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Tuesday, 13 November 1973
Page: 3229

Mr MARTIN (Banks) - The Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) is carrying on in his normal fashion - like a little boy who has just lost his toffee apple.

Mr Katter - You have said that 3 times in this place.

Mr MARTIN - Well, it is a truism. It happens to be true because apparently honourable members on the other side of the House, including the right honourable member, just have not yet got used to the fact that they are no longer in office. I do wish that the Leader of the Country Party who made a series of nasty, catty, snide remarks about the Minister for Northern Development (Dr Patterson), would lift the tone of the debate and try to bring something into it which would add to the dignity of this chamber.

In speaking, to the estimates for the Department of Northern Development I should like to refer to some historic episodes which have occurred in recent years. The first historic event which assisted the development of the north of Australia occurred when the Director of Northern Development in the Department of National Development decided that he could implement his ideals in a more practical manner by becoming a member of this Parliament. That person was Dr Rex Patterson who resigned his position in the Commonwealth Public Service, and after an election for the seat of Dawson became a member of this Parliament in February 19.66. The next historic episode occurred when, after the election of a Labor Government on 2 December 1972, the Ministry of Northern Development was created and the honourable member for Dawson became its first Minister.

Over the years many pious platitudes and trite statements have been made about the need for northern development. Statements have been made that we must develop northern Australia because its comparative emptiness is a threat to our security. There may be some truth in this statement, but it is usually made in a context which implies doubt about the intrinsic worthiness of northern development. I would like to quote from an address given by a former Minister for National Development, Sir William Spooner, a member of a former Liberal-Country Party Government, in May 1964 at a symposium on the development of northern Australia. This is indicative of some of the trite statements which were made and of action which was not taken. He stated in part - and this is true:

Well over a million square miles of Australia - nearly 40 per cent of the total area of the continent - lie north of the Tropic of Capricorn. More than half of Queensland and over one-third of Western Australia are in this area. Only 20 per cent of the Northern Territory is south of the Tropic.

This was a trite remark he made:

Australians have for a long time been interested in their undeveloped northern areas but never before in our history has the challenge presented by this area been felt so strongly. Only in recent years have we become truly conscious of the great contrast between the high level of development achieved in the more densely populated parts of the continent and the relative emptiness of our undeveloped areas.

That is a trite statement if ever there was one. It is true that constitutionally the Queensland and Western Australian governments have the primary rights and responsibility for developing their own States, the Commonwealth being directly responsible only for the Northern Territory. But the Commonwealth has an important contribution to make also throughout the whole of the north. Un fortunately the Australian Governments in the past have not fully met that responsibility. Members of the former Liberal-Country Party governments for the past 23 years should hang their heads in shame for not accepting that responsibility. In the years I have been in this Parliament I have heard the honourable member for Wide Bay (Mr (Mr Hansen), the honourable member for Leichhardt (Mr Fulton) and the honourable member for Dawson, now the Minister for National Development, pressing the need for development of the northern areas of Australia, but their pleas fell on deaf ears. Rarely have I heard some members opposite, and particularly the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter), raise this matter. The honourable member for Kennedy was a Minister in the previous Government and he should have been able to achieve much, but he sat as silent as a mute.

The lack of development in the north of Australia has been the result of apathy, lack of interest and the ineptitude of the LiberalCountry Party Ministers who preceded this new Government. I agree with the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett), who led for the Opposition in this debate, that too little has been done. I quote his exact words. He said:

Too little has been done by preceding governments.

He was a supporter of those governments. He was not .a front-bencher; he was not a Minister. He has criticised his own Party and the lack of interest shown by the preceding governments in the development of northern Australia.

Some evidence of the results achieved by the Minister for Northern Development since his entry into this Parliament in February 1966 can be obtained from details of the amounts of Commonweath funds allocated for the construction and improvement of certain roads used for the transport of cattle, known as beef roads. The construction of these roads is aimed particularly at increasing the numbers of beef cattle for export. In the 5 years preceding 1966, the year in which the Minister came into this Parliament, a total of $23m was allocated for the construction and improvement of beef roads. But in the 5 years succeeding his entry into this Parliament the figure jumped to $3 3m. No doubt the Minister, with his well known modesty, will disclaim complete responsibility for this. Maybe it is a coincidence, but the facts are there. There has been a dramatic increase.

Commonwealth grants for the investigation of the water resources of northern Australia have been lacking. Vast water resources have been allowed to run into the sea when they could be utilised for the arid sections of this continent. Much has been said over the past decade about the harnessing of the waters of the Burdekin River in northern Queensland. What has been the record of 23 years of Liberal-Country Party Governments in regard to the Burdekin River? It has been precious little, if anything at all. In its first year of office, this Government did something. It did not just talk about it. Four months after coming into office a decision was made, and I read it so that it will be in the record. The decision was made in April 1973 by the Australian Government to participate in a joint FederalState Burdekin project committee to undertake a comprehensive study of the Burdekin River basin in Queensland with particular reference to water availability and the requirements of urban irrigation, power generation, industrial and flood mitigation purposes and, against the background of such a study, to develop proposals for the future development of the region. Funds were allocated for this project for this study, by the Labor Government only 4 months after coming into office. Again, quoting from the Budget Papers, I would like to give some details of the special appropriations for the year ending 30 June 1974 for northern development. This financial year, the first under a Labor Government for 23 years, an amount of $46,647,950 has been allocated for special projects in northern Australia. Last financial year, under a Liberal-Country Party Government, the amount was $29,510,693. So in the first year of a Labor Government the increase in the allocation for special northern development projects has been $17m, an increase of 60 per cent - another dramatic increase. I wish that the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony), who was setting out to denigrate the work of the Minister for National Development, were here to hear these figures, because he was the Deputy Prime Minister prior to the Labor Party's coming to power and was partially responsible and, I would say, would have had a big say in the lack of development in the north. He was in a position of power. He was in a position to influence policies, and history shows that he did not do so. He stands condemned, as do all other members of the Ministries of those years, for the travesty that has gone on in regard to the lack of development in the north of Australia - a country that is arid, that needs development and that needs a ton of money pushed into it. I admire the people in the north who have to put up with inconvenience, particularly in the grazing community, the cattle men, the ones who have battled for years, who have pressed their own Party - the Country Party - and who have pressed the Government of the day for money to be allocated. They have had to sit back and watch as drought hit them. They have had to suffer the indignity, the loss of finance and everything else because the Government of the day was inept, did not have the courage and did not have the foresight to push money into a part of Australia that sadly needs developing.

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