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Thursday, 18 July 1946


Mr SPEAKER - Is the motion supported ?

Five honorable members having risen in support of the motion,


Mr BERNARD CORSER - My object in submitting this motion is to enable the House to discuss the necessity for appointing an expert Commonwealth authority to report to this Parliament and the States on extensive and minor water conservation and hydroelectric schemes in order to mitigate the effects of recurring devastating droughts. I urge the Government to appoint this authority immediately and on receipt of its reports, confer with the States with the express intention of reaching an agreement to launch hydro-electric and water conservation programmes throughout the country. I emphasize the importance of water conservation schemes to the welfare of primary producers and the development of Australia, and for making our land ready to receive a vastincrease of population, and for the expansion of our primary and secondary industries. Water conservation and hydro-electric schemes can be accomplished by the construction of dams on rivers and creeks and across gullies. No scheme can be too small. The hydroelectric schemes should be capable of supplying our immediate kilowatt needs as well as providing for future requirements. Such works will encourage people to settle in Australia, and promote the decentralization of our population and industries. I am aware of the existence of a ministerial statement that water conservation and hydro-electric programmes are State responsibilities. In the United States of America the federal authority has the power to construct those works, but the States own the land. However, the Federal and State authorities in America, by co-operation, have overcome their difficulties in the national interest. In Australia, the railways are owned and controlled by the States, but recently the Commonwealth Government instituted investigations, collected information, and submitted to this Parliament and the States' reports, maps and specifications for the standardization of railway gauges. The maximum cost of that project, according to estimates, will be £220,000,000; What the Commonwealth can do in co-operation with the States to standardize railway gauges, can also be done in undertaking water conservation and hydro-electric programmes. I urge too the setting up of a national expert authority to guard the destiny of the country by planning water supply schemes ambitious enough to cater for present needs, and also make the country ready to hold the population which it is destined to have. If we concentrated more- on this important objective, we should not waste so much of our time on minor issues and petty political strife as we do at the present time. There lies ahead of this country a degree of prosperity which cannot yet be fully appreciated. But this prosperity depends upon water supplies. The importance of water conservation has been proved in other countries, particularly in America. The United States has a population of 130,000,000, whereas Australia has only 7,500,000 people, most of whom live in the cities, and OU] rural population is continually decreasing. Australia's area of nearly 3,000,000 square miles, is almost equal to that of the United States of America. Yet, in the last few years, that country has increased its population by 10,000,000 whilst Australia's population has increased by only 250,000. Australia is one of the .world's most richly endowed continents, but we are unable to develop itbecause of the lack of water. We cannot decentralize our great secondary industries and we are unable to compete with other countries in the world's markets because of the lack of water aud cheap power. If we could develop the nation's . latent wealth, we could profitably absorb millions of new citizens. Under presentconditions, we are unable to provide security for our primary producers. Because of recurring droughts, we cannot be assured of good crops from year to year. In one drought alone we lost assets worth £100,000,000. Droughts are ruin-' ing not only the farmers, but also the people in our towns and cities, but while this goes on, rainwater and artesian water continues to flow into the sea. Unharnessed flood waters scour our best agricultural lands, and six months later drought ravages them. In some cases, these wind-swept fields become a total loss to production. This tragedy will continue until the mind of man comes to the rescue. Because of the effects of drought, many inland agricultural properties can-not be worked profitably except as large' holdings. Even the farmers settled on our choicest coastal land are liable to ruin and defeat by drought. Yet people ask why the rural population is moving to the cities. Country children are often disillusioned before they grow to manhood and womanhood. They share the disappointments of their parents; they see crops fail and stock die, while debts accumulate about their homes. Stark ruin in the country turns young Australians to the cities. "We continue from year to year, in one part of Australia or another, granting drought relief which the drought-stricken are expected to repay with interest. We shall do so until water conservation is made a national obligation. Primary producers deserve first consideration in' all schemes of water conservation. When rain falls the seasons are bountiful, and no man can say that Australia is not then the greatest country in the world. But we immediately disregard our past experience, and again permit billions of gallons of water to run into the sea. I have depicted, in short and in the main, what in much of Queensland to-day is plain for the eye to see and the mind to grasp. Experts should be employed at once to suggest means whereby those who are in trouble may be assisted. From the weirs on Lockyer Creek, water is pumped for a distance of 50 miles. There are small schemes, such as that on the Inkerman River, the water being pumped from the sand which lies under fertile lands. At Theodore, an earth and timber weir across the Dawson River has a capacity of 5,000 acre feet. At Bingera, private enterprise floods cane lands from a hole in the Burnett River. At "Fairymead, water is pumped from shallow wells. While awaiting national schemes of water conservation, the farmers have to struggle along with the meagre facilities of which they can avail themselves for the irrigation of their lands. The construction of the expensive Stanley dam, for the protection of the Brisbane River against flooding, has been almost completed. Queensland, with an area of 670,500 square miles, the second largest State in Australia, with irrigation could carry the whole of the present-day population of Australia and look for more. It has no water conservation schemes comparable with those of other States. Its opportunities are boundless. A scheme on the Gregory River, which was mapped out approximately 40 years ago, has not yet been begun. The Bradfield scheme, estimated to cost between £34,000,000 and £40,000,000, is well worth investigation, because by its means damaging torrents would be diverted into the dry interior of the continent. Any man who would condemn it should suggest a better one. The Government should take a lead in the matter, and not claim that the prerogative rests with some other authority. It should realize the responsibility that it owes to the nation. I hope that the. motion will be carried, and that this Parliament will do its duty to this young country by providing what is most needed in our national economy - water, and more water. We have not great waterways such as are in the United States of America, but we may be better circumstanced in tEat our numerous rivers and creeks, with their tributaries, are well spaced throughout Australia. This would prove an advantage in the distribution of water and the generation of power. There is sufficient work to last for 50 years or longer, employing engineers, large staffs of trained technicians and other experts, steel and concrete workers, surveyors and their staffs, estimators, iron workers and coal-miners, and hydro-electric plant manufacturers. There is wide scope for the use of giant earthmoving machinery, which can be purchased overseas if it is not available in this country. Each undertaking would increase industrial development and transport over a wide area. Fresh timber mills would be opened, mining ventures would be initiated, and our latent wealth would be tapped. On the coast, and throughout the water-starved areas of our vast interior, water conservation schemes would develop Australia, bringing to it wealth and prosperity, increasing its population, and ensuring the winning of crops which had been sown and the marketing of stock which to-day is lost, in one drought alone, to the value of £100,000,000. There is no " argument against the production ' of wealth by the conservation of water. I cannot recite all the possibilities, but I can mention some of our accomplishments. Victoria, . with an area of '87,884 square miles, is the smallest and most densely populated and yet . the most water-conservation minded of all the States. It is an example of the wealth that can be gained by means of irrigation. It has the Mildura, the Goulburn River, the Murray River, and many more schemes, which to-day make prosperous those who live in the districts in which irrigation is available. For an expenditure of £15,000,000, the production of the last three or four years has been £12,000,000 a year. Realizing that the farmers should not be required to bear the whole of the burden of the cost of construction, especially of the headworks of such undertakings, the State wiped off £12,500,000 of the total expenditure. In the areas of- Victoria served 'by irrigation projects, there is no loss from drought and only gain results from the labours of the primary producer. An area of 100 acres of irrigated land carries a dairy herd of 70 milch cows and their offspring, which do not fail to produce year in and year out. While droughts beset the greater part of Queensland and Western Australia, the irrigated parts of Victoria produce to the maximum degree, their production comparing favorably with that of any other part of the world. The primary producers in those parts have security. During the last drought, 1,000,000 sheep were saved in a small area between Shepparton and Kerang, measuring 110 miles by 40 miles, not all of which is irrigated. The settlers in .that district are also engaged in fruit-growing, dairying and lamb-raising. No other country in the world could compete with Queensland, with its warmer climate and longer seasons, the growing period in some parts of it extending throughout the year, if it were irrigated. It is the only country in the world in which white men produce tropical fruits such as pineapples, bananas and paw-paws, and grow sugar-cane and cotton, as well as contributing to the general requirements of commerce. In Victoria, the Goulburn Valley scheme is being enlarged. The- capacity of the Eildon Weir will be' increased to provide for nearly seven times greater production and wealth than at present. Blueprints are being prepared by no less an authority than Mr. Jack Savage, the engineer from the United States of America who was called to this country to report on the damage that had occurred to the Burrinjuck Dam in New South Wales. He is the expert who planned the Boulder Dam on the Colorado River to benefit 5,000,000 people. This is the. world's biggest structure of the kind, having a present hydroelectric capacity of 2,500,000 kilowatts. He also designed the Shasta Dam in the United States of America, which is the world's second largest dam. But these are babies compared with a huge dam on the Yangtze 'River, of which' Mr. Savage has prepared, blueprints, and which is destined to supply the water required by 144,000,000 people in China, and to put an end to the misery and poverty of 450,000,000 people. This scheme will impound the water of that great river for a distance of 250 miles, and yield 10,500,000 kilowatts, being ten times greater than the Boulder Dam. The manufacture of the electrical equipment required' for this undertaking will keep the largest factories 'of the United' States of America occupied for 24 years. ^Extension of time granted.]Mr. Savage, who was secured on loan from the United States of America, for service in Australia, similarly served the governments of India and Afghanistan while World War II. was raging.

