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Thursday, 21 May 1970


Mr Lionel Bowen (KINGSFORD-SMITH, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Smith) - When this debate was last adjourned I was mentioning to the House the grave problems that are associated with the Malabar sewerage disposal adjacent to Maroubra beach in my electorate. I did mention on that occasion that a large protest meeting had been held. Those attending it were very concerned at the amount of industrial and sewerage waste that was being scattered over a wide area. I mentioned also that there had been a proposal by the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board which, they said, would effectively correct this problem. My submission on the previous occasion was that the research one could effectively do in a short time clearly indicated that the treatment works now being installed would not cure the problem of marine pollution. I draw attention to the fact that this Bill is concerned with maintaining the marine environment, and that includes the whole Botany Bay complex and also the beaches immediately adjoining. So it is virtually misleading the people in my area to leave the whole problem to what might be termed the sanitary engineers who may, of course, effectively design a better treatment works for the more effective and quicker discharge of effluent, but if the water itself is so polluted, that in turn destroys the whole of the marine environment. 1 want to suggest to the Minister - and I have already indicated to him - that it would be very appropriate in respect of this Institute, whose activities need not necessarily be limited to the Barrier Reef, to have in clause 7 of the Bill a provision that the interim council make recommendations as to the establishment of various branches of the Institute. I also suggest that, when we deal with sub-clause (2.), we not limit this provision to the Barrier Reef but relate it to the problems created for the marine environment, by allowing sewage to be discharged without proper treatment. Proper treatment obviously includes not only a primary and secondary treatment but also a tertiary treatment.

In the short time I have at my disposal 1 would like to indicate the attitude of the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board, which is no small authority. The amount about to be expended on the treat ment works is S32m, the number of people involved is more than 1 million, the work itself has already cost, I would say, as much as a small opera house and the effect appears to be very small indeed. In fact, the whole sea is now discoloured because of the sewage, and the people in the area are genuinely worried. Pollution is a factor that would worry most of us, but people in this area see it every day, they smell it every day, and they realise that the whole beach environment is being destroyed. Therefore, my plea to this House and the Minister is: Get this expert committee by all means to have a look at what has already happened to the Malabar ecology and estimate future dangers. A representative of the water board has said at a public meeting that it is not concerned with any health hazard; its main problem is to dispose of sewage and if it does not dispose of effluent effectively there are so many people waiting for further sewerage extensions that there will be a greater problem. We will recognise that for what it is worth. It only means this: The Board is only dealing with a small portion of the problem. If we look at the papers that have been prepared as a result of research overseas, particularly in the United States and in Canada, we find this sort of result. One paper states that domestic sewage and industrial wastes are oxygen demanding. The paper says that it has been predicted in the United States that by the year 1980 the oxygen demand of treated effluents will be great enough to consume the entire oxygen content of a volume of water equal to the dry weather flow of all of the United States 22 river basins. The Canadians have established, quite effectively, that raw or partially treated sewage is a major source of pollution. Many municipalities, particularly in Ontario, have established primary treatment plants which rid the water of about 60% of the solids. This is the proposal for Malabar - only the elimination of the solids. Very few have secondary treatment plants involving a biological process which removes all but 5% of the organic waste. Lake Erie in Canada is so polluted now that it is dying. The water has been robbed of the oxygen. All the fish have gone and choking growths of algae thriving on the rich phosphates in the sewage will turn the lake into a swamp.

This could well be the position now in Botany Bay because a number of industries are discharging their waste material into the bay. in addition, the Commonwealth authorities have aggravated the problem by dredging from the bay a quantity of material for the construction of the extension of the runway at the airport. That, in turn, has affected the whole foreshore of the bay. The area represented by my colleague, the honourable member for St George (Mr Morrison), is affected to the extent that the surfing or bathing facilities there have virtually been destroyed. Also, the oyster industry which is closely associated with the same area could well be vitally affected. A British Columbia paper says with regard to pollution:

The increase in human population can create more wastes than nature can handle. . . . Even now the methods of sewage purification rely upon nature's biological systems . . . the organisms living upon the wastes when the same are held in containers.

The paper then went on to state:

Biologists can contribute to the development of sewage treatment in a major way. lt is suggested that by selecting and improving species of micro wildlife in the treatment of sewage and organic wastes valuable materials for agriculture would be created. Wilh respect to the problems of nitrate and phosphate which remain in effluent waters it is known that algae flourish on these waste nutrients. Clearly algae grown in such controlled nutrient stripping systems could be used as . . . soil fertiliser and that nutrients are thereby properly relumed to their place of origin.

The paper went on to say that the ultimate source of sewage wastes are the green plants in the soil. It said our populations require more food and of course that in turn produces more sewage. The paper said that to maintain increased yields phosphate rock deposits and nitrates are essential but that these resources are finite. The paper said:

We are therefore creating a system which produces more sewage and more pollution and yet puts nothing back into the soil. No attempt has been made to produce a self-perpetuating stable cycle. Waste in terms of sewage is not waste at all and does not need to be disposed of. It requires nothing more than the methods for processing and re-utilisation of these organic materials.

The test used by the Department of Health in New South Wales is called the coliform count or the biological oxygen demand test. This is the test we now use as being most effective. The research in Canada clearly indicates that these tests are archaic. that they were developed about the turn of the century about the time that the major treatment for sewage was thought to be sufficient if it was discharged into a marine environment. The research people in Canada have been able to say that the mere fact of having a coli lest does not indicate that all the bacteria in the water has been destroyed. In fact, tests carried out in New Delhi clearly indicated that despite treatment by chlorine, hepatitis virus remained active; it was thought lo remain active for some 10 hours after it was discharged.

