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Tuesday, 2 June 1970

Mr GRASSBY (Riverina) - This is a vital debate because the Bill before the House deals with the first grant to be made under the new national water resources development programme. In his second reading speech the Minister for National Development (Mr Swartz) told us that this grandiosely named programme will involve about S20m a year for 5 years. Ad>' announcement, however modest, concerning the development of our national water resources seems to bring forth a protest, perhaps exemplified earlier in this debate by the interjections of the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) who I am delighted to see has returned to the chamber. He described, in a very fervent interjection, one of the major conservation projects of the nation as a white elephant. He also described this debate as a farce because of lack of supporting data. This I will deal with, but the water protestants, as I term them, are usually victims of one of our national myths, and that is that we as a nation have spent a great deal of money in the country generally on water conservation. This is just not true. Until the advent of the Snowy scheme we had, in the 70 years since Federation, spent on all of the water projects in this nation less than we have spent on so-called defence projects in 1 year. So, in fact, as a nation we have spent very little relatively on water conservation. Yet even this proposed modest outlay will call forth - and I am sure that this Bill will, in some quarters, cell forth - some of the harshest criticism from what 1 term the suburban lobby which, of course, is to be found not only in the Parliament but among academics and many writers.

The suburban lobby adopts 2 standards, and members of it practise economic apartheid. They will spend their powers of intellect and debate to question and probe under this Bill the S 12.8m for water conservation, yet they will accept without question expenditure of 10 times that magnitude on a wide range of unproven purchases abroad for doubtful purposes at home. They will accept without question tariff protection which will not add significantly to the employment of the nation and will not cause any great saving in our export earnings or our import buying, whichever term we like to apply to them. They will accept that without great debate and with no great heat, yet the expenditure of $12. 8m on water conservation will call forth from many quarters the harshest scrutiny and the harshest criticism. I am not saying that we should run away from the demands in the House this evening or in any other section for the fullest possible examination of all the possibilities and of all the data. But I think that in relation to water confusion - Mr Deputy Speaker, I 9 id 'confusion' by mistake, but I might say that the confusion about water conservation in Australia has never been greater. 1 think that sums it up rather well. I said water confusion in error, but I will stand by it.

Mr Kelly - You should know.

Mr GRASSBY - 1 think 1 should know. The confusion about water conservation in Australia has never been greater. Casual critics have been calling for what they have termed a moratorium on dam construction. They have called for this without even knowing what they were saying. They fail to realise that water is a multi-purpose commodity and their narrow vision of it, in their own minds, is that it is exclusively for irrigation farmers. This is hopelessly in error. The total water projects under construction in the nation at the last date available amount to $729m. Of this amount, $432m is primarily for urban water supply. Of the $297m remaining the projects span flood control, salinity control and some existing town water supplies outside metropolitan areas. A minority portion only could be described as being purely for irrigation purposes. I might say that the men who have called for a stop to water conservation - a moratorium on dam construction as they have called it - would be the first to howl if they got up in the morning, went to their bathrooms and turned on taps which did not produce some water.

Mr Daly - Like the honourable member for Mallee?

Mr GRASSBY - 1 am not aware what tap he turns on. Let me be quite blunt. The state of confusion of the critics of water conservation and of irrigation is perhaps best illustrated by the recent correction issued by Dr Bruce Davidson. His recent book has been hailed as a devastating attack on irrigation. It referred to the fact that existing schemes have hindered rather than helped economic development with a net national loss of at least S5,000m. This was the statement by Dr Davidson. In his correction he dramatically changed the figure of $5,000m to $748m - a minor correction. But this was the devastating attack. His book was hailed as the most trenchant criticism of irrigation, the most pertinent criticism that has been published for a whole generation, but an analysis of this work indicates that he failed to take into account vital considerations which would change entirely his figures and therefore his conclusions. I might just mention two of them without going into detail in this debate. I invite honourable members who might be interested to apply themselves to the 2 considerations that 1 intend to mention. One was in relation to some of the industries, the thermal industries for example, that he compared with the Snowy scheme. ] refer to 2 considerations, one of pollution and the other of the time factor in relation to the replacement of plant and equipment. He ignored both of these vital considerations. Of course, his conclusions are there to be examined. I suggest an academic and careful examination of these particular factors, but when this examination is undertaken it will be found that the attack on irrigation from that source failed miserably through its confusion and its inadequacy. The support for this measure must lie in the fact that it is needed to improve the efficiency and stability of a major export industry and surely this is where again the critics of irrigation fall down. They overlook the fact that Australia is export dependent. One third of Australia's agricultural output is drawn from irrigation.

Mr Kelly - That is not so.

Mr GRASSBY - The honourable member opposite says it is not so. 1 invite him, and I understand he will follow me in this debate, to quote--

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