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Thursday, 24 March 1966

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) .- I compliment the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Ian Allan) on the idea behind his motion and the manner in which he put it. We on this side of the House support the whole of the idea that he has put. It would seem to me that the facts that he gave, both as to the potential of the Darling River and the way we harness it, are well founded. The Minister for National Development (Mr. Fairbairn) made some statements which I cannot applaud so wholeheartedly. I regret that he repeated some of the arguments that he gave yesterday. I will concede that he was more gracious today to the proposals made by the honorable member for Gwydir than he was yesterday to those made by the honorable member for Dawson (Dr. Patterson). Because the Minister has repeated the arguments I must direct some attention to them. New South Wales has more water conserved and available for rural pursuits than the rest of Australia. This has mainly come about during the regime of the McKell Government and subsequent Labour governments.

The Minister referred to some matters of history. Any impartial student of Australian history would concede that Mr.

McKell was the most conservation minded head of government in Australia since Alfred Deakin. He put in hand many practicable schemes for conserving water. One must also concede in the same connection that he has certainly been the most conservation minded head of a State government that Australia has ever had as regards soil. The Government that he headed was the first one which really put in train steps to curb erosion. Let me refer to the precise dams.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! As it is now two hours after the time fixed for the meeting of the House, the debate is interrupted.

Motion (by Mr. Fairbairn) agreed to -

That the time for discussion of notices be extended until 12.45 p.m.

Mr WHITLAM - Before the First World War the only major dam commenced in New South Wales was Burrinjuck. Between the two wars the only major one was Wyangala. The Labour Government which came into office in 1941 enlarged both Burrinjuck and Wyangala and it commenced and completed dams at Keepit, Glenbawn, Burrendong and the Menindee Lakes. As I have said, more water is conserved for rural purposes in New South Wales than in the rest of Australia and Labour governments have been responsible for storing at least 80 per cent of the water so conserved. I refer merely to water for rural purposes; I completely leave out the construction of dams for the metropolitan water supply where the Sydney supply is twice that of all other metropolitan areas combined. Despite the great increase in industrial and domestic demand, the position there now is very much better than was the case a quarter of a century ago when the Labour Government was elected.

The Minister, with somewhat less relevance, referred once again to a large hole in the ground. Presumablyhe was referring to the extensions to the New South Wales underground railway system. Sydney has, due to Labour governments, a very good underground system. The next largest city in Australia, Melbourne, is only still considering the institution of these holes in the ground, by which term the Minister for National Development describes underground railway systems.

The Minister, much more faintly than used to be the case, referred to constitutional difficulties in conservation. It is only about five years ago that Country Party Ministers were stoutly asserting that it was impossible for the Commonwealth to do anything about water conservation and saying that it was an intrusion by the Federal Government to attempt to do anything in this regard. This was despite the fact that there had been, ever since 1915, River Murray Waters Acts, that there had been in 1948, under a Labour government, a Western Australia Grant (Water Supply) Act, and since 1949, again at the instigation of Labour governments, there had been successive Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Power Acts and Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority Acts. I recall that you, Mr. Speaker, had to put out the former Minister for Social Services, who is the present Ambassador to Ireland, for stoutly maintaining the proposition that the Commonwealth had no business in helping the States to conserve water. It was only three years ago that the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Anthony), as he now is, was saying that the Commonwealth had no right to help in flood mitigation on coastal rivers in New South Wales.

The Labour Party has consistently asserted that the Commonwealth Government has the power and the obligation to help in water conservation, flood mitigation and the reticulation of water supplies in the country. It has been due to our pressure that in the last three years there have been the following Acts: the Blowering Water Storage Works Agreement Act, the Menindee Lakes Storage Agreement Act and the Chowilla Reservoir Agreement Act, all passed in 1963, and the New South Wales Grant (Flood Mitigation) Act and the States Grants (Water Resources) Act, both passed in 1964. There has never been any doubt that under sections 96, 98 or 100 of the Constitution it has been possible for the Commonwealth to take the initiative in water conservation. In the United States of America the direct Federal constitutional powers to regulate the flow and the use of water are greater than they are in this country. In the expenditure of money, however, the Australian Federal Government has much greater powers than the Federal Government in the United States of America,

Canada or West Germany - the other great Federal systems.

The honorable member for Gwydir very properly pointed out that it is not only physically possible to droughtproof most areas of Australia, particularly New South Wales and Queensland which are at present suffering from droughts, but also constitutionally possible, and that it can be done only if the Commonwealth takes the initiative. In the water reticulation scheme in Western Australia, in the proposals for the waters of the River Murray, the Snowy Mountains scheme, the Blowering and Chowilla Dams, the Menindee Lakes and the coastal rivers, the initiative has been taken by the Commonwealth. Nothing would have been done about any of these proposals, as the honorable member for Gwydir has rightly said, if the Commonwealth had not taken the responsibility.