Again, on the medical aspects of pollution it has been clearly indicated that whenever human faeces are discharged into water their presence can be traced by the coliform bacillus, lt is acknowledged thai large bodies of water are capable of sterilising human waste. The paper says:

No one would object if a pint of sewage were poured into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, but many would fear if 5 million gallons ... a day were poured into a . . . channel . . .

At Malabar it is 70 million gallons a day now and the discharge is going to increase to 210 million gallons. So we can well imagine the amount of pollution that has already taken place and will take place. The paper goes on to say:

The survival of coli bacteria docs nol necessarily mirror the survival of many pathogenic organisms and viruses. For example, a polio virus type can survive from 6 to 9 days in sea water . . .

In the area which I represent a large hospital disposes of its sewage untreated, lt is an infectious diseases hospital for both polio and hepatitis patients and the people in the area are justifiably concerned that this method of disposal is not in accordance with the best standards of health. What can the Commonwealth do about it? Of course the Commonwealth would have to get the co-operation of the State in any action it wished to take.

The public meeting that I mentioned - it was held in January - was attended by a representative of the Premier. He indicated he would write to the Prime Minister about this matter. It is no known whether the Prime Minister ever received the letter. I am very fearful that unless there is an opportunity for both the Premier and the Prime Minister to discuss this problem nothing more will be done. Having had a look at the treatment works recently I fear this would be the case. The water board people who are in sole control say: 'We are not interested in any other work than work we are now undertaking'. That means that polluted water - certainly not having all the solids in it, but still effectively polluted - will continue to be discharged at Malabar merely 5,000 feet off shore, lt is not sufficient to say that this is the proper way to dispose of sewage effluent. Overseas authorities have said:

What moral, let alone legal, right does a community have of disposing of its wastes in the water without considering how this will affect the millions of people living along the shores? . . It should be clearly understood that the engineering view that ocean out-fall in natural waters is the most suitable way to dispose of sewage is just not true today . . . One widely used facility is the dano bio-stabiliser produced by an engineering firm in Copenhagen. Their mechanical biological process accelerates the conversion of refuse and sewage sludge to pathogenfree compost in 4 to 5 days followed by an ontheground maturation of up to 12 weeks. The final product is a clean mull-like material excellent for maintaining high soil fertility. In spite of these advantages one must nol be mislead thai a composting plant alone is sufficient.

There we have it in a nutshell. This country, 1 submit, is not doing any work in the field of the biological treatment that is essential to maintain marine environment. I have mentioned the articles in the 'Sydney Morning Herald', 7 of which related to Botany Bay. Alexandria Canal, as far as I am concerned, is equivalent to an oil slick. Man has effectively destroyed it. What a joke the name 'Botany Bay' is. I emphasise the word 'Botany Bay' because it was virtully a botanists dream when Cook found it. but it has now become a nightmare because it has been destroyed by us - by nobody else. The effluent from industrial factories has been discharged there. We, the Commonwealth, have disturbed what be termed the 'base of the Bay' by dredging.

We now have the sewage pollution. The shell fish industry has also been affected. It has been established that shell fish readily absorb the hepatitis virus. They absorb it some 200 or 300 times more than the water in which they are located. This itself is a problem. The fishing industry is being destroyed. It has been established overseas that the estuary where the fish spawn and breed is the main source of food, but thi< is the main source of our pollution and nothing is being done about it.

If we have a look at what is happening overseas, we see that in Sweden, which has a population of only 8 million, they are effectively dealing with this problem. Sweden has banned DDT and all other chlorinated hydrocarbons as from 1st January 1970 and has the usual types of legislation to fund research, established standard, and provide matching grants to help industry and local government to buy anti -pollution equipment. Not only in Sweden but also in Great Britain, and particularly in Canada and the United States, effective research establishments have been created. So the precedent is there. The opportunity is there, but the problem is with us. Its solution cannot wait any longer. We have, thank goodness, excellent biologists, chemists and ecologists, all of whom would be consulted as to what sort of Interim Council should be created.

I am suggesting that they be encouraged now to have a look at the treatment works at Malabar, evaluate if they can the problem that is already there, and warn the Government, whether it be State or Federal, what will be the problem in the future unless some effective treatment is encouraged at both the secondary and tertiary levels. It is no good just leaving it to the engineer. We want these scientific men employed now. We want them to go to the surf clubs and these other organisations that are so vitally interested in this problem because they see it and have in fact raised this matter to the extent that it was brought to the notice of the Premier of New South Wales and thereby to the notice of the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton). It has been known for years that the problems at Malabar, could perhaps be solved, but it has become known now for the first t:me that they cannot be solved in the way in which it was thought they could be solved. The suggestion that the solution is merely to discharge the effluents into the marine environment is no longer tenable. There must be a better method for the treatment of sewage. It can no longer be disposed of by discharging it into the marine environment. It will destroy the whole future of the area. It has effectively destroyed up to this date Botany Bay as such. With the future of Botany Bay involved now is the last opportunity to suggest to the Commonwealth that it encourage this group of scientists to have a look at this problem and report to this Parliament if need be. Now is the last opportunity to set up a select committee if need be to warn the people of the nation. At least 1 million people are involved in this project and many more will be involved in the future.







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