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Tuesday, 9 June 1970

Mr JACOBI (Hawker) - I join with my colleagues on this side of the House to categorically affirm our belief that the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority should be retained in its entirety in the national interest. The attitude and policy of the Australian Labor Party in regard to this Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation Bill has been made clear by the amendments foreshadowed by the honourable member for Lang (Mr Stewart). If one studies the implications of the Bill it is obvious what is to happen to the current structure and operations of the Snowy Mountains Authority. This Government, with deliberate intent, has set out to scuttle and emasculate the Authority. Having crucified the Authority the Government then proceeds to resurrect it in the guise of this proposed Corporation which is to operate on a commercial basis. As the honourable member for Lang has shown clearly by referring to the restrictive provisions of the Bill, such a concept is a farce. This Government purports to believe in private enterprise and freedom of competition but is attempting to strangle the Corporation by means of this legislation.

One has to admit that the Government is consistent at least in one direction. Whenever or wherever a public or semi-public organisation or instrumentality is shown to be economically viable and making a profit the Government either hands it over to private enterprise for exploitation or, as in this particular instance, in order to protect the private consultants, it ensures bv way of legislation that freedom of competition will not be one of its attributes or a condition of its operation.

The Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme is the largest developmental project ever undertaken in Australia's history. The speed and efficiency of its construction and the expertise of the men attached to the Snowy Mountains Authority have received world wide acclaim. Nobody disputes that fact. The former Minister for National Development, the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn), has been extremely vocal in both the achievements of the Authority and, more particularly, its destiny. He made a Press statement on this issue on 1st June 1967. He made ministerial statements in this House on 28th November 1968 and 28th August 1969. He made his last statement on 11th October 1969. I would like honourable members to note particularly the former Minister's statement on 11th October. After heaping plaudits onto the Authority he went on to say:

Now originally the Snowy Mountains Scheme had many detractors. There were those who said that it should not have been started; it was very expensive. They have said that power is going to be too costly, but I think you would hardly find a person in Australia today who did not realise what a great project this is and what an enormous benefit it will be to the nation.

I want briefly to analyse this statement. The people of Australia would do well to be reminded of who the detractors were. They would do well to remember that the detractors, the opponents of the Snowy Scheme, were members of this same Government who, when in opposition, so bogged the scheme down on the question of constitutionality and legal provisions that undoubtedly their whole concept of the scheme was to oppose it. They were the people who vented their spleen to the extent of boycotting the official opening. I hasten to point out, however, that they ' were not at all reticent in reaping the kudos, as explained in the book 'Struggle for the Snowy' by Lionel Wigmore, commissioned by Sir Robert Menzies. A reader of the book would imagine that it was a Liberal Government which had the vision, courage and foresight needed to start the project, the benefits of which this nation has yet fully to measure. Nothing could be further from the truth. I remind honourable members and the people of Australia that the scheme was introduced by a Labor Government. It was implemented by the Chifley Labor Government and it is to the Labour Party that the nation owes a debt of gratitude, not to the Party which bogged the proposal down with legalism and has a complete and utter aversion to a national development policy.

Mr Turnbull - That is hardly fair.

Mr JACOBI - After listening to the speeches made by Government supporters tonight I think it is accurate. The honourable member for Farrer, who was the former Minister for National Development, went on to say:

So we have now spent, as Mr Munro said, $696m on this project and will spend close to $800m before the scheme is completed, lt is of great interest to note that this figure was set some IS years ago.

He was referring to the figure of $800m. He went on:

I only wish we could say in government that every other department and form of government is as accurate in its costing as the Snowy Mountains Authority has been. I can assure you that there would be far less worry for the Treasurer if this were so.

