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Thursday, 4 May 1961

Mr CHRESBY (Griffith) .- The honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Bandidt) directed attention to the important fact that Queensland is now suffering from a drought. I want to devote my attention, in the time available to me, to the subject of water. Many plans for the expansion and development of Australia have been advanced, but one plan that is lacking is a comprehensive plan for ascertaining the extent of Australia's water supplies. I do not think that the extent to which we are dependent upon water is widely realized. Australia is the world's most arid continent, and we should have some idea of the way our expansion is limited by lack of water supplies and water facilities.

It has been estimated, for instance, that the production of 1 ton of grain wheat requires something of the order of 1,100 tons of water; that the production of 1 ton of wheaten hay requires 325 tons of water; and the production of 1 ton of subterranean clover requires 525 tons of water. On the industrial side, the production of 1 ton of steel requires the use of 65,000 gallons of water, the production of 1 ton of paper requires the use of 15,000 gallons of water, and one barrel of oil requires eighteen barrels of water. The total weight of water used in secondary industry is 50 times greater than the total of all other materials.

Finding the enormous volume of water that we need for the development of primary and secondary industries poses very great problems. We must face the issue that it is estimated that Sydney will have extreme water difficulties by 1980, when the next major augmentation of water supply is planned. Facts seem to establish that Adelaide, unless it can obtain more fresh water, will be in a serious plight by 1970 and will have to choose whether to limit primary industry or secondary industry. It is frightening to realize the extent of Australia's problem. The average rainfall in various parts of the world is as follows: -


The annual river flow in the United States of America, with ten main rivers, is 900,000,000 acre feet. The Danube River in Europe alone has an annual flow of 200,000,000 acre feet, the Mississippi River in the United States of America has an annual flow of 474,000,000 acre feet and the Amazon River in South America has an annual flow of 1,780,000,000 acre feet. But the total flow of all rivers in Australia is only 200,000,000 acre feet. If the annual run-off in Australia were spread over the whole of the continent, it would give a depth of one and a third inches. The run-off in the United States of America spread over the whole of that continent would give a depth of 9 inches, and the run-off of all other land surfaces would give a depth of 9J inches. Our annual rainfall is terribly irregular. For instance, the mighty Fitzroy River fluctuates from a capacity of 219,000,000 acre feet to 28,000,000,000 acre feet. How are we to overcome the irregularity in our rainfall? There is a very definite and urgent need to establish a national water resources council. We must have a new national water concept. The national water resources council should consist of the appropriate Commonwealth and State Ministers, with a standing committee of appropriate senior departmental officers. It should have four major objectives. These should be, first, to determine what our water resources are; secondly, to discover where water flow could be increased; thirdly, to reduce water wastage; and, fourthly, to impose water use efficiency.

At the same time we badly need an Australia-wide national development committee. Such a committee should include the best that is available in scientists, technicians, engineers, agriculturists and so on, to work hand in glove with the national water resources council. If we do not do this we shall be faced with the fact that, much as we want to develop Australia, especially the north of Australia, including the provision of roads in Queensland and the Northern Territory for the movement of beef, we shall be limited to expansion in those areas where water is always available. At the present time, that means mainly two major areas in Australia - those in the vicinity of Melbourne and Sydney - because, with the exception of the very far north of Queensland, those are the areas where water is approximate and readily available. Those are, therefore, the only places where rapid industrial expansion can take place.

The water position in this country has produced various problems with which we have been faced over the years, because as industry expands in the major centres of population we shall get a further concentration of population in those areas. We shall also continue to have the wrangles that arise frequently in this place over which State or which area should get most money from the Commonwealth.

This is a particularly important problem, and not enough attention has been given to it. There has been no comprehensive survey of our national water resources, and there should be no further delay in setting such a survey in motion. There are also one or two other factors to be considered. We are told that unless we develop our great north we shall be in danger of invasion from Asia, where there are nations that want more land and would like to take over Australia. That is completely untrue. There are vast undeveloped areas in Asia which have great water resources. The problem that faces the people of Asia is that their countries are undeveloped. If they are given a chance to develop their countries there will be no need for them to look to our empty north.

Because I feel that the matter is so urgent and so important to Australia I want to stress again that we must develop, with the greatest possible speed, a national water resources council charged with research into our water problems, and with tracing the pattern of those resources. Look what happened at Mount Isa in connexion with the East Leichhardt lake, which was created as a result of the dam that was built there. It was expected that it would take about two or three years to fill the lake from known water supplies, yet it was filled in one night as the result of a storm. Such storms are not infrequent, but we do not know the pattern of rainfall, storms and so forth.

Unless we get down to doing these things very soon, no matter how much we talk about credit squeezes, shortages of timber and the wastage of our timber assets - important as these matters are - we shall get nowhere without water.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honorable gentleman's time has expired.

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