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Thursday, 23 March 1961

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) (Leader of the Opposition) . - I shall not detain the House for very long. I have been requested by the Wakool Shire Council in New South Wales to bring to the attention of the House the matter of the Marraboor Weir on the river Murray. I have in my hand a copy of the " Riverina Recorder and Moulamein Times " of 17th November, 1960, which contains the following article under the heading " Marraboor question referred to Calwell": -

Failing to get satisfaction in communications with the Government through the Member for Riverina (Mr. Roberton) Wakool Shire Council on Tuesday decided to refer all relative correspondence to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) with a view to having the matter aired in the House.

The matter was brought before council when a letter was received from Mr. Roberton stating that a copy of council's letter directed to the Prime Minister had been passed on to him. He said that he was available to handle such matters and make representations to the Prime Minister and Minister for National Development (Mr. Spooner).

Commenting upon this, Cr. T. Lockhart said: " Mr. President, have we need for an errand boy? In this portion of the State we have Federal and State Parliamentary representatives and the people of this area welcome their assistance. In the case of the West Murrakool area this council has been very concerned with the plight of the settlers where stock and domestic water supplies have been affected by river regulation. Our State represenative has always appreciated the position and has spared no effort to help his people. Our Federal parliamentarian is not familiar with the problem confronting the settlers although he claims to have visited his electorate (JRiverina) 22 or 23 times since he was elected 10 years ago. I would say here and now that Mr. Roberton knows much less about the area he claims to have visited so much than any member of parliament who previously represented us."

I hope that the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Roberton) will make some reply to those observations, which were made, not by electors who just happen to be on the electoral roll in his electorate, but by a leading citizen, a former president and councillor of an important municipality which he represents. As I have read the correspondence, the story is simply this: The people of the Wakool area want a weir on the river Murray at Marraboor. They say that the damming of the river upstream has deprived them of their riparian rights and they think that the Commonwealth Government should join with the New South Wales Government and the Victorian Government in sharing the cost of putting a weir across the river.

Recently we have heard much about a plan of the Premier of South Australia for the building of a big reservoir near the confluence of the Darling and the Murray Rivers near Renmark in South Australia at a cost of £9,000,000. The Victorian and New South Wales governments have given their consent to that scheme. The Commonwealth Government is being asked to assist, and I think that some day the Commonwealth Government will have to give assistance to South Australia in this regard, because unless this water is impounded where the Premier of South Australia wants it impounded, South Australia's development will be impeded, if not completely prevented. The people in the Wakool area say that the river is drying up in their districts. They have had correspondence for months and months past commencing from 30th July, 1959, and continuing to date. I have photostat copies of all the correspondence kindly presented to me in Melbourne by Councillor T. Lockhart when he waited on me and did me the very great honour of asking me to raise the matter here on behalf of himself and the shire council. They have worked through their member of Parliament. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. King) is affected, too.

Mr Turnbull - No, he is not.

Mr CALWELL - The honorable member for Mallee is affected, too, but he is not even mentioned in these despatches. He is on the other side of the river and I suppose he is interested in the building of the dam because it affects the interests of the Victorian electors. I did the honorable gentleman the honour of listening to him the other night and I heard his questions too, but the complaint of the people of Wakool is against their present representative in this House. It is against him because he cannot get results from the Government of which he is a member, so that the plans they have in hand for the completion of the dam cannot be carried to fruition. They want the Commonwealth Government to assist. The letters have gone backwards and forwards from the shire council to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) and the Minister for Social Services. They have gone through the department controlling water supplies in Victoria and to the corresponding department in New South Wales. It all ends up the same way, with the Prime Minister or his deputy telling the shire clerk at Wakool that the Commonwealth Government has decided that it cannot give any assistance at all. The last letter of 18th August, 1960, was signed by Mr. E. J. Bunting, Secretary of the Prime Minister's Department, and he stated -

I can but repeat that the Commonwealth Government has on several occasions carefully examined this proposal and has concluded that as only two States would benefit from the construction of the weir, these two States should bear any cost of its construction under clause 30 of the River Murray Agreement.

Mr Duthie - What is the cost?

Mr CALWELL - I have no idea, but it would not be so great. It would not be of the order of £9,000,000 or even £1,000,000. The Government is seeking to avoid its obligations to these people who feel that they have been denied the normal supply of water they would have had if the flow of water had not been interfered with. The Government has evaded its responsibility by saying, " Only two States are affected, not three. If only South Australia were affected perhaps we could help, but the River Murray Waters Agreement does not oblige us to make any contribution and therefore we will not make one.

Mr Duthie - What about the Snowy scheme?

Mr CALWELL - I do not know how the Snowy scheme will affect them, but when this Government stated that it would not give South Australia its rights under the Snowy Mountains scheme the Premier of South Australia filed a writ in the High Court of Australia. As a result, he got the same rights to the Snowy River waters as he had under the original River Murray Waters Agreement for the waters of the Hume dam. He got three-thirteenths of the flow of the waters of the Snowy River for South Australia, and New South Wales and Victoria received five-thirteenths each. I think this Government should be a little more sympathetic to the people in the parched districts of western New South Wales, and northwestern Victoria.

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Has the member for the district never raised this matter in the House?

Mr CALWELL - Of course not, and it was not until the other day that the honorable member for Mallee raised it.

Mr Turnbull - That is untrue.

Mr CALWELL - When did you raise it?

Mr Turnbull - On three or four occasions.

Mr CALWELL - I think I did the honorable member for Mallee an injustice earlier to-day, and I would not want to do him two injustices in the same day. I did not hear him raise it before the other day, but he must have raised it because somebody told him that I was going to raise it. I have been asked to do so, and if any other shire councils around Australia want me to raise any matter that would embarrass this Government, I shall be only too happy to do it.

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