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Thursday, 3 May 1973
Page: 1727


Mr FAIRBAIRN (FARRER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes. The honourable member is perfectly correct. It is necessary when designing stormwater drains, bridges, culverts, floodways and so many other things that the necessary knowledge be available. The second reason why it is necessary to have this assessment program is to assess the underground water supply. There are vast areas in Australia where our knowledge of the underground water is inadequate. We should know the quantity, the quality and the amount that can be drawn without drawing the aquifer down too far. In fact, it is interesting to note that the next Bill on the Daily Programme provides for the construction of a pipeline into a very dry area of South Australia. This pipeline can be constructed because of the discovery, under the water resources measurement legislation, of the Polda aquifer or basin which has a large supply of good quality water. That is a direct yield from the amount of money that we are making available and from the work that is being done by States and the Commonwealth on the measurement of Australia's water resources.

I am sure that we will come to know that in other areas there are adequate sources of water. Around Alice Springs and north of Alice Springs some large aquifers have been outlined. I believe that this program is an extremely beneficial move. It is planned to increase the number of stations on which recording equipment is placed in Australia from about 1,400 at the time that the previous Government introduced the first Act of this kind, to 2,800. In other words the number has been almost doubled within a year or two. I believe that very good progress has been made towards achieving this figure. It has also been possible to install automatic recorders in many places. These save the cost of people going daily to areas to record the actual flow. On the other hand, of course, these recorders are expensive and they still have to be accessible and to be read on occasions. But great progress has been made. We will not get the full benefit from some of these 2,800 stations for perhaps another 10 or 20 years until they have recorded the resources of Australia for a considerable length of time. The Opposition heartily supports this measure. We are delighted to know that what we started has progressed so well. I congratulate the Government on the amount which it has made available and the increase which it has made available to see that this work proceeds.

Mr FitzPATRICK(Darling) (9.55)- It is important that while we are considering these grants to the States for water measurement programs we also give some consideration to what is happening to our handling and utilisation of our meagre water supplies. In my electorate there is reason for dissatisfaction in this regard. If we are increasing our grants to the States to allow surface water measurement programs totalling $13.7m and underground water measurement programs totalling $16.5m, we have a responsibility to the people we represent, in regard to waterways on which millions of dollars of taxpayers' money have already been spent, to see that the quality and quantity of these waters are preserved and used to the best advantage of all water users and are not allowed to be sabotaged by the greed or lack of concern by one State for another.

This is especially so when we are told by the Minister for the Environment and Conservation (Dr Cass) that in order that objectives endorsed by the Water Resources Council may be achieved the Government is making available $15.1m by way of grant to the States for planned programs in the next 3 years. He has informed us also that this is an increase of almost 85 per cent in Commonwealth aid over the past 3 years. Anyone familiar with the driest parts of Australia would realise how important it is to know what the stream flow is over a number of years - years in which there have been a number of floods as well as a number of crippling droughts. This knowledge is essential from an engineering as well as from an economic point of view. As a member representing one of the driest parts of New South Wales, the Western Division, I fully appreciate the grants to the States.

The measurement of the streamflow is important not only from the point of view of the volume of water, but also from that of the reliability of supply. It is just as important that where there is a reliable streamflow consideration be given to the quality of the water. One would expect every State sharing in this grant of $15.1m to play its part to protect the quality and the quantity of the water of our great streams. But as far as I can gather from the evidence that I have seen, the Victorian Government, while expecting millions to investigate water measurement for the benefit of that State, appears to have little or no concern for water that flows into other States.

I refer in particular to the situation at Barr Creek and Lake Hawthorn, where the Victorian Government has the responsibility of pumping high saline water inland to evaporation basins in order that the water will not run back into the Murray River. The announcement made a few weeks ago by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) that discussions were taking place between the Premiers of New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria concerning measures necessary to reduce salinity in the waters of the Murray River was welcomed by citrus and vine fruit growers in the Buronga, Coomealla and Wentworth districts. However, the statement prompted one grower to write to me and ask that I should pass on the information that following the recent rains the flow in the River Murray increased and the Victorian State Rivers and Water Supply Commission has been discharging a large flow of highly saline water - 3,000 ppm - from Lake Hawthorn into the Wentworth lock pