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Wednesday, 22 February 1956

Mr MALCOLM FRASER (WANNON, VICTORIA) . - As the youngest member of this House - in passing I should like to say that if I remain a member it will take me 33 years to reach the average age of members of the Cabinet - I appreciate the honour that the electors of Wannon have shown me by returning me as their representative. We have just heard a clever, learned and academic speech from the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns). However, I feel that he has over-simplified an extremely difficult and intricate problem. One of the major factors which he has neglected in his argument is that over the last few years the Government has pursued a vigorous policy of development which has placed great stress upon our available supplies of labour, capital and materials, and this, I believe, is one of the principal causes of the inflation which we are at present experiencing.

I was very happy to note in His Excellency's Speech that adequate mention was made of defence, the necessity to maintain our armed forces and to develop them in the years to come. I think every Australian at present realizes that we cannot just sit down in our corner of the world and expect other people to allow us to remain quietly by ourselves. We owe a duty to ourselves, to future generations of Australians, and to the rest of the free world to play our part in the maintenance of world freedom and peace; and any effective foreign policy directed towards that end must, quite obviously, envisage an effective defence force. There is, however, a far more enduring kind of defence which we have been pursuing over the last few years and which, I believe, we must continue to pursue more and more vigorously. That is the development of this great continent of ours. At present we have slightly over 9,000,000 people in Australia, and when we consider that this country is equal in area to the United States of America, which has over 150,000,000 people, we must realize how sparsely inhabited this continent is. We may not have the same natural riches as the United States, but every honorable member will agree that the possibilities for development in this country are very great indeed. I am sure that I shall live to see the day when we shall have 25,000,000 people in Australia and then we shall be able to look the world in the face far more boldly and play a more effective part in the maintenance of world peace and freedom. Then, we shall not be independent^ but we shall be far less dependent on outside help in times of national emergency.

The development which I envisage and which has been taking place over the last few years has been undertaken in two spheres. First, there is the work that private people, groups of people or private companies can do. In my own part of the world, I have seen great examples of this in the agricultural and pastoral spheres. Three blades of grass have been made to grow where formerly there was only one. Three and four sheep are being carried to the acre on land that formerly carried only half a sheep. Private people are doing this throughout the whole country and it is adding to the national wealth of Australia and thereby making it possible for this country to support more people and, at the same time, maintain a large exportable surplus of primary products. Large companies are helping in this work. The Australian Mutual Provident Society scheme in South Australia will eventually bring into production over 2,000,000 acres of former unproductive Crown land which will be sold to individual settlers. That scheme is an example of adding to the national wealth of Australia.

In the industrial sphere we are manufacturing things now which a few years ago we had to import. The more we can manufacture for ourselves the less dependent we shall be on the vagaries and ups and downs of world trade. The policy of the Government over the last few years has greatly encouraged overseas countries ar.d investors to send capital to Australia so that we may build things for ourselves. Public bodies have an important part to play in our national development because many things are too big in scope or too important for private people or even groups of people to undertake alone.

I should like to say a few words about projects that are being carried out at present inluding one which I believe must receive the attention of the Federal Government in the not too distant future. First, there is the Snowy Mountains scheme about which many honorable members have a far more intimate knowledge than I possess. Eventually this scheme will produce more power than is at present produced throughout the whole of Australia. The first unit is already supplying power to homes and factories in New South Wales. I refer to the Guthega project. Eventually, enough new water will be sent down the Mumimbidgee irrigation system to increase the capacity of that scheme fourfold. Great quantities of new water will also be diverted into the Murray River for the Murray irrigation system. This is one of the best examples of Government action because it is providing new spheres of enterprise and activity for private people. The power from the projects will be used by private people in their homes or by companies to produce goods which we in Australia need for ourselves or for export. The water that will come down the two irrigation systems will be used again by individual farmers and add to the national wealth. That work shows partnership between the Australian Government and the people. Both play their part.

I wish to speak now for a few moments of a State scheme. I believe that it merits some attention from this House because it will have effects beyond the boundaries of any one State. In Victoria, a new harbour is being built at the port of Portland. In two years, the first, new berth, protected by a new breakwater stretching 2,000 yards into the sea, will be completed. Eventually, when the port is finished, it will be fitted with the most modern and efficient equipment for dealing with all kinds of primary products for despatch to the markets of the world. The port of Portland will be designed to serve western Victoria and eventually, parts of Western New South Wales and south-eastern South Australia. This port will be more necessary than ever in the years to come because development in Victoria is already overcrowding the ports of Melbourne and Geelong. When the port of Portland is used more extensively as an exporting and importing centre for the nearby hinterland, it will greatly relieve the congestion in the other ports.

