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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 2895

Senator VIGOR(4.18) —I would like to congratulate the Minister on the establishment of a Community Advisory Committee to assist the Ministerial Council on the Murray-Darling Basin Management. The mix of organisations chosen to have representatives on that Committee will be able to give valuable advice, while regional representatives will complete the panorama of interests concerned with the basin's resource management. I believe it is long overdue that we have this type of interaction between the policy makers, the users and the people in the area. It is particularly important to my State of South Australia, which receives the combined effluent of the whole basin and is absolutely dependent upon the Murray water for its survival. It seems very important to us that at least an interstate and inter-regional management group has been established which has the authority to take decisions and the ability to act promptly.

I would like to know from the Minister, whether, as well as this, the Government is considering, in the management of the whole basin, the management of the roads, because in South Australia the river not only is a link but also divides the State. There are only five bridges along the whole length of the river within South Australia and the management of the basin obviously requires some type of co-ordination between the infrastructure that exists and is provided by the States and the Federal Government, and the river.

I would also like to endorse the report of the meeting of the Australian Water Resources Council in July, which pointed out the need urgently to address the maintenance of our existing water resource assets. I believe this water resource is one of the most important assets that Australia has. It is vital that full provision is made for the maintenance of this existing asset, as well as for capital investment in new developments. This way of looking at water as a resource is extremely important. Has the Government this year fully accounted for depreciation, maintenance and renewal of existing assets in its budgetary appropriations in this area? I would like some comment from the Minister on that point.

The assumed average lifetime of water industry assets currently has been put at 100 years by a group of Commonwealth State and Territory Ministers. They estimated that the water industry needed more than $400m annually for this purpose. I would like to know what steps are being taken to ensure that this level of funding is available this year and in subsequent years, so that Australia does not build up an enormous hidden debt for the future, as assets deteriorate at a great rate. This has happened in all the developed countries in the world because of industrial pollution and various problems that have hit waterways and underground resources. I believe that the experience in Britain, Europe and the United States of America is a symptom of the decay of our current civilisation. Although I commend the Minister for his activity, I seek further information on how farsighted this Government is in trying to manage that very precious resource.