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Thursday, 20 April 1972
Page: 1915

Dr PATTERSON (Dawson) - I want to say a few words in this debate about the economy of Papua New Guinea, particularly with respect to the rural sector. It would seem from the various surveys and investigations that have been carried out in Papua New Guinea that there is considerable potential for intensive and extensive agricultural and livestock development. As was pointed out by the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean), the nucleus of New Guinea's economy is agriculture and its ability to import goods and services is, to some degree, dependent - upon its ability to export agricultural products. New Guinea produces those types of products which have big question marks on them - tropical products which are produced in reasonably large volume by other tropical countries in which there is also a recognised potential for substantial development, particularly Brazil and the other South American countries. Nevertheless,1 it is quite pleasing to see that already much of the original work carried out in the field of agricultural development, from the grass roots of soil surveys and land classification to experimentation by the Department of Agriculture in New Guinea, has shown fairly conclusively that there does exist substantial potential for intensive agricultural and livestock development.

However, I feel that the future with respect to agriculture should be treated quite carefully and that the people in New Guinea who are charged with the responsibility of agricultural development should take the gradual development of agriculture very seriously and not try to jump in and produce something quickly and then become immersed in the international marketing problems. I will elaborate on that point in a minute. It is quite clear that there is very considerable scope for development in the livestock industry, particularly in the area of beef cattle. Already, valuable work has been done with exotic breeds, as we know them, and the turn-off of meat per acre, the animal husbandry techniques and the overall agricultural-economic possibilities of this industry are most encouraging. This is one industry where there is a recognisable and sound market in the foreseeable future, particularly with the relationship between New Guinea and other countries close to the environment of New Guinea. The people of Papua New Guinea will be able to expand progressively in the beef industry by breeding up their numbers, culling and building up their herds over time and importing new blood into the country. It does seem that this industry will prosper and that there is great scope for its expansion.

Mr Garland - That is in the highlands.

Dr PATTERSON - Yes, and in the contiguous valleys as well. With respect to tropical products - I will deal with them a little more extensively later - there has been a lot of agitation in recent years for New Guinea to go into sugar production. I sound a very clear note of warning with respect to the growing of sugar as a commercial enterprise in New Guinea. No-one doubts the ability agronomically to grow sugar in New Guinea. There is no question about it. There are many parts of New Guinea which could grow sugar better, in terms of agronomy, than Australia can. This is accepted.

However, it is not just a question of growing cane. The tremendous infrastructure which is essential for a successful sugar industry involves not only very large amounts of money but also a high degree of technical know-how. Australia leads the world in its technical and marketing knowhow with respect to sugar and the efficiency of its industry as compared with those of other countries. So, I sound a clear note of warning to those people in Australia and New Guinea who advocate the establishment of a major sugar industry in New Guinea. As one who is closely associated with this industry, I know very well the problems which exist in respect of technology and research, which are concerned not only with the growing of cane but also and more particularly with the chemistry and the milling of sugar, the coefficients of output and the skill involved in the actual milling and selling of sugar which is developed not quickly but over a long period of years. I believe that the sugar industry is not the type of industry into which New Guinea should immediately jump. Certainly, let New Guinea experiment in the field to develop cane varieties, but I for one believe that it would be a grave mistake for New Guinea to enter a field like this which involves tremendous amounts of money and an infrastructure of roads, mills and bulk handling facilities and rigid marketing arrangements.

I might say that this proposition is somewhat analogous to the possibility years ago of growing sugar in the Ord River atea. The Western Australian Government wanted to do that. It was quite clear from the experimental work that was carried out in that area and from the field trials based on years of experiments at the Kimberley Research Station that that area could grow excellent sugar cane. However, once the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. Ltd did a feasibility study on the area, it was proved quite conclusively that it really would be a waste of the taxpayers' money to spend probably ยง50m to SI 00m in establishing a complete sugar industry in the northern part of Western Australia when a viable industry, in terms of world market saturation, already existed in Queensland. So, there was no point in establishing further sugar industries.

The same basic argument applies to New Guinea. Let New Guinea concentrate on the livestock industry, particularly the tropical breeds - the brahman breeds which have proved themselves in the tropics- and also on the tropical industries such as tea, coffee and cocoa. However, I believe that there needs to be a greater degree of liaison between the people of New Guinea on the agricultural production and marketing side and the research and marketing organisations in Australia because I feel that this is one area in which some deficiencies exist in' regard to New Guinea agriculture. New Guinea should have an appreciation of the future need to adopt a business-like approach to agricultural production and the need to have high level marketing people who are skilled in these fields, particularly when it is exporting commodities. 1 would also like to state that if we are to achieve closer liaison between Australia and New Guinea in the fields of agriculture and livestock production, which 1 believe is needed over time, serious consideration must be given - apparently this Government will not give it, but a Labor government certainly will - to the establishment of what is called a high security quarantine station in Australia. Australia is one of the few developed countries which do not have a high security quarantine station for the introduction of plant and animal material. It is a paradox that Australia, as one of the leading livestock and agricultural exporting countries of the world, does not have such a quarantine station. It is badly needed. Under present conditions, animals originating from countries other than New Zealand and Britain either are unable to enter Australia or must spend varying periods of time in Britain before being permitted to enter Australia. I am not arguing in any way for the relaxation of quarantine laws. 1 have never argued along those lines and I never will argue that way. In fact, I believe that the strictest quarantine laws regarding the importation of plant and livestock into Australia should apply here.

