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Tuesday, 15 November 1983
Page: 2676

Mr PEACOCK (Leader of the Opposition)(3.47) —The dynamism of the Northern Territory, Australia's fastest growing region, is a lesson to all Australians. It demonstrates that with a commitment to the harnessing of individual initiative and ability, with encouragement of an aggressive and dynamic private sector and, most importantly, with imaginative, determined and constructive government policies, progress can be made even against considerable odds. The record of the self-governing Northern Territory under the leadership of Paul Everingham and the Country-Liberal Party is by any measure outstanding. The Everingham Government has created a climate in which jobs have been created at four times the national average, in which unemployment has fallen to 4.8 per cent and in which a larger and still growing population has been attracted to the Territory. Indeed--

Mr Hayden —They are leaving the Territory.

Mr PEACOCK —The Minister, in casting aspersions, as the Cabinet does from time to time, says that they are leaving the Territory. The reality is that a larger and still growing population has been attracted to the Territory. Indeed the annual growth rate of the Territory is 5.56 per cent compared with the national average of only 1.71 per cent. No wonder the Government does not understand what is happening up in the Northern Territory.

In addition to a growing population, the mining sector has developed dramatically. A dynamic tourist industry has been generated and the number of tourists there has grown by 10 per cent per annum over the past decade. Housing construction figures have doubled over the last five years. What has the Hawke Labor Government done to this state of the future, this region of such enormous economic potential?

Mr Leo McLeay —When was the last time you went there?

Mr PEACOCK —Only a few months ago, and again a few months before then. Has the Government put in place policies which will contribute further to the dynamism of the Territory? No, it has not. Has it consulted with the Territory on ways in which job growth can be even further accelerated? No. Has it looked sympathetically at the infrastructure and the development needs of the Territory ? No, of course it has not. The people of the Northern Territory do not want any special deals. They are not looking for privilege or preferential treatment. All they are after is a good old-fashioned fair go. They will not get it from this Government. This is a government whose focus is elsewhere. Whether it be the country people of Australia, the people living in the smaller or more distant States or, most importantly, the people of the Northern Territory, they can forget about ever getting a fair go from this Government. Did they get a fair go on uranium? No. Did they get a fair go on consultation over the Ayers Rock national park? No. Did they get a fair go on the Alice Springs-Darwin railway? No. They will not get a fair go because this Government does not care about the needs and aspirations of the people of the Territory.

In only eight months, the Labor Government has established a clear pattern of arbitrary, discriminatory and downright biased decision-making. The previous Government made a $546m commitment to build the long-awaited Alice Springs- Darwin railway. Even before the election, planning had started on that railway. Labor knows that this railway is important to the Territory. It knows that it would create jobs. It knows it would be central to the future development of the Territory-a real shot in the arm to its dynamic potential. I suppose it was not votes that caused the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) to make this decision. I suppose he really believed that it would be a shot in the arm for the Northern Territory , that it would create jobs and that it would be central to the future development of the Territory. I presume that is why the Prime Minister explicitly promised during the election campaign to continue with the construction of the railway. He said:

We-that is the Labor Government-if elected will complete the Alice Springs/ Darwin rail link.

That is what the Prime Minister, the honourable member for Wills, said when he was Leader of the Opposition. I hope the Labor member for the Northern Territory (Mr Reeves) joins this debate because the matter is on his conscience. He was the one who on 8 May-I hope every Territorian recalls it-said: 'I promise you that only the Labor Government can be trusted to build the Alice Springs-Darwin railway.' What did the Government do after he said that? Within a week or two it said it would not proceed with the rail link. After we protested here and in the Territory and after the Government of the Northern Territory protested, it announced an inquiry-an inquiry, after its explicit promises during the election campaign. The inquiry was not brought forward because of any concern about the impact of the decisions on the Northern Territory but simply because the decision, once again, upset the Bannon Labor Government in South Australia. The Government did not need an inquiry before the election when it gave an allegedly firm commitment and it does not need one now.

It does not need any inquiry to know firstly that the railway is of critical importance to the development of the Territory. Darwin is the gateway to Asia and one of the fastest growing markets in the world-a market with more consumers than the United States and as many as the European Economic Community but with a growth rate three or four times as great. The railway would bring Australian exports from the eastern States and from South Australia more readily to those markets, avoiding the congestion and the widespread problems of our ports.

It does not need an inquiry to know, secondly, that the construction of the railway would provide much needed contracts and with them jobs for our ailing steel industry. It is estimated that these contracts would be worth $200m to the Australian industry. Jobs would be created in New South Wales's rolling stock factories. They would be created in the Whyalla steelworks. Jobs would be created in central and northern construction companies. In total, well over 1, 000 jobs would be created. Labor knows all these facts already and its inquiry is nothing more than a sham to deflect the criticism and the anger that its decision has justifiably earned in the Territory. Every member of the Opposition knows well the feelings and the nervousness of Government members through Question Time today, not only because of the decision on the railway or the decision on uranium but also because of the way in which the Government reached its decision on Ayers Rock. This was evident particularly in the answer of the Minister for Home Affairs and Environment (Mr Cohen), who is at the table, who refused to consult with the Northern Territory Government. Why? Because he did not want to be set up. Goodness me!

