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Thursday, 1 December 1960


Mr ERWIN (Ballaarat) .- It is with great pleasure that I rise to support this project to which Australia is contributing something in the vicinity of £7,000,000. Other contributing countries are Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Pakistan, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. This is, perhaps, the greatest human gesture ever made by this Government. We all realize that, since the separation of Pakistan and India in 1947, the people of those two countries have endured a great deal of misery and suffering.

In appreciating the magnitude of Australia's contribution, we must bear in mind the grand gesture of the Colombo Plan as it has operated during the last nine years. As the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) has said, we have spent £34,900,000 under the Colombo Plan and, while doing that, the standard of living of the people of our own great nation has been rising. Especially should we remember this when we see what is being done overseas in the cause of propaganda. For instance, we saw what happened to the people of Poland when Russia, in an attempt to gain publicity, assisted Egypt with the Aswan Dam. We know that when Russia was giving this aid, the people of Poland, which is one of the largest cement producing countries of the world, were starved of raw materials, and were living in dejection and misery. We, on the other hand, have been lifting the standards of our people while we have been granting aid to others.

The agreement under consideration has been responsible for bringing India and Pakistan together in common understanding for the first time. For that reason alone, the effort has been well worth while. I go so far as to say that it could be the forerunner to a satisfactory conclusion of the Kashmir dispute. I only hope that it will be.

Throughout the Indus Basin, there is a population of 50,000,000, which is five times greater than that of Australia. The construction of this great dam involves the expenditure of large sums of money, something which is, naturally, beyond the financial resources of Pakistan and India combined. The six rivers of the Indus Basin, that is, the Indus itself, which rises in Tibet and flows through Kashmir to West Pakistan, and the five tributaries, three of which rise in the Himalayas in Kashmir, and two of which rise also in the Himalayas, but in India, surpass all other rivers which are primarily used for irrigation purposes. Honorable members will gain some idea of the length of the Indus, when I say that it would reach almost from here to Perth. The International Bank has estimated that the average annual discharge of these rivers is more than twice that of the Nile, three times that of the Tigris and Euphrates combined, and almost ten times that of the Colorado River. The rivers of the Indus Basin system are fed by the melting snow of the Himalayas, as I have already mentioned, and are often flooded in summer, but their flow is dramatically reduced in the winter. In fact, at some times of the year, the Indus hardly reaches the sea. In addition, the rainfall is less than ten inches per annum throughout a large part of the basin.

The irrigation network which at present exists in the Indus Basin serves almost 30,000,000 acres and is now larger than that of any other river system m the world. The area under irrigation is about the same as the total irrigated area in the United States of America. However, the area of land suitable for irrigation in the Indus Basin is about 100,000,000 acres. This is almost twice the size of Victoria or half that of New South Wales, to take a local comparison. The economic importance of the project can perhaps be seen in the fact that it is estimated that in Pakistan the additional irrigation development which this project will make possible could lead to an increase in agricultural production from £37,000,000 to £60,000,000 a year. Two crops a year can be grown on land that is already irrigated in the Indus Basin, and some of the highest crop yields in the Indian sub-continent are obtained.

The Indust Basin development scheme is expected to cost £440,000,000, which is more than the estimated cost of the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme, which is £374,000,000. The cost of the Snowy Mountains scheme to 30th June, 1959, was £163,000,000, and expenditure in the current financial year is estimated to be about £18,000,000. The cost of the Indus Basin scheme is expected to be spread over some twelve years, as the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) told us in his second-reading speech.

Along with the urgent need for water to irrigate these vast regions, Pakistan has some rather peculiar irrigation problems, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When I was in Lahore last year, I had an opportunity to discuss West Pakistan's water problem with Mr. Ghulam Farouq, chairman of the West Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority. Mr. Farouq's problems are problems of not only too little but also too much water. He pointed out to me the great problem caused by water-logging, as a result of which salt rises to the surface and destroys the fertility of the soil. We have found something similar in Australia in many of the early irrigation areas, where the salt has come to the top and the soil has been ruined for many years to come. Mr. Farouq said that when the great Punjab irrigation canals were built at the end of the nineteenth century, the water table was 1 00 feet below the surface and nobody ever contemplated that seepage from the canals would be so great as to cause the water table eventually to rise to the surface. This has been the case, however, and every year tens of thousands of acres have gone out of production.

To combat this problem, the West Pakistan authorities have instituted the tubewells pumping project by means of which the water is pumped out of the waterlogged fields and redistributed to the irrigation system so that the salt can be effectively leached out of the soil. Mr. Farouq paid tribute to the important contribution which Colombo Plan aid from Australia had made in this connexion. Agricultural pumping. electrical and mechanical equipment was supplied from Australia for the Punjab tube-wells project at a cost of approximately £2.000,000. The Indus Basin development plan envisaged by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development makes provision for further tube-wells to be constructed.

One other point, which is of importance, concerns the effect of irrigation on the flow of the rivers. Many experts in Pakistan to whom I spoke claimed that the siltation rate in the great river beds had greatly increased since canal links were introduced. It was stated that this had made the beds unstable and that this was responsible for the annual flooding of rivers in the Punjab. This problem possibly has some relevance to the problems of irrigation and siltation which we have found in the Murray valley region of this country.

There is no doubt in my mind, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that Australia has made a great humanitarian gesture by aiding the people of India and Pakistan and other under-privileged people. From time to time we hear a great deal of criticism to the effect that the free world is not doing sufficient, but Australia's assistance with respect to the Indus Basin scheme is an outstanding example of what we in the free world are doing to help the under-privileged peoples. Therefore, it is with a great deal of pride and pleasure that I support this bill.

In conclusion, I should like to quote the words with which the Prime Minister concluded his second-reading speech. He said -

This enterprise, which means so much for the common welfare of people in both India and Pakistan and represents one of the really great contemporary examples of international cooperation, can hardly fail to have beneficial effects on general relations between the two countries. The Indus waters settlement constitutes a stirrine example, I believe, of how two great nations, India and Pakistan, can co-operate with each other and with other nations in the solution of a complex and difficult issue. I should like to pay a tribute to the wisdom of their leaders and also with marked emphasis to the skilful and patient diplomacy of the representatives of the International Bank.

I also pay tribute to the leaders of India and Pakistan and to the representatives of the International Bank.

Sitting suspended from 5.52 to 8 p.m.







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