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Thursday, 4 October 1984
Page: 1243

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK(5.23) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

This is an important report. Its background is that the Fraser Government in its last year of office established a National Water Research Council. That Council was a significant new step in the Commonwealth's responsibilities for water research and control in Australia. The incoming Hawke Government decided to set aside the National Water Research Council and set up an institute of freshwater studies. In the past the States, through their Ministerial Council, had considered the question of an institute of freshwater studies and had rejected it and had said that in their view what was needed was a national water research council. Such a body was set up and the personnel were people of great distinction and of various disciplines throughout Australia.

We now have a situation in which an interim body was asked through terms of reference whether an institute of freshwater studies should be established and what it should do. That body has concluded that such an institute should not be established. It has concluded that in its place there should be a national water research advisory council. Indeed, this report has vindicated the Fraser Government's actions and has rejected the Hawke Government's proposals.

I am bound to say that the work-or the non-work-of the Hawke Government on water is something that deserves a mention. The Government has done nothing. Since it came to office, some 18 months have passed and still no national responsibility has been assumed for water research. At the very least the Government could have had the National Water Research Council doing its job while its position was being reviewed. It is fascinating to note that the Hawke Government has abdicated its role and responsibility for the one limited physical resource that Australia has. Australia, the most arid continent on earth, lacks water whereas it has all other main minerals. Not only has the Government been wrong in this matter, but recently the responsible Minister, Senator Walsh, came out with a statement saying that the Government would no longer initiate capital works which it regarded as being of a national quality. In other words, no longer will there be national works initiated by the Commonwealth, paid for by the Commonwealth, and therefore part of an overall plan.

The Government has rejected the bicentennial water resources program; it has rejected a $640m program, of which $350m was in direct capital grants without strings to the States. All that has gone. It has been rejected. In its place in future there will be no initiatives of any significance from the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth proposes to wait for the States to ask for a particular project and then not make capital grants but give them loans on a subsidised interest rate. Let us make it perfectly clear that the Hawke Government has abdicated its responsibility for the vital role of water conservation, storage and distribution in Australia. This report proves that the Government has been wrong in setting aside the National Water Research Council.

I hope now that the Government will accept its error and immediately reinstitute that body that has been set aside, get it going, and equip it with the necessary functions, powers and money so that this 18 months that the locusts have eaten will not be too deep a tragedy for Australia. I repeat that what the Government has touched has been deadened. What we did in the past has been proved right. What is needed now is a reversal back to the proven and effective policies.