In New South "Wales, plans are being prepared for a further expenditure of £30,000,000 on water storage, apart from the scheme on the Clarence River suggested by the right . honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page). The needs of Queensland and of Australia generally call for the services of an authority like Mr. Savage, or Mr. Sloan, who is working on the great Missouri Valley scheme, which is to provide 90 dams at a cost of $1,257,000,000 with seventeen hydro-elec- " trie plants generating 4,000,000 kilowatts for farms and factories. This dam will provide . irrigation for an additional 4,760,000 acres of farm land and 538,000. acres now occupied by struggling people. Other great schemes for water conservation could be mentioned. The fact that rivers occur in Australia for the most part throughout the continent is of advantage, and no scheme should be regarded as too small. In the "Wide Bay and Burnett areas, there arc requests and plans for water storage on the Mary River and its tributaries. In some cases the tributaries are always running, and a valuable opportunity is afforded for the storage of much-needed supplies. There are great catchment areas, particularly in the hills. Similar opportunities for conservation occur along the Burnett River and its tributaries, including the Barambah. River, which passes through fertile farm lands. Some use is now made of this water, and there are good opportunities for large storages between this area and the junction of the Barambah with the Burnett. The Barambah, for part of its course, runs constantly through a rugged gorge which would provide facilities, such as an engineer might dream about, for. the establishment of hydro-electric plants. Transmission lines could be fed with electricity for hundreds of miles, and water could be made available for use both above and below the dam. The Burnett proposal was reported on 40 years ago. I urge the appointment' of- an expert authority to report further on this scheme, with a view to a great increase in water conservation in that part of Queensland, with the consequent development of latent wealth. This would put an end to the privations of the men and women on the land in those areas to-day.







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