The Commonwealth has taken the initiative, where desirable, after consultation with the States. In respect of the Blowering and Chowilla Dams, agreements were made between the Commonwealth and New South Wales and these were the basis of the specific enactments that were passed by this Parliament. Associated with the Chowilla Dam, there were the already existing ancillary arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia under the River Murray Waters Act. The same three States and the Commonwealth drew up the Menindee Lakes Storage Agreement. The acts relating to the Snowy Mountains Scheme passed in recent years have been passed after consultation with New South Wales and Victoria and, in one instance, after consultation also with South Australia. The States Grants (Water Resources) Act provides for grants to all six States - Tasmania as well as the five mainland ones. It is quite clear that if this droughtproofing, which is physically possible, is ever to be undertaken it will be undertaken on the Commonwealth's initiative. One of the most valuable things that the honorable member for Gwydir did in his contribution today was to assert and prove this.

I deplore the parochial attitudes based on State rights and State jealousies that enter so often into debates such as this. The State boundaries were drawn up in

Britain more than 100 years ago, at a time when the courses of our rivers were not always known and when the flows of our streams were merely guessed at. The State boundaries have no relation whatever to Australia's physical features, whether they be mountains or rivers, to any means of communication or to the inter-relation of population and of rural and industrial activities.

Mr Peters - Why should the Riverina not be part of Victoria?

Mr WHITLAM - Some people say that it ought to be a separate State. I rather incline to that view. Water will not be conserved in the Riverina and road and railway access from there to the coast will not be improved unless the Commonwealth takes the initiative. As the Minister for National Development would know, the whole taxing scheme for the raising of revenue for roads has certainly changed since the years which he cited. The whole position was changed by decisions given by the High Court of Australia and the Privy Council in 1954 and 1955. So, as is the case with roads and railways, in water conservation nothing will now be done unless there is Commonwealth initiative.

Reference has been made to Queensland as well as New South Wales. The Darling River - our longest stream - has tributaries in Queensland as well as in New South Wales. Before the 1963 general election for the House of Representatives, the Premier and the Minister for Local Government and Conservation in Queensland and the Minister for Conservation in New South Wales were engaged with the Prime Minister of that time in considering proposals for a scheme for the border rivers planned on the lines of the Snowy Mountains Scheme. Once the election was safely over, the whole scheme was dumped and it seems now to have been forgotten. It is clear that in 1963 the State authorities wanted the scheme which the honorable member for Gwydir has made the subject of his motion today.

The great disappointment which most honorable members will find in the contribution to this debate made this morning by the Minister for National Development is that yet again he has avoided any commitment on the future of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority. The

Australian Labour Party proposed the discussion of this subject as a matter oi public importance last October and again yesterday. Today, we have proposed as an amendment to the motion an addendum suggesting the use of Snowy Mountains Authority teams in the works proposed. Can anybody doubt that the skilled teams required to carry out these works are already in existence in the Authority? It is not sufficient to say that the skilled employees of the Authority will be used somewhere in Australia or, if an appropriate request to the Commonwealth Government is made, in Bougainville, Cambodia or Thailand, or in the service of Mount Isa Mines Ltd. The great value of the employees rests in their corporate capacity - in the work which they can do as teams. This is work which has never been done so well in Australia before. It is the kind of work for which nearly every State Government has sought assistance from the Authority. When this Authority was established, the Commonwealth had to pay the United States Federal Bureau of Reclamation to design the first dams. The investigation work of the Snowy Mountains Authority's teams has now finished. The work of the design teams will finish in two years time. The work of the construction teams will end in nine years time.

Obviously, there is work to be done in Australia on the Darling and its tributaries in Queensland and New South Wales and certainly on all the rivers along the east coast of Australia. South Australia and Western Australia, except for the northern part of Western Australia, are more thirsty for water than are the eastern States. So there is work for the Snowy Mountains Authority's teams. This is work which is done best by these teams. But the Minister for National Development has still made no disclosure about what is to happen to the Authority. I know that sometimes jealousy exists or is promoted in some of the State departments dealing with works and conservation. These departments in New South Wales and Victoria are more fully equipped and more expertly manned now than they were before the Snowy Mountains Authority was established. This Authority has convinced all Governments in Australia of how much can and should be done in investigation, design and construction by skilled teams. There is no doubt of the attitude of members of the Australian Labour Party concerning the future of the Snowy Mountains Authority and the skilled teams which it already has at its disposal. I am reassured that, except in its top echelons, there is now more faith reposed by the Australian Country Party in the future of the Authority. We are still in the dark about the attitude of the Liberal Party of Australia concerning the future of the Authority and its teams. Yesterday, the Minister for National Development received from the Commissioner of the Snowy Mountains Authority the latest proposals on the future of these teams.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The time allotted for the precedence of general business has expired. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition will have leave to continue his speech when the debate is resumed. The resumption of the debate will be an order of the day under general business for the next day of sitting.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.

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