I turn now to the Government's highly discriminatory uranium decision and its impact on the Territory. Again, this is a decision aimed at saving the Bannon Labor Government at the expense of all northern Australia, not just the Territory. Does this Government care about the fact that its decision will put an end to the tremendous development which could have resulted in the north from the uranium industry? Of course it does not. One of the Territory's major industries has been swept aside. Does this Government care about the traditional Aboriginal owners of the Jabiluka and Koongarra mine sites or about their desire to have a lifestyle free from government handouts? Of course it does not. I remind honourable members that such a lifestyle would have been possible with the $200m in royalties the further development of the uranium industry would have generated.

Does this Government care about the residents of Jabiru? Jabiru was established specifically for the workers in the uranium mines in the area. It was to have a population more than twice the present size. This Government has killed that possibility. Does it care about those companies which have been prepared to invest in the Territory's future? They were prepared to invest $100m in Koongarra, $50m in Jabiluka and $1m in constructing an environmental research centre. These are not, of course, issues for Labor's left so they will not be considered. Consequently, they are not issues for the Government. The concerns of these people and their legitimate claims for compensation were not even on Labor's agenda when considering uranium. When I asked the Treasurer (Mr Keating) about the matter last week he said it was not even being considered. That is a measure of Labor's concern for the people of the north.

What of the Government's latest shameful attack on the people of the Territory- the handing over of title to Ayers Rock without any consultation with the Government of the Northern Territory but, by the way, with a backdoor tip-off to the Labor Leader of the Opposition. He was told 24 hours before the Chief Minister was told. That was a dirty backdoor political deal. The plain fact is that until the issue of the lease back is resolved further development in central Australia will stultify. The Government does not care that it has jeopardised the Northern Territory's biggest tourist project, Yulara. The Prime Minister talked about the Citibank organisation at Question Time today. Citibank advised:

Funds would not be forthcoming from the banks . . . until such time as the lease arrangements were found to be accepted by the banks.

Mr Shipton —Common practice.

Mr PEACOCK —Indeed it is common practice. One can understand the caution and, in the circumstances, the scepticism of financial institutions, given this Government's appalling record for sensible decision-making. Despite what the Prime Minister said at Question Time today, today's statement by the Chairman of Citicorp Australia Holdings Ltd emphasised the importance of appropriate lease arrangements if financing is to proceed. Ayers Rock and Mount Olga are extremely significant Aboriginal sites and appropriate arrangements have to be made to protect those Aboriginal interests. Ayers Rock is also one of the most admired and treasured natural land forms of the country, and the way this Government has gone about dealing with this matter has needlessly generated widespread concern not just in the Territory but also elsewhere. I put it to the Minister that it has also harmed the Aboriginal cause. As with so many issues, this Government has talked a lot about consultation but that is all it is-empty words. This was confirmed by the Government this afternoon. On 18 April, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Mr Holding) stated that he would take the latest proposal to Mr Everingham but that was a typical Labor undertaking because no consultation ever took place. After this decision the people of the Territory must ask: What does self-government mean to the Hawke Government? If the Federal Government has to make this sort of arbitrary decision to trample all over the people of the Territory, how can a commitment to self-government be taken seriously?

In the time available, I have mentioned only three of the more outstanding attacks on the people of the Territory. There are, in fact, numerous others. I have not focused on the failure to honour the commitment on increased zone allowances. I have not focused on the cutback in funding for the brucellosis and tuberculosis eradication campaign, an extremely important project in the Territory which aimed to eradicate brucellosis completely by 1992. I have not focused on the clear threats by the Labor Government to cut back the funding program for the Territory, a program drawn up by the Fraser and Everingham governments and included in the Territory's memorandum of understanding and a program which the Commonwealth Grants Commission regards as providing insufficient funds to the Territory. I have not focused on the callous disregard of the concerns of outback Territorians in the Government's current deliberations on the use of the Aussat Pty Ltd satellite.

Honourable members who were in this House only minutes ago will realise what the Government has done. It has neglected the Territory again. Even in this latest decision announced today there is no reference to or opportunity for Territorians who have been neglected again. I have not focused on the fuel excise resulting in increased electricity and freight charges in the Territory. I have not focused on the long list of discriminatory decisions raised by the honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite) last Thursday, such as the refusal of the Commonwealth Superannuation Fund to finance a new tourist hotel in Darwin ; the neglect of the south road from Alice Springs to Adelaide; and the attempt to bypass responsibility for airports in the Territory, particularly at Alice Springs, but also at Katherine, Tindal and Darwin. In the eight months of this Government we have witnessed what can be described bluntly as a veritable vendetta against the people of the north. On 3 December they will have their chance to show this Government what they think of that. For those reasons and many more, which I would explain if time were available, we have put before the House today a matter of public importance in the following terms:

The callous disregard by this Government of the needs and aspirations of the people in the Northern Territory.

With full voice we will be supporting the incumbent Government. This Government gives the Chief Minister no support; it gives the Northern Territory Government no support. Through this Government's neglect it callously disregards the people of the Territory. That is why we have raised this matter today. Those people will turn on this Government in the ballot box on 3 December.