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Tuesday, 4 October 1983
Page: 1278


Mr COWAN(5.55) —I respect the fact that there is limited time available for this debate. I thank the Minister for Trade (Mr Lionel Bowen) for giving me the time to speak. I am always concerned about the fact that, when we discuss the Estimates, in particular those relating to water resources, more is not said about the water resources of Australia. In the three years since I became a member of this Parliament I have always been amazed by the fact that honourable members on both sides of the chamber do not talk about the need for the conservation of Australia's natural water resources. Water is tied up with production from the soil, it is tied up with Australian trade and it is tied up with the prosperity generally of Australia. Yet an amount of only $46m has been set aside in the Budget for assistance to the States. We appreciate the fact that, although water resources generally, their development and maintenance are principally the concern of the States, the States look to the Commonwealth to assist them financially, through taxation measures and through other incentives to encourage communities and governments to go ahead with the development of water resources in Australia. We have to appreciate the fact that water works are productive; in other words, they are producing, assisting our trade, lowering the cost of production on the farm, assisting in the increase of actual production per acre on the farm and bringing down farm costs, which is a very important factor today. All honourable members within the Parliament are concerned; we must be. The Government may not admit it, but the fact of the matter is that this country's economy will principally remain an economy based upon the export of primary production-the things that my colleague the honourable member for Paterson (Mr O'Keefe) spoke about a while ago-beef, grain, wool, dairy products and fruit. This is what we were reared on in this country. This is how the standard of our economy generally was built up and will continue to be built. It is important that governments of Australia recognise this. In over a century we have had eight very severe droughts. Work is important not only to conserve water but also to harness water and mitigate the effects of flooding throughout the coastal areas and the western lands of Australia.

These things are terribly important. I have been overseas and I have seen in California how the western water districts worked independently from the Government and how private consortiums joined to develop the water resources of America. We have reached the stage where consortiums within our country, Australian owned and financed, need to develop our water resources. What does it matter if we invite other countries that have the capital to join with us to develop our water resources? It is so important that this be done that I believe the Parliament should give much more attention, both within this chamber and in the States, to this very important work of water conservation. It concerns not only water for irrigation, salinity research and drought research but also domestic supplies for our stock, our towns and our cities.

In dry periods there is always a demand for water conservation to give water to people in domestic situations. I know that it is costing farmers thousands of dollars a year to cart water to their stock. Yet we see water flowing out to sea every time we have a few inches of rain. What are we doing as a nation to tackle the problem? Does Australia have an overall water resources policy? Most countries have such a policy, as the honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite) has said. I have not seen an overall policy that will develop water within Australia for the benefit of the people concerned. Water is our life blood; it is like the blood in our bodies. It keeps us going. We have to be aware of this.

I emphasise that, if those involved with the primary industries within Australia are to thrive and expand, they must be helped to keep their costs down . The best way we can assist them on the farm is by providing, wherever we can, an efficient water supply. As I said earlier, this would bring down our costs, increase the production on the farm and earn the wealth our country requires so much. I was disappointed that some of the States, particularly New South Wales, have taken away the subsidy for a farmer to conserve water on his property. I know that a taxation concession is available from the Commonwealth. I hope it is still available: I think it is. If a farmer can develop water resources on the property and build a dam it is very important that he be encouraged to do so. Let us look at this matter on a big scale. Let us, as members of parliament, say that water is the life blood of Australia. Let us follow through that doctrine. No matter what we do as far as production and exports are concerned, water is the life blood of everything we are talking about. I wanted to raise this matter again. I have spoken about it before in the House. I assure you, Mr Chairman, that while I am a member of the Parliament I will always speak favourably about more funds being allocated for water conservation.