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Tuesday, 2 June 1970

Mr HANSEN (Wide Bay) - The measure before the House which was announced by the Minister for National Development (Mr Swartz) on 15th February 1970 is to ratify the Commonwealth's allocation of a grant of $ 12.8m to the Queensland Government for what is known as the Bundaberg Irrigation Works. The case for this scheme was carefully prepared and strongly supported by the Bundaberg and

District Irrigation Committee which comprised 6 local authorities in the area, 6 sugar mill areas which were represented by both the millers and suppliers and other interested organisations. Besides a substantial initial contribution of $20,000 to the cost of preparation of this case the local canegrowers have also been prominent in the promotion of the Bundaberg irrigation scheme. If there is any cause for disappointment it is that in agreeing to make a contribution to the scheme the Commonwealth has rejected the initial request for a scheme totalling $47m which would also include the Isis and Bingera areas which are, perhaps, the areas most devastated by drought and which even today, despite the good early season, look like facing a crushing in which the mills will not reach their peaks.

These 2 areas are not included in the scheme for which the Commonwealth has made a contribution of $ 12.8m which, with the State's contribution, will ensure that the Bundaberg-Kolan regional scheme will finance, first of all, a barrage on the Burnett River, a barrage on the Kolan River, the Woongarra distribution system, the Gooburrum distribution system, the Abbotsford system, the Giveloa system and the Monduran Dam with a pipeline to the Monduran Dam for which the Commonwealth will make a contribution of $8m as part of the $12.8m. This figure will also include a 19-mile pipeline from the Monduran Dam to Gin Gin with a feed line to the Burnett River via Sheep Station Creek near Gin Gin. I am pleased to follow 2 prominent men who have made a substantial contribution towards development in Australia in recent times. I refer to the previous Minister for National Development, the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn) and his chief and most able adviser, the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson). Both these men have very forcibly put forward the case on the economics of this scheme. The honourable member for Dawson has moved the following amendment:

Thai all words after 'That' be omitted wilh a view to inserting the following words in place thereof:

The technical evaluation and any cost benefit analyses earned out by the Commonwealth for the project near Bundaberg be made available to this House'.

I do not think that the amendment is an unreasonable one. There has been some opposition, particularly from honourable members of the Liberal Party, to the proposition which was defended so ably by not only the honourable member for Dawson but also the honourable member for Farrer. I believe it is right that when J similar schemes are put forward such ini formation should be available to the House I whether it be on irrigation schemes or other national projects, lt is essential. 1 do not think it is beyond The capability or capacity of the Commonwealth Government departments to produce such information and make it available to honourable members.

The Queensland Government, through the Irrigation and Water Supply Commission and the Department of Primary Industries, has already put forward a comprehensive report on the cost analysis of this scheme as compared with other schemes. One of the points which they have made - I say this without any malice at all even though the city of Bundaberg is within my electorate - is that both the departments and the Queensland Government have indicated that the economics of this scheme are far superior to those of the Nogoa, now the Fairbairn Dam scheme. They have agreed on this point. If it is within the capacity of the Queensland Government to put forward a case such as this and make it available to members of the public who are interested and to members of Parliament, I see no reason whatsoever why the Commonwealth should not make available this report. I am quite convinced in my own mind of the economics of this scheme which will bring stability to an existing industry in an already established area. I disagree with the view of the honourable member for Farrer that this might lead to all sorts of arguments to the effect that this point should be taken, this evaluation should or should not have been made, and so on.

The Queensland Government has seen fit to put forward this case, lt has made recommendations to the Commonwealth. The initial recommendation was in favour of the Nogoa scheme in preference to the Kolan scheme as it was then known. In doing this the Queensland Government may have had its own reasons but the point is that the Commonwealth acted on the advice of the

Queensland Government in this measure. The advice could quite easily have been given on political grounds. Whether or not this action is taken on political grounds 1 welcome it. My only regret is thai it does nol incorporate the entire scheme; it means only a partial contribution by the Commonwealth at this stage to the scheme, lt is expected thai the work on the Monduran Dam will commence in 1972-73 and will lake some 3 years to complete. The channelling works will entail quite a considerable amount of work and it is quite feasible that the money that has been allocated by the Commonwealth and the Slate of Queensland in this instance will not be spent within the 5-year period. Within the next quinquennium perhaps we can expect to see further assistance to the complete scheme which has as its purpose the stabilisation of an existing industry in an established area.

The mills and the facilities are there and the people are experienced in the production of sugar. I point out that the Bundaberg area is the third largest sugar producing area in Queensland producing some 16% of the entire harvest and servicing 6 mill areas. This scheme will provide additional irrigation from surface water to existing assignments from which a number of farms are now irrigating, and will release a number of farms which are now irrigating from an overloaded underground supply. Ii has been clearly staled - and investigations have proved it to be correct - that retention of surface water increases the underground supplies which have been used to such great advantage in the Bundaberg area in recent times. 1. refer to an early manual put out in 1965 by the Committee which points out that in the Fairymead mill area in 1953 there were only 12 bores irrigating cane. In 1965 the number was 312. The Qunaba mill area irrigates 95% of its farms from underground, particularly in the plantation area. This irrigation system was established many years ago. In the Millaquin area some 69% of the farms are irrigated. I would point out that Millaquin is the only sugar mill area in Queensland where the cane is grown, where it is milled, where it is refined for distribution and sale through retailers in Queensland and where the important by-product, the famous Bundaberg rum, is also distilled.

So we have had over the years, because of the recurring dry spells, an extension to these areas of the irrigation system from the underground supplies The city of Bundaberg itself draws from these supplies. But in recent years, because these supplies have not been built up and because there have been extensive demands placed on the water within that basin, there has been a drop in the water level of some bores by as much as 30 feet. This means an additional cost in the lifting of the water by pumping, particularly in the coastal areas. There have been cases on some coastal farms where the level of the water within the basin has been be:ow sea level. There have been some cases of slight salt water intrusion. Experts repeatedly advised placing a restriction on the use of the water. They feared that, if there was a salt water intrusion into this basin, as could quite easily happen, because the fresh water level within the basin dropped below sea level, it would take many years for it to be excluded. What has been regarded up till now as a bounteous supply of fresh water will be no more. By the provision of water storage this underground system will be built up. It will be built up for 2 reasons. Not only will the surface water accumulation build up the underground system, but it will also mean that a number of farms which are at present irrigated from bores will be able to draw from surface water if it is circulated through the various channels. It will reserve the use of these underground supplies to some 277 farms which have a gross area of 25,000 acres of cane. Th;s will raise the efficiency of sugar production, harvesting and processing through the elimination of shortfalls.

For honourable members to really appreciate this point, it should be pointed out that the production and the rates of payment in the sugar industry - some people might call it a socialised industry - are within Government control. The Queensland Government acquires the whole sugar crop, not only in Queensland but also in the cane growing areas of the northern rivers district of New South Wales. Each farmer is required to plant a certain acreage and produce a certain amount of sugar. In a good season in these areas he has an ovc; supply of cane. He has to plant an area which he would believe would produce a certain amount of cane which would contribute towards the mill's peak. He is obliged to produce this amount. If he does not produce it or if he does not continue to produce it, he is in danger of losing his assignment. The assignments are based in many cases on what was at that time a living area.

There is no doubt at all that the sugar industry in Queensland has contributed considerably to closer settlement. People are able to make a living from smaller areas than they do elsewhere. In recent years, because of poor prices on the overseas market and because of the expansion which the industry underwent within a few short years, the position has been that many of these living areas have had to be increased. Farmers have had to purchase neighbouring farms to continue in the industry. But the point 1 wish to make is that the provision of this water will bring about stability in the industry, if a farmer has contracted or has undertaken to produce a certain amount of cane he knows that he can do it with irrigation with some certainty. With irrigation he can produce a certain amount of cane in a certain area. Without irrigation, in a poor season he might not be able to produce enough cane. In other times he might have cane left standing in the field. That means that he is obliged to undertake additional work and pant an area which is somewhere in between and which he believes will produce :e somewhere near what is required of him by the Sugar Board. Irrigation would a!so reduce e the annual production area required, as I said before, to produce existing peaks to an average of 52% of the assigned area as against an average of 65% at pres-'nt. It will also eliminate industry losses which have exceeded S50m. This is more than the S47m which the Commonwealth was asked to provide. This loss could occur with a recurrence of a prolonged drought cycle such as that from 1899 to 1910.

Much investigation and tabulation of figures has gone into the calculation of rainfall. Although we talk of average rainfalls,' this is not always an indication. I wouk point out that in the year 1968 the average rainfall was good but most of that rain fell in the month of January :n the latter part of the year when (he cane needed rain for increased production the rain was not there. The average rainfall, even though it is a guide, is not always an infallible guide. So we have a range from underproduction to overproduction. We have shortfalls in the mill peaks, which have amounted to considerable sums. It is estimated that in the 6 mill areas the annual mill peak of 341,000 tons of sugar, which is 16% of the State peak, would be valued at $30,350,000. This was based on the 1969 predictable price of $89 a ton. Only last Friday it was indicated that the average price of the No. 1 pool sugar was $101.59 a ton. The total value of sugar from the 6 mill areas of Bundaberg was $2 1.31m. This was a drop of $11. 6m on the 1968 season and it was brought about by the continuing drought conditions.