Mr Garland - As related to New Guinea?

Dr PATTERSON - Yes. If the Minister had been listening he would know that I am arguing for closer co-operation in the agricultural and livestock industries between New Guinea and Australia. The nucleus of agricultural and livestock industries in New Guinea has been supported by Australians, and the Minister should know that. Therefore in our responsibility of developing New Guinea further we should have to have a 2-way arrangement with that country in terms of scientific knowledge and technical skills. If we are to develop more closely with New Guinea we need to have high security quarantine stations in Australia. I know that the Department of Health is giving some consideration to such a station being established on .one of the islands off the Australian coast. If we want to introduce into Australia plants or livestock from New Guinea - this could even apply to dogs being brought back by people who have lived there - we have the ridiculous situation where they must spend 12 months in Britain before being permitted to enter Australia and they also must spend at least 2 months in quarantine once they enter Australia.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Luchetti - Order! I think the honourable gentleman is getting slightly wide of the subject matter of the Bill.

Dr PATTERSON - Mr Deputy Speaker,the Bill is concerned largely with the development of New Guinea and I was attempting to explain that one of the issues in the further development of New Guinea is a closer relationship between Australia and New Guinea as regards the importation of livestock. Let me return to some other aspects related to the development of New Guinea which are important to Australia. I am very pleased to say that the World Bank has made recommendations that clarification should be sought of the territorial water boundary between Australia, New Guinea and Indonesia. The resources of the off-shore waters of New Guinea are important to Australia and we are particularly concerned as to the delineation of the boundary. As you well know, Mr Deputy Speaker, great oil exploratory activity is being carried on in the grey areas of the boundaries between New Guinea, Indonesia and Australia. It is for this reason that I believe, and other members of this Parliament believe, that the quicker this territorial seas legislation is brought before the Parliament the better it will be. This legislation is most important because it would seem that in recent years New Guinea's fishing industry has become more sophisticated and it has been able to develop its fishing fleets so that they can come into proximity to Australian waters. We have before the Parliament 2 Bills which are concerned with the continental shelf and fishing. These Bills are of vital importance to New Guinea, and this whole question should be cleared up.

In the development of its agricultural industries, I made the point that New Guinea would be wise to concentrate on the production of those commodities with which it could advance gradually. This applies to the livestock industry as well as to the production of tropical commodities which are indigenous to that area. But we must realise that New Guinea is producing commodities which it could find difficult to market in the future. During 1971 - these are the latest figures available to me - the value of its agricultural and pastoral production declined slightly. Industry sources expect a slight improvement in the position but there does seem to be a question mark in relation to why there has been what one almost could call a mild stagnation in productivity in agricultural and livestock production. I think that we may find the answers to this question if we look at the international marketing situation.. If a country is exporting the major part of its crop it should look at the international scene which, of course, is really a vital factor in its considerations.

We find that last year world production of cocoa was at a record level of l.S million long tons, an increase of 6 per cent over the previous year. Nigeria emerged as a major producer. In the same year the production of cocoa in Papua New Guinea was estimated to be 29,000 tons, which represented a significant increase in its production over the previous year - an increase of some 7,000 tons. I think the significant factor is that the price of cocoa fell quite markedly which meant that Papua New Guinea had to market more cocoa to receive virtually the same amount of money as export income. From information available to me it is not certain just what is the short term future of cocoa, but one thing is certain, and that is that it would be quite wrong for New Guinea to let up on its efforts. It should continue to develop more sophisticated techniques to achieve greater productivity per acre, because this is a commodity which New Guinea can produce effectively.

Let us deal now with coffee. In the last 12 months world production was estimated to be approximately 70 million bags. This is considerably more than was produced in the previous year. There is a world expansion in the production of coffee. In Papua New Guinea coffee production in the last year has increased by about 10 per cent. It seems clear that it will have problems in the marketing of coffee also. The coffee marketing board recently has announced its willingness to provide financial support to growers to tide them over the present period of difficult marketing conditions. Let us now consider copra in terms of Papua New Guinea's agricultural development. Copra is an important item in the economy of Papua New Guinea, but there are growing problems in relation to the marketing of copra on world markets. A similar situation applies in relation to rubber. It is well known in the technological field that the supply of natural rubber, together with increasing amounts of synthetic rubber, will be sufficient to meet the total demand during the next couple of years.

The remarks that I have made in relation to coffee and cocoa could apply also to tea. There has been a slight increase in exports of tea in the last few months, but it would seem that some vigorous marketing policies must be continued with regard to tea in the future. However, the overseas scene seems to be brighter in relation to tea than in the case of some of the other commodities. Overall the economy of New Guinea is in something like the same position in which Australia found itself many years ago - that is, its development depends on agriculture.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Luchetti)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

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