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Tuesday, 2 June 1970

Mr DOBIE (Cook) - When the Minister for National Development (Mr Swartz) said in his second reading speech that this legislation relating to the Bundaberg irrigation scheme in Queensland represented a significant move towards closer collaboration between the States and

Commonwealth governments in the development of Australia's water resources, I believe he should have gone on to say that th s Bill represented a significant move towards maintaining the sovereign rights of the States and the Commonwealth. In practising the principle of federation insofar as it leaves the right of establishing priorities to the States, this Bill leaves the Queensland Government responsible to the Queensland electorate as to whether the Bundaberg scheme should have been at the top of the water development projects in that State" required for Queensland's economic development. Whether this factor will be appreciated by those in other parts of Queensland who claim to have equal or stronger cla:ms for such a priority from their State Government, remains to be seen. lt should be emphasised that the Federal Government is concerned only with examining the economic feasibility of such schemes as are put forward by the State governments before providing finance. It is not concerned with the priorities within a State. 1 can only hope that the residents of the less privileged regions are not encouraged to think otherwise. As for the Bundaberg scheme, it has one important factor as far as 1 am concerned. The scheme is concerned with the rehabilitation, protection and development of an already established region. It is concerned with the protection of a vast capital investment that has been built up by individual Australians, whether they be country or towns folk, over a period of 100 years. The Commonwealth Government is not concerned with forging new rural areas of doubtful economic utility. The Bundaberg scheme, I am pleased to note, is concerned with the maintenance of a provincial city of some 28,000 souls and a district of some 17,000 more, as a viable economic proposition. It is concerned with decentralisation, and from the many statistics which I have read on this district, a district which I have known for many years, it would seem that there is justification in the Commonwealth and Queensland governments spending SI 2.8m and $8. 3m respectively on stage 1 of the scheme.

The Queensland Government has claimed that the objectives and effects of this scheme will mean the recovery and development of sugar production in the Bundaberg district, which is at present Queensland's third largest sugar producing region, with some 128,000. acres of assigned sugar lands held on 1,567 assignments serving 6 mills with an annual mill peak of 341,000 tons of sugar valued at something like $30m. I would like to quote from information provided by the Queensland Government regarding the scheme. The Queensland Government said:

The scheme is planned for provision of works in 2 stages and development of sugar production in 3 stages in which the objectives and effects are as follows:

To eliminate the effects of drought on sugar production by -

(i)   providing irrigation from surface water to 1,181 existing assignments -

And honourable members will recall that total' assignments are 1,567 only - wilh a gross area of 93,433 acres in the 6 mill areas which include a number of assignments now irrigated from overused underground supplies;

(ii)   reserving use of underground supplies, to assure adequate supply for 277 existing assignments with a gross area of 25.000 acres.

The scheme is also concerned:

To raise the efficiency of sugar production harvesting and processing by -

(i)   eliminating past chronic shortfalls thus raising average annual production within current peaks by some 46,070 tons of sugar valued at $4,100,000;

(ii)   reducing the annual production area required to produce existing peaks to an average of 52% of assigned areas as against an average of 65% at present.

The scheme is also concerned with eliminating the possibility of catastrophic industry losses exceeding S50m that could occur with recurrence of prolonged drought such as that experienced at the turn of the century. Finally, the Queensland Government believed that the scheme was concerned with raising the efficiency of sugar production by eliminating drastic shortfalls in exports which could provide opportunities for other countries to take over established contracts.

The scheme before the House is concerned only with this stage of the total development, and it will be seen that its prime purpose is to protect a vast capital investment which has been achieved only after a century of effort and, when drought has struck this fertile district of the lower Burnett, heartbreak. Other speakers will no doubt go into details of the benefit cost analysis which has been conducted by the Queensland Department of Primary Industries, the Queensland Irrigation and Water Supply Commission and the Snowy Mountains Authority. For my part, I accept the assurance I received from Mr Ben Anderson, Chairman of the Bundaberg and District Irrigation Committee, when he wrote saying that following intensive investigations by these authorities the Bundaberg scheme was shown to have a most favourable benefit cost ratio when compared with other schemes in Queensland either completed or contemplated. I also accept the assurance from the Minister for National Development, who is sitting at the table, and his predecessor, the honourabe member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn), that this Bundaberg scheme has passed the Commonwealth's test of feasibility. 1 also accept the proposal that not only the farmers but the tertiary and secondary industries in the lower Burnett are equally dependent on the continuing viability of the sugar industry in this region. I am firmly convinced that without this irrigation scheme of recovery and protection, the sugar industry in the Bundaberg district will not remain a viable economic undertaking and that the district will slide into an area of confused economic worth. Much has been said about the increased income that will eventuate from this scheme. I would remind those who are suggesting that the scheme represents an unnecessary item of expenditure for the Commonwealth, that the Commonwealth Government still enjoys the power of taxing incomes and in time, perhaps not too far hence, we shall be reaping a considerable benefit from increased taxation from the greater and more reliable income that this scheme will bring to the Commonwealth. But it is not my intention to go through the benefit cost analyses that have been undertaken.

I would, however, repeat my firm economic conviction that as far as irrigation schemes are planned for Australia then both Federal and State governments should be far more concerned with endorsing such schemes when they are related to improving and recovering established districts and regions rather than forging new frontiers of agricultural endeavour with unproved, untried and extremely doubtful economic advantage. 1 would also hope that the several governments do not overlook the need for sufficient water resources for our existing industrial development. There ;s little to support such a fear, but I know thai, on a continent which is the driest of all. water supply will always be a continuing problem, and 1 am happy that the area of establishing priorities under this scheme will remain with the States, which are, or should be. closer to this problem than any Commonwealth Government could be. Such a form of establishing priorities will ensure that no particular area of Australia will be favoured merely because it has greater representation in Canberra. I believe that the Bundaberg scheme must be supported, and this 1 do.

Before concluding I would like to touch upon the form of parliamentary control we may anticipate over the $12.8m being granted towards the scheme by this Bill. As has already been mentioned during another debate today, the Parliament can lose the right to control expenditure when grants are made under section 96, as will be the case under this Bill. 1 agree with the honourable member for Farrer that it is urgent that this Parliament, not merely the Executive, supervise the spending of Commonwealth raised money. 1 do not know what form this control should take. Perhaps the Public Accounts Committee is in a position to examine expenditure once it has been undertaken on the Bundaberg scheme. I know I would feel a lot happier if there were a similar committee operating within the Queensland Government. At least we would know that that Government was examining large expenditures critically. ) do not say that the establishment of a Public Accounts Committee in the Queensland Parliament would be the answer to controlling section 96 grants to that State; however, I do believe that it would be a step in the right direction. The problems of parliamentary control of such large amount? of money must surely exercise the minds of all members of this Parliament. I believe this is not the Bill to work out this complex problem. I mention it now merely to warn that sooner or later we will have to wake up to the fact that the Federal Parliament is losing control over its own money and its own expenditure. Despite my concern at this lack of financial control in this Parliament 1 support the Bill.

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