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Thursday, 4 July 1946
Page: 2252

Mr BLAIN (Northern Territory) . - I bring to the notice of the "Government the disgraceful state of affairs that has arisen in the mining industry at Tennant .Creek and Alice Springs. Alice Springs is 1,000 miles north of Adelaide, and Tennant Creek lies another 320 miles north, beyond the railways terminal. Ten years ago the miners at these two centres as the result of my assistance in the House were successful in defeating influential mining interests represented on the Stock Exchange in Adelaide who sought to prevent the area from becoming a miner's field. As the result of pressure exercised by me and by the local miners upon previous governments, three batteries were established in the Tennant Creek district. During the war, however, this Government decided on some extraordinary methods of developing Central Australia by producing wolfram. It tore the machinery out of two of these batteries and carted it to the wolfram-fields 200 miles away.

Mr Makin - Does the honorable member not know that that was done at the urgent request, of the British Government?

Mr BLAIN - I am questioning, not why it was done, but the manner in which it was done. The people of Central Australia are so incensed at this arbitrary action that the Government will always be held in contempt by them. Quoting from memory, figures supplied" to me by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), who looked after my interests while I was away, no less than £250,000 was expended on the wolfram project and only £37,000 worth of wolfram was produced from the field. Chinese, who were inexperienced in min- ing and who could never hope to be experienced, were brought from Nauru to work the field, and its direction was put in the hands of people against whom the sinister insinuation is made by the people whom I represent that they went there in the hope of eventually dominating, not only the wolfram field of Central Australia, 'but also Tennant Creek. It is to the credit of my honorable friend that under his pressure the Government hurriedly appointed him to lead, a commission to investigate the conditions at the wolfram field. It is because of his intuition and exact knowledge that compensation is being paid to the wolfram miners.

Mr Makin - In those days we were forced to use whatever labour was available to do a very urgent job.

Mr BLAIN - My complaint is about the way the job was tackled and against the- people who were put in charge. I demand to be told why the miners at Tennant Creek were hunted away and the big El Dorado mine was left unmolested. Why were the big people not hunted away, too? I Want an answer. That is plain language. I am a man of few words, but easily understood. The Minister for the Interior (Mr. Johnson), a. miner him-' self, has been to Tennant Creek. Yet he has not rehabilitated it. In view of his experience, I am amazed that he should have allowed his leg to be pulled by the people who want to concentrate all activity at one battery. I admit that he was advised by the Director of Mines at Alice Springs. I admit also that centralization means less cost. Diesel oil can be brought from Darwin. But centralization suits only the gamblers who want to concentrate the miners in one place at week-ends so that- they may bleed them. That does not suit the women. Neither does it suit the individuals- who want a .battery 16 miles out and another 27 miles out. The Minister was good enough "to -tell me that he would do nothing a'bout Tennant Creek until they have held a plebiscite on the battery question.

Mr Johnson - The honorable member does not know what !he is talking a'Bout; The battery .is working.

Mir. BLAIN. - I have the necessary correspondence to prove that the Minister has a bad memory. 'The following is a letter to me from Mr. Owen Rowe, .a good Labour man, who is secretary of the Miners and Leaseholders Association at Tennant Creek.: -

Ait a .recent meeting it resolved that a Copy of all essential correspondence -to and from the association be forwarded to you for your perusal and information. Herewith letter to the Director of Mines.

Crushing facilities .on the field 'sale far satisfactory and any assistance which you may offer in this or any other matter would be appreciated.

He knows his work and. would not write in that way unless it was straight from the horse's mouth, factual. This is a letter to the Director .of Mines at Alice Springs from the Miners and Leaseholders Association -

The above Association after a long discussion have .decided to bring before your notice the following recommendations which are immediately essential for the rehabilitation of Tennant Creek and .progress .of the goldmining industry: -

1.   That No. 1 and 2 batteries be put .into operation as soon as possible as No. 3 will not meet the requirements of the producers.

That is the one that the Minister has tardily attempted to repair. It is the one near fie town., the one last installed. The letter continues - '

The association is opposed to the centralizing of crushing facilities at No. 3 battery as is proposed by the Mines Department. We are sure that the starting of the old batteries would do more to develop the field, than 'the new proposal to centralize power at No. 3 battery.

I ask the Minister to take .particular note of that -

2.   We ask you .to review the exemption war-time regulation whereby exemption is granted to lessee for the duration of the war and six months after, protecting at the same time the interests of those still in the services.

They do not want to .jump the .claims of men still ion service.

