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Wednesday, 8 May 1968


Mr HANSEN (Wide Bay) - I find myself somewhat in agreement with some of the things mentioned by the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner). For instance, I agree that the information made available to the House by the Minister for National Development (Mr Fairbairn) was scanty indeed. If members had not done some homework - I am fraid that I cannot put the honourable member for Bradfield in this category - they would not know very much about why the Government is making available $20m to the Queensland Government for a particular scheme, and why it believes that this is necessary. In future more information should be made available to the House. I acknowledge that some of the investigations and correspondence between the State and the Commonwealth could be confidential, but at least some of the economics of the scheme should have been disclosed in the Minister's second reading speech. I understand that when this matter was discussed in the Queensland Parliament maps and other details giving particulars of the area were circulated to honourable members.

I refer to the Queensland Minister for Conservation, Mr Richter, concerning the economics of the scheme. He has claimed that the Queensland Government estimates that the farmers in the irrigation area, when the scheme is fully developed, will pay Sim a year to the Commonwealth by way of income tax. This means that, with a surplus of $173,000 a year from direct revenue and operation and maintenance costs, the Commonwealth will within a generation receive full repayment for the scheme. This contains a certain amount of common sense, but I have no way in which to check the figures that have been given by the Queensland Minister for Conservation. I believe that his Department has worked closely with representatives of Commonwealth departments, and I pay a tribute to the people who were responsible for this scheme and the compilation of the case to support it. I have in mind Dr Harvey of the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Mr Haigh from the Irrigation and Water Supply Commission. I pay tribute, also, to the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson), who, first in his role as a public servant and later as a member of this House, has consistently advocated that the Commonwealth should contribute to irrigation projects in the state of Queensland. He has pointed out consistently how the Commonwealth has contributed to irrigation projects in the southern States and in Western Australia but had neglected to make any contribution to Queensland. I compliment also my colleague the honourable member for Capricornia (Dr Everingham) who, by winning the by-election for that electorate, gave the Government an extra push to make the decision in favour of this part of central Queensland. It has been said that there were political motives behind it; the whole history of this scheme is political. It was announced in a pre-election speech that $50m would be made available over a period of 5 years for water conservation projects in the various States. This scheme, together with the Ord River scheme, was announced on the eve of the Senate election. It had been said that, if the Government wanted to be political about it, it could have made the announcement on the eve of the Capricornia by-election. The fact is that there are people on the Government benches who were quite confident that the Government could win in Capricornia. They were supported by the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) and other members who sat on the back benches on the other side - people who are not there tonight, although they consistently got up and, by personal character assassination, tried to malign the Australian Labor Party candidate for Capricornia. Of course, they got their answer. They thought that they could win without doing anything for the people of Queensland. On the other hand, the Australian Labour Party, by putting forward a policy that included and emphasised the development of central Queensland and the northern parts of Australia, won the seat with an increased majority.

We know that the Country Party candidate on that occasion lost his deposit. It must say that, from my personal knowledge of him, one could not have had a more widely experienced and capable candidate but that, if anything was against him, perhaps it was his age. The Country Party could not have found a better candidate than Mr Shiel to contest that by-election; but as I said, he lost his deposit.

The Minister in his second reading speech emphasised that this scheme was requested by the Queensland Government, which had put forward two schemes for which reports had been completed. They were the Emerald project and the Kolan project near the Burdekin. The Minister for National Development said that the Queensland Government requested that the Emerald project be given first priority. Later in his speech he said:

As I have mentioned, the Queensland Government then again submitted this project as its number one choice for inclusion in the national water resources development programme.

I wonder when they made this statement. I recall that less than 12 months ago members of the Bundaberg and District Irrigation Committee, who were well known to the then Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Adermann, approached the then Premier of Queensland, the Right Honourable Frank Nicklin, and the Minister for Conservation, Mr Richter, because they were worried that the Government might be placing other schemes on a higher priority than the Kolan scheme. They were given assurances that the Queensland Government had no priorities in regard to either of these schemes. I recall that about 12 months ago the Treasurer, after visiting the Emerald area, landed at the Brisbane airport and in an interview emphasised that there was a certain risk about this area because the principal crop was cotton.

The honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter) paid a tribute to the people and the local authorities in the Emerald area who prepared this case. I also should like to pay a compliment to the Bundaberg and District Irrigation Committee, which consisted of representatives from local councils, the cane growers executive and the district sugar mills, who contributed $20,000 from their own funds towards the preparation of a case. They realised the value of water and how it could be used. These people have invested in the area between the Kolan and Burnett rivers. In the general Bundaberg area more than £15m has been spent since 1952 on improving the six sugar mills. These people have spent their own money. This is a perfect example of self help. They realise the value of water and they can see the need to stabilise the industry. Their case is based on assistance to an established industry in. an established area, where two pilot farms have been operating. The results from the pilot farms have been encouraging. I understand that one of them produced 888 lb of cotton to the acre in the first year and 1,432 lb in the second year. The second farm produced 924 lb of raw cotton an acre in its first year. The Kolan scheme has been based on an established industry in which a terrific amount of capital has been invested. I admit that it is based on the sugar industry. It might be said that this industry is in a precarious position now and we might be asked why should we worry about assisting in the growing of more sugar. The Monduran Dam on the Kolan River would have a storage capacity of 450,000 acre feet and would supply water to 56 farms near the river and a further 9 farms in the Abbotsford area. It would also supply, through irrigation works which would account for the greater part of the cost of the project, 156 farms in the Gin Gin area, 167 farms in the Bingera Mill area and 12 farms in the Fairymead area. The total assigned area is 26,700 acres. For those who do not understand the sugar industry I point out that an assignment is the area in which cane is permitted to be grown.

In the years 1964 and 1965, the lost production through drought amounted to $18,790,000. That was the loss below mill peaks and does not take into account probable excess production. The greatest loss was in 1965. The growers in this area are placed in the position where they are either growing too much in good years or not growing enough in bad years. Growers have an obligation to the Queensland Government to produce a certain tonnage of cane and if this is not achieved the industry falls behind and if one area does not achieve its tonnage the assignment may be given to another area. While it may be argued that the sugar industry is in a bad position at the moment, 1 confidently believe that within 7 years - the estimated time for the scheme to reach full production - it will be prosperous to the degree where it will be considering further expansion. However, in the meantime, many cane fanners may walk off their farms and leave them to the banks.

Not only can cane be grown in this area. In recent years the farmers have turned to the growing of beans for canners in the southern States. In fact, beans are being trucked from Bundaberg as far south as Geelong to canneries. These beans are being grown on contract. The Bundaberg and District Irrigation Committee is disappointed in the Queensland Government because it was led to believe that the farmers did not have any priorities. This has been settled once and for all by the Minister for National Development (Mr Fairbairn).

The area of central Queensland where the Maraboon Dam is located is one of the most productive areas in the State. It contains 33% of the State's sheep and 34% of the beef cattle. In considering the cost of the scheme, we should bear in mind the losses that can be caused by drought. The losses during the 1965-66 drought are estimated by the Queensland Government to have amounted to $27m. Cattle and sheep losses were estimated at $14,700,000. It can be seen therefore that the losses in one year through drought exceed the amount of the Commonwealth's grant for this scheme. We welcome this scheme because it is a breakthrough in grants to the Queensland Government for water conservation. The honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) has consistently and persistently advocated such grants and has pointed out that while other States were getting this form of assistance Queensland was missing out. Now Queensland is to get something. Even though assistance has not been provided for the Kolan scheme, nevertheless as a Queenslander I am pleased to see that a start has been made in the provision of assistance to Queensland.

I listened with interest to the honourable member for Kennedy discussing the development of grain growing and the use of intensive farming to restrict sucker regrowth in the brigalow areas. This can be very expensive, particularly when machinery has to be purchased to work the large areas that have been cleared. I recall that prior to the 1939-45 war - I do not think that the honourable member for Kennedy is much older than I am - grain crops-


Mr Dobie - He does not look it.


Mr HANSEN - The honourable member for Hughes probably learned this, too, as he went to school in Brisbane. He probably learned that grain was grown in Queensland only on the Darling Downs. Immediately after World War II when there was a rationing of food and ships were being rushed from Australia to the United Kingdom to provide food for those people who had faced up to the brunt of the battle for so long, the Queensland Government developed the Peak Downs scheme. This scheme worked for a number of years and it proved that grain sorghum could be produced in that area. Eventually the original holding was divided into smaller holdings, many of which now produce more cattle than the whole area had produced previously.

Previously many large holdings were held by overseas landlords who lived in the United Kingdom or perhaps on the Riviera, soaking up the sunshine, while their properties were being worked with a minimum of effort and were producing just enough to keep these people going. Fortunately, with the foresight of successive Labor Governments in Queensland, these areas were retained . as leasehold land. It is now being broken up into smaller holdings so that Australians with little capital can be given the opportunity to establish farms. As I have said, the Peak

Downs scheme, whatever its faults and whatever criticism may have been levelled at it, did prove once and for all that grain could be grown in these areas. We now see that grain sorghum and wheat are being prescribed as the crops that should be grown there.

I support the proposed grant. However, like the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner), I wish the Parliament was given more information about such projects. Honourable members could then speak with much more confidence. The figures that I. have quoted which show a return of $1m a year in income tax to the Commonwealth Government from the people who will be living in this area are figures that were used by the Queensland Minister when he recommended the scheme to the Commonwealth Government. I hope that he is right and that the people who are to settle in this area will draw much benefit from the scheme. I particularly welcome the Commonwealth Government's participation in water conservation in Queensland.







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