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Monday, 22 March 2004
Page: 26862

Mr FARMER (9:23 PM) —One of the major things this country lacks is water. Water is the country's greatest commodity. It is more valuable than gold, because it has the ability to sustain life itself. However, at this moment we see an incredible amount of this asset being wasted. Many people have talked about trying to pipe water from the River Ord in the Northern Territory through to the inland to sustain communities. There has also been the suggestion of building great dams to meet our water needs for daily life and to increase the national population. However, if we do not get the rain that is needed for this process from one season to the next, it will not matter how many dams we build or how many pipes we put down; there will be nothing to collect.

We rely on the forces of nature, but I believe we need to rely on mankind's knowledge of science. It is more predictable and more reliable. We have vast tracts of land in this country that sit idle, where nothing can grow and no-one can live. We have just witnessed the most devastating drought in living memory, and it is affecting everybody. Recently it hit home in the cities around Australia. In New South Wales, water restrictions were placed on householders by the Carr government, which is now fining people for using water other than in the prescribed manner. It appears to me that we have the science, the technology and the geography to address this problem. It is not new technology; it has already been done—not only overseas in places like Dubai and Saudi Arabia but right here in our own backyard at Kangaroo Island.

The scientific system I am talking about is desalination. This is a simple process of collecting seawater and treating it to remove the salt. We live on an island and we have bountiful amounts of saltwater surrounding our shores. Whilst this project may be expensive it is accurate. We would not need to rely on the weather conditions and we could produce as much clean, clear water as we liked. Across the world there is the capacity to desalinate 23,000 megalitres of water each day. In the Middle East and North Africa, this technology is part of everyday life. In Dubai, a booming town on the edge of the Arabian desert and home to over one million people, fresh water is abundant. Most of the city's water for drinking and irrigation is purified in huge desalination plants. In fact, Dubai is the home of the world's largest industrial complexes for turning seawater into drinking water. Dubai has grown 20-fold in the past 10 years. New luxury hotels and tower blocks of apartments and offices are still mushrooming along what was known as Arabia's pirate coast. Here, too, new man-made islands will accommodate thousands of new luxury villas, each with its own beach view, to create a tourist paradise. This sort of development needs a lot of water, and desalination plants are providing it.

Australia has one of the world's harshest climates. It is a place where water is scarce once you leave the coast. We are lagging behind when it comes to water desalination. We only produce one per cent of the world's desalinated water. It is not like we do not have the technology working on our own shores: Kangaroo Island and Rottnest Island both use desalination plants to produce clean drinking water. Kangaroo Island installed a $3.5 million unit four years ago, which serves close to 1,000 people in the town of Penneshaw. It has been working fine since it was introduced. From personal experience, I cannot tell the difference between this water and the water I drink at home in Sydney.

This technology has worked on a large scale overseas. Now all we need to do is make it work on a larger scale here in Australia, and then more of the landmass will become profitable and liveable. It seems simple: with this vision for the future that will sustain Australia, combined with the natural wealth that we already have in the form of minerals and the determination of the Australian people, we will undoubtedly have one of the richest countries on the face of the earth.