The need will become more apparent as progress is made with the great developmental works that are already proceeding in that area. I shall give honorable members one or two examples to illustrate my point. About 80,000 acres of Crown land lie3 between Dergholm and Apsley. When we are able to bring this land into production and hand it over to settlers, the output from that area will be greatly increased. Within 50 miles of Portland, there is another area of between 70,000 and 80,000 acres where experiments were started by the former Victorian Minister for Lands, who is now the honorable member for Darebin (Mr. P.. W. Holt). The object of those experiments was to determine how grasses could be grown best in that locality. Those experiments were brought to a successful conclusion quite recently, and we know now how to produce grasses that will increase the productivity of that land. I believe that in the not far distant future, produce grown in that area will pass through Portland to the markets of the world.

However, Portland will not be only an experimental centre. I expect to see superphosphate works established at Portland within a short time. Primary producers will then be encouraged to go to Portland to buy their requirements and to export their produce. The output of wool from the area is increasing, and eventually wool sales will be held in Portland. That will not happen in the immediate future: it may be some years away. When that does happen, it would be worthwhile to remember that during the war years, the Australian Government built a wool store at Portland and it could be used for its original purpose.

I wish to direct my attention now to the north of Australia where large areas are, as yet, hardly touched. In the Kimberleys area there are two river valleys, those of the Ord and the Fitzroy rivers. They have a good rainfall totalling about 26 inches a year, but, unfortunately, it all falls at one period and quickly runs to waste in the sea. When those rivers are dammed, and I say " when " sure in the knowledge that this project must eventually receive the attention of the Australian Government, it will be possible to develop irrigation farms in the areas below the dams. I believe that is a national project which must be tackled by the Australian Government before long. When the work is done, new communities of Australians will spring up where now there are a few sparsely peopled and extensive cattle stations. They are run efficiently enough under existing conditions, hut with irrigation and increased productivity, those areas could support a much greater population and add almost unlimited wealth to the national income. Already experiments are being conducted in the Lower Ord Valley to determine what animals and crops can be raised there efficiently.

Any plan of development would be incomplete without communications. In that connexion, it is worth while to remember that almost 2,000 years ago, when the Romans made a conquest, they followed up their victories with the construction of some of the best highways the world has known. Supplies flowed along those roads and settlers followed in the wake of the armies. Any great and vigorous plan for national development that is undertaken in Australia will require eventually a national plan for the provision of communications, especially in the north of Australia. In fact, a national communications plan would be very good for Australia because more than 30 per cent, of our income is spent on transport. Such a national plan would help to overcome existing anomalies, particularly that created by the break m railway gauges in the various States. If the States are willing, I believe that the Australian Government must eventually direct its attention to such a national plan.

The development of what I have spoken requires two things to be successful, whether it is undertaken by private individuals, companies or by the State and Federal governments. First, we need an adequate supply of man-power. 1 was glad to note in the Governor-General's Speech that the immigration policy is to be implemented vigorously, to the limits of our economic capacity, in the years to come. Secondly, major developmental works require capital equipment. The policy of this Government over the past few years, and its success in raising loans overseas, have made possible an increase in supplies of capital equipment. In the last resort, however, the amount of capital equipment we can have, the rate of investment and of development, depend upon the relationship between consumption and investment. Our total national income is divided between the normal consumption items of e very-day expenditure and what we can put aside for private or public investment.

A few years ago, the very high prices we received for our products overseas enabled Australians to become accustomed to a high level of personal consumption. At the same time, we were able to set aside a substantial amount for major developmental projects and for investment. Now our income has been greatly 1 educed, and Australians have to choose whether they wish to continue the present high level of consumption, with less investment and lower returns, in the years to come, or whether they will make some sacrifice now so that investment in Australia, may continue to support undiminished. If the choice is put fairly before Australians, I believe that they will not hesitate. The challenge that faces us is the challenge to develop Australia. If we accept the challenge, the challenge of what we are going to do with this country, we must be determined to expand by every means at our disposal, to increase our population to 25,000,000, to develop the country so that we can support our greater population, and to maintain a high standard of living. If we are to obtain those objectives, any sacrifice in the present would be well worth while. Again, if we tackle these problems, not as six independent States, not as different groups of people pulling in different directions, but as one nation, as the one people that we are, we cannot fail.

There is one final thing that I should like to say. I was too young to fight in the last war, and I owe a debt of gratitude to those who {ought in World \Var I. as well as in World War II. But I am not too young now to fight for my faith and belief in the future of this great nation, in which the individual is, and always shall remain, supreme. I have spoken to-night of power and the prosecution of State and Federal works. I have spoken of increased population; again I believe we shall achieve a population of 25,000,000 people in this country. But all these things will mean nothing if one thing is ever forgotten - that the individual happiness of each citizen is, and must remain for ever, the first thought of our national leaders.

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