining lease No. 11 to mine coral from Ellison Reef which is a part of the Barrier Reef. This was stated to be a dead reef. We have it from many sources - from people who know - that this reef has marine life. They say that no such thing as a dead reef exists. These people examined Ellison Reef which was supposed to be dead and they found various species of fish and live coral still in the depths of the allegedly dead reef.

I wish to draw to the attention of the House the reasoning of one of the persons who was concerned in this matter. I have great regard for him. He was a personal friend of the late Prime Minister, Harold Holt. He knew Mr Holt at Bingil Bay. He lives down that way at Mission Beach. He is the President of the Wide Life Preservation Society of Queensland, Innisfail Branch. His name is Mr J. H. Busst. I hope he does not mind me using his name here but, having spoken with him, I am sure he will not, especially because of his great concern about the Barrier Reef. This is what he has had to say on this matter:

We feel that the Mining Warden has made a who, judicial decision in refusing this application. Very considerable public feeling not only in this area, but throughout Australia, has been generated by this test case, and emphatic protests against the granting of this Great Barrier Reef mining licence have been received from famous scientists and scientific bodies throughout the world.

Now we find that the Queensland Government is calling for a lease over the whole 1,200 miles of the Barrier Reef in respect of minerals and oil. If a lease is granted I do not know what will happen when digging begins. I should imagine it will be detrimental to the Reef. It must be remembered that in addition to being a thing of beauty, the Reef, as its name implies, is a barrier for the Queensland coastline. If it were destroyed, cyclones and high winds that now blow in from the Pacific Ocean would be able to sweep across unimpeded, possibily causing the disappearance of many Queensland coastal towns, in much the same way as damage has been caused further south on the Gold Coast, which does not have protection similar to that afforded by the Barrier Reef.

Therefore it is essential that notice should be taken of the views of experts in this field. I know probably more than any other member of this chamber about the practical aspects of this problem but others who have scientific and professional knowledge of the Reef that I do not possess have written to me, requesting me to protest as strongly as I can against the possible destruction of this natural barrier. In doing so I ask all honourable members to take notice of what I am saying and to endeavour to inform themselves on the real nature of the Barrier Reef and why it should be preserved. Professor Birch of the University of Sydney calls it the most unique structure ever created by any organism, including man. Therefore anything done to destroy or damage the Reef, irrespective of the commercial profit involved, will amount to an act of utter vandalism. If the reef is destroyed for monetary gain, the people responsible must bear in mind that the damage done ultimately to the whole of the Queensland coastline will far exceed their gain.

Newspaper reports have claimed recently that enough oil can now be obtained from wells drilled throughout Australia to meet our oil needs, and that even further development is possible. Why destroy the Barrier Reef if oil is available from other sources? If the Reef is drilled for oil this will certainly lead to its destruction. I do not know what form of mining will be attempted there. Possibly it will be to obtain lime from coral, but this too could lead to the destruction of the Reef.

Other depradation is being caused by fishermen. Honourable members may have read or heard about some Chinese fishermen who were wrecked on the Reef. They were definitely fishing for clams, because on their ship they had big crowbars with a spoon-like bill that they used for digging into the coral to prise off the big clams, some of which weigh half a ton or even a ton. However, medium size clams contain only about 1 lb or H lb of muscle meat. The fishermen open the clam, extract the meat they want, and in the process destroy the clam. They throw the shell away except for pieces they might want to sell later in the form of souvenirs. The damage they do also could lead ultimately to destruction of the Reef.

I am sure that members have heard about fee starfish - I forget its technical name - and how its numbers have increased as a result of the action of visitors to the Barrier Reef in collecting a shell that they regard as valuable. I think it is called the hornbill shell. The removal of these shells has upset the natural balance of the Reef. One result has been the increase in the number of starfish. Had the Reef not been interfered with I am sure that the number of starfish would not have increased so steeply. I have been so informed by experts. A similar position applies to clam shells. If these shells are removed from the Reef in large numbers the imbalance of nature will be affected and it will lead to more damage than is caused now by the removal of the shells.

Fishermen have been operating in the vicinity of the Reef for the past 2 or 3 years but only lately have they become interested in clams. If some effective action is not taken to prevent these operations, instead of just one or two ships coming to the Reef for these shells, there will be hundreds. Already large numbers of Japanese ships are fishing for prawns in the Gulf of Carpentaria. A statement has been attributed to the responsible Minister that he welcomes the Japanese fishermen because they have the technique and knowledge to engage efficiently in prawn fishing. This is not correct. Australian fishermen have as much technical knowledge of this type of fishing as the Japanese or anyon else.

Something similar occurred in regard to diving for pearl shell off the Torres Strait Islands. Honourable members will recall that Okinawans were brought down to gather pearl shell on the pretext that the Torres Strait Islanders were not as efficient as the Japanese. This view was proved to be false; the Japanese were not as good at diving for these shells as the local islanders. Unfortunately, the bottom fell out of this business following the introduction of synthetics. But even if the market had not been affected in this way I am sure that no more Okinawan divers would have been brought to Thursday Island because they were not as successful as it was alleged they would be. I make a similar pronouncement in regard to prawning in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Recently some Japanese prawning vessels have been converted for this operation after being used to fish for tuna. This has been done because of the big find of prawns made in the area by the scientists of the CSIRO. The Japanese are quick to take advantage of discoveries like that. I hope that soon legislation will be introduced on this matter in this House or a motion on this subject will be debated here. Therefore, I shall not dwell on this matter now. I emphasise that prawn fishermen now operating trawlers in Queensland waters are capable of exploiting the prawns in the Gulf of Carpentaria. These fishermen have been working the waters off the coastline in the vicinity of Brisbane for many years and have sufficient experience at their calling. They are moving to the Gulf of Carpentaria, having received sufficient financial backing to do so. They are willing to go into the prawn business in a big way but they do not want the Japanese operating in waters that are really theirs. It is their right to develop this industry and they can do it. I am assured of this by several companies that are interested in this operation. Action should be taken quickly to prevent any intrusion of outside fishermen into the Gulf of Carpentaria by declaring the whole of it to be within our own boundaries. If the Government will not accede to this request, I make another one: I submit that any Japanese lugger or trawler coming into Australian waters on a joint fishing venture with Australians should have Australian crews and Australian skippers, not Japanese cheap labour crews. We have the men and we can do the work. There is no need for Japanese fishermen to come into our waters. We can work this great industry and earn a lot of money for Australia, while providing plenty of work for fishermen who are now having difficulty in making a living.

As I have said, Australian fishermen have sufficient knowledge of the necessary techniques; we do not need to look beyond this country for this knowledge. They have as much fishing, boating and sailing sense, and as much knowledge of prawning techniques as the fishermen of any other country. I suggest earnestly that the Government -quickly examine the notion of forming partly Japanese and partly Australian companies for fishing operations off our coast. I am sure we can succeed in such a venture; I can give any information that is required on it. There is no doubt that private Aus talian companies, using Australian ships, -sailors and fishermen, can work this industry in the Gulf of Carpentaria without help from any other country.

Debate (on motion by Mr Buchanan)


Sitting suspended from 5.57 to 8 p.m.

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