That is a remarkably accurate and telling statement. Let us go a little further. What are the other financial facts which are important if we are fairly to judge this legislation? Apart from the total outlay the Snowy Mountains scheme cost about $800m. Firstly, the Authority has been geared to the supervision annually of work valued at about $40m. This approx mates the amount spent collectively by all the States on rural water development projects each year. Secondly, the Authority has done considerable work in South East Asia in recent years, to a value of about Sim a year. Thirdly, it is admitted that the Authority has been carrying out consultative activity on a relatively restricted scale for years, as reflected in the provisions of this Bill. Its consulting fees now exceed S2m a year. Fourthly, it is understood that the fees paid to foreign consultants run into millions of dollars a year. It is admitted that in the case of a major project in New South Wales the contract would have been let to overseas consultants had the Authority not been permitted to undertake it. Fifthly, and above all, the Snowy scheme when operating W 11 earn between $40m and $S0m a year, and the capital was all provided from revenue.

The sheer weight of the former Minister's assessment of the competence of the Authority and the sheer weight in terms of capital return - that is, the profitability - and the assets which this nation has reaped and will continue to reap, cut right across this Government's assessment of the situation made in complete defiance of a vast body of public opinion throughout the country. However, these facts are unpalatable to the Government. What possible justification does it have for refusing to have the Corporation operate the scheme in a free, open and competitive market? lt is admitted by the Minister that the fees charged by the Authority for consulting work are well below the fees charged by foreign consultants. Does the Government challenge the fact that there is no body of consultants, either public or private, in this country which has collectively either the scope or expertise in the field in which the Authority has won world acclaim? This country must retain that asset. I ask the Minister: Is there a glut of consultants? ls there insufficient work or are there' insufficient prospective projects? Has the Government the audacity to claim that there are no further major national projects for which the Authority could be usefully commissioned? If these are the factors on which this- Government has based its assessment, then we say they clearly do not exist. As such they give no justification for the restrictive provisions imposed on the Corporation in this Bill. The only logical conclusion to be drawn from the policy is that what is being done is being done firstly to protect the vested interests of foreign consultants and contractors, as is instanced by the letting of a contract worth $20,342,000 to an American consortium for the construction of the Copeton Dam in New -South Wales and secondly to protect the vested interest of private consultants and contractors in Australia.

Let me sum up this aspect briefly, if ever an authority - and there are many which have been set up by this Parliament - has justified its continued existence, it is this authority. It has done so if for no other reason - and there are more tangible reasons - than its competence to handle what might be stated in Liberal philosophy as being the central factor in judgment, that is, its competence and efficiency to become an economic and viable unit. This competence is directly attributable to the expertise in the Authority, which makes it second to none in the world. 1 turn to the last part of the Minister's statement. He concludes with this hypocritical peroration - and this is where I take issue on the point that he raised with the . honourable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Allan Fraser). The Minister stated:

Sci, I repeat what I' have said, but which unfortunately docs not sink in, and that is we arc not disbanding the SMA. -Can 1 repeat that? We are nol demolishing or disbanding the SMA

Mr Luchetti - Who said that?

Mr JACOBI - The former Minister for National Development on- 11th October 1969. I would like to quote the words of perhaps the one noted authority in this country who can speak with balanced judgment on this particular problem. I refer to the former head of the Snowy Mountains Authority, Sir William Hudson. I am quoting from the 'Australian' of 3rd May 1968. The article states:

Sir William,a former head of the authority, told a Monash University Liberal Club group in Melbourne thai many water development projects in Australia could be started if the Snowy organisation were used. He said: 'The Snowy group will be used just for design when the project is finished soon. I can't get an explanation from the Federal Government why the SMA will be just investigating and designing. The Snowy scheme, when finished will earn $40 to $50 million a year and the capital was nearly all provided from revenue. Why can't that $.40 million be used to keep constructions going? We are told thai water development is a Stale function under the Constitution. This was overcome in the United Slates and we can overcome it here - it was overcome for the Snowy scheme. I don't agree with any of these constitutional reasons because they are all hooey talk from those who don't want national development.' Sir William said some academic economists had said that irrigation was uneconomical. He asked: 'Where would Israel, California and Arizona be today without it?: The studies he had seen by some academic economists did nol pay due regard to the wider indirect benefits. The economists manipulated figures - which they might believe to be' right - but which conflicted with the whole history of irrigation. Sir William left the SMA in April last year and is now in business as an engineering consultant.