This measure will further assist in sugar production. It will further ass st other sugar producing centres in Australia, because the northern rivers district of New South Wales is included with Queensland, by the elimination of drastic shortfalls in exports which could provide opportunities for other countries to take over our established contracts with overseas countries. We have the International Sugar Agreement which guarantees a certain price, but we also have fixed contracts for the sale of sugar to the United Kingdom, to the United States of America, and even to some extent at the world price to Japan. If we are unable to fulfil those orders we will lose the contracts to other countries. This is not in the best interests of the industry. The scheme will also assist by ensuring that plantings in flush years do not produce sugar substantially in excess of the requirements for the home and overseas markets and leave the farmer with cane standing in the field at the end of the crush ;ng. The scheme will bring stability to an industry which is worth about $50m a year to the city of Bundaberg, an area that has been established for many years as a sugar growing centre.

The scheme will bring about a guaranteed production. That does not mean that more sugar will be produced. The farmer, knowing that the water is there, can produce a certain amount of sugar. He will not plant more cane than is necessary because the cost of planting is considerable and is increasing all the time. I make that point to illustrate the difference between irrigation and dry land farming. For an assigned area of 49 acres under dry land farming the return from the cane less the harvesting costs amounts to $7,000. Under irrigation, for 56 acres under the same management, the value of the cane less harvesting costs amounts to $12,900. After deducting the additional annual cost of irrigation of $2,400 there is a net margin in favour of irrigation of over $3,000. The honourable member for Farrer, the previous Minister for National Development, quite rightly pointed out that the Commonwealth could, possibly by grants, make money available to the States and allow the States to decide what they wanted to do with it. On the other hand the money could be made available for certain projects. By making money available for projects such as this the Commonwealth is also a beneficiary. Without this scheme there will be a loss of income not only to the farmers but also to the millers and the people who work in the mills. The Commonwealth would lose the income tax that would be paid by those people and the sales tax on motor vehicles, fuel and other items necessary for the work involved in the mills. Sugar mills have to be modernised and repairs have to be carried out. The sugar industry as a whole has kept abreast of technological advances in regard to the types of cane to be grown in certain areas. One or two mills have not been able to do this but gradually they are realising that this is what they have to do.

The sugar industry is one in which all sections play their part in ensuring that the maximum economy is maintained in the production of sugar. The Commonwealth Government is making these funds available although the amount is only part of the Queensland Government's request for the scheme which would cost $47m altogether. The Queensland Government has already made available $8m towards this project. The people involved were prepared to spend considerable amounts of money 'o promote the scheme and put forward its economics. If the scheme is not implemented it will be a sorry day not only for the city of Bundaberg but also for the sugar industry in Queensland. I regret that the scheme as a whole is not being supported. ] understand that the Queensland Government put forward the proposal for the complete scheme which incorporated not only the proposal that is to be carried out by the Commonwealth and the State but also the irrigation of the fsis and Bingera areas. I am only guessing in this respect, but increased costs may be involved in the pumping and raising of the water for the irrigation of the Isis area.

I travelled through the Isis canefields yesterday and 1 know that unless some such scheme is forthcoming - it cannot be financed from State funds - there will be a complete failure of the sugar industry in the Isis district, an area noted for its sugar production. The area is wholly and solely dependent upon sugar and has in the past proved that it is capable of producing sugar in reasonable years. These are unreasonable years, but the availability of water will mean that there is not an overproduction of sugar. By not over-producing the industry will be able to contain the cost of the scheme. The various farmers will guarantee that there will be no overproduction. A number of failures of the sugar crop have occurred in the Isis area. 1 see the only solution to that as the acceptance of the main scheme.

I do not know why the Government rejected the scheme. Discussions took place between representatives of the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and the Irrigation and Water Supply Commission, the Commissioner, Mr Haigh, who is we'll respected, and the various Commonwealth departments. I understand that the Commonwealth Department of Primary Industry undertook a survey of the situation. I do not know the reasons for the rejection of the Isis section of the scheme and why the Commonwealth did not agree to contribute with the State towards that scheme. I must support the amendment put forward by my colleague, the honourable member for Dawson.

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