We would point out that the majority of leases £0 protected are held .by persons who are not and were not in the services, it -is possible that not more than five leases axe held by men now du the services. Many of the leases gus held .by speculators who have done little .or nothing to .develop their leases. As it may be two or three years ,(or even longer) before the Powers .agree to sign peace treaties, you will readily see that these ExempMon .Regulations are retarding the development of the field.

3.   We ask that the Government ^establish an explosive depot a,t Tennant Creek, our solo supply is obtained at present from a store-' keeper who is reluctant to handling it, as he has no place for storage, this means we have to pay an excessive price for this essential aiming commodity,. Util a depot can .be established here jv.e ask you to instruct the Mines Department to get stocks of the necessary explosives and hold them at Tennant Creek for sale to users. This will be a great benefit to prospectors and producers if you will arrange it .at an early date.

4.   That you create a depot at Tennant Creek for the storage of mining equipment at present feeing disposed of. 'by Disposals.

That brings me to the fight that I have been having with the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Senator Ashley) about setting aside compressors- for the miners, instead of allowing them to be sold to men from .the south. I must admit that the Minister ' for Supply and Shipping ' has tried to do his best, but he has been too late every -time, because the Minister for the Interior has not conferred with him. All the -satisfaction that the Minister for Supply and Shipping has been able to get has been apologies and statements that " it will not occur again ". There is insufficient co-operation between the Ministers concerned in Northern Territory matters. It is a disgrace that men isolated in the Northern Territory who are trying to develop that area are not given priority in the purchase of goods disposed of by the Commonwealth Disposals Commission. Another matter is that because the Tennant Creek area was not prescribed as a " war area ", the Government will not replace the equipment that was stolen from the miners. Therefore, I urge the Minister to get busy. The difficulty is that he is administering so many activities that he cannot possibly devote his full attention . to the Northern Territory.

The time has arrived when a Minister for the Northern Territory should be appointed whose sole function shall be to attend to the requirements of that portion of the Commonwealth. The Northern Territory is worthy of it. All these valuable materials are being sent away from the Northern Territory and only a meagre supply is available for the individualists, the " little capitalists " whom this Government despises so much. The letter continues -

As this equipment for the most part does not deteriorate, it could be stored at Tennant Creek, and sold to' the industry generally, as it is required.

The Minister should wake up, and obtain the equipment from the Commonwealth Disposals Commission, or assist me to do so. The letter continues -

In this connexion we would point out that the engine at No. 2 battery is worn out, and engines are now being sold in the territory by disposal which are suitable; we would suggest that one of them be obtained by the Mines Department, and thus obviate delay in replacing the engine at No. 2 battery.

5.   We draw your attention to the fact that No. 3 battery started operating on the 27th May, and up to the 15th June had treated only6 tons of ore.

That is a fine condition of affairs !

Mr Frost - Why?

Mr BLAIN - I direct that question to the Minister for the Interior.

Mr.Frost. - There was no more ore.

Mr BLAIN - I welcome that interjection, because in a few minutes I shall indicate the quantity of ore at grass. The letter continues -

The trouble being the reconditioning of the machinery and plant. The association asks that you appoint a qualified engineer to take charge of the machinery at the three government batteries, firstly to effect the necessary repairs at No. 3 and then to proceed immediately with the reconditioning of No. 2 battery. The manager cannot be expected to do replacements and repairs, qualified this way he would possibly not be qualified metallurgically, so it is obvious that a qualified engineer is required as well as amanager.

6.   Owing to the slownessofgetting No. 3 battery operating, and that time must elapse before No. 2 will be put into commission, prospectors will have an accumulation of ore at grass.

For years I have been fighting to have advances made on ore at grass. The miners are quite fair to the manager and are trying to assist him -

We ask that the Government make advances against this ore on' assay value, until the batteries can handle it, . thus making the burden of the producer a little lighter. Some of the ore at grass has been there for many months.

In other words, they ask for an advance on the ore at grass until the battery functions. The letter continues -

7.   The association appointed two members to inspect and report to the association on the condition and requirement of No. 2 battery.

One of these members was for some time engaged as engineer at No. 2 battery. Copy of report submitted is attached.

We attach also a list of mines operating, quantities of ore at grass, and machinery being used by miners. We also ask that you endeavour to expedite the opening of a trading bank at Tennant Creek; you, no doubt, appreciate the necessity of a bank to handle gold -produced.

A few minutes ago, the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Frost) interjected that there was no ore available for treatment. I shall, with the consent of the House, incorporate in Hansard the full statement showing the quantity of ore that is. available under individual ownership -

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