There is no doubt that he anticipated the Government's policy. What I ask is this: Does any reasonable person in this House believe, if the Authority is not being disbanded or demolished, other than that this Bill without doubt has literally torn this Authority so far apart that the only vestige which remains is its name? It is small comfort to the people who have put Australia in the forefront in major development projects throughout the world. Above all, it is a pitiful comfort to future development of our nation and its people. In short, this great Authority has been reduced to but a shadow of its former self. This Government in reaching its decision on the fate of this Authority is -guilty of sheer national incompetence and mismanagement. We as a Parliament have not only a responsibility to legislate for the present; we also have a national responsibility to budget for the future needs, commitments and development of this country. It is in the latter area that this Government has failed the nation on this matter.

We as a people live. in what is the driest continent on the earth. Whilst the people of South Australia are fully conscious of that fact, obviously this Government is not. This nation is facing a national crisis. That crisis, beyond doubt and despite what honourable members opposite say, is in the conservation of water. It must be tackled immediately. If ever in this nation's history there was a time for the retention of this Authority, it is now. If ever there was a time for a national water conservation authority, it is now.

What should astonish honourable members opposite and the public in general is that in 1901 - that was at federation - Australia's population stood at 3.75 million. By 31st December last year it had increased to 12.5 million. The projection is that in the year 2001 Australia's population will be 22.7 million. For the information of honourable members opposite, particularly members of the Government, I point out that the present capacity of all major storages existing or under construction in Australia is about 43 million acre feet. That is a significant proportion of the total runoff of 280 million acre feet. If we assume the present projection of population growth which indicates that by the end of the century our population will be about 22 million, we will need about 81 million acre feet at that time. The increase is 38 million acre feet, which is the equivalent of seventeen times the amount made available for irrigation by the Snowy Mountains scheme. It means that we will have to construct an additional 8 Eucumbene dams in that period of time.

Mr Turnbull - They will have pipelines.

Mr JACOBI - Never mind about pipelines. The honourable member may have his say later. We have to accept the responsibility that has been accepted by the governments of France, Israel, Great Britain, Canada and the United States. We should now have enough leadership and courage to set up a national water conservation authority. No greater challenge faces this Government or the people. The challenge is perfectly simple. Either this nation is to continue its steady progress and development or it is to stand still. It is not possible, feasible or practicable for this nation to continue to develop without water, be it conventional or desalinated. If this Government lacks the courage, the vision and, above all, the leadership, this path must ultimately and inevitably lead to this nation's stagnation.

We cannot ignore this problem as though it does not exist. Three obvious factors inhibit a solution. One, which is obvious to anybody who has sat here tonight and listened to the debate and the points of view expressed by members of the Government parties, is that this Government, ever since 1949 when the Snowy Mountains project commenced, has had a complete and utter aversion to any form of policy based on positive, constructive or futuristic planning and development for this country. The second, which is also perfectly obvious, is the petty, artificial State barriers which are set up, which are nothing more than a harvest for politicians, either State or Federal, and which must be submerged in the overall national interest. The third flows from the constitutional section 51 problem. 1, like Sir William Hudson, consider it a load of hooey. If we could overcome the problem in 1949, we can overcome it now.

We must follow the progressive lead of other countries. As a constructive step,I suggest that we set up inter-governmental commissions, boards or agencies - call them what you like - in an attempt to resolve this deadlock. If need be, let us go to the people with a view to an alteration of the Constitution, even if only on this issue. It was done in the field of social services, in connection with the Joint Coal Board and many other issues. It is a problem that is far too crucial to be side-stepped. Let me conclude by stating that this legislation is consistent with Liberal policy. It lacks any vestige of regard for the future of the country. It typifies the Government's lack of leadership, vision and courage. If that attitude is not rectified in the very near future it will, in my view, ultimately and inevitably mean that this nation's capacity to progress and develop will be severely inhibited and retarded through all levels whether they be agricultural, industrial or commercial. The price of ineptitude is too high for this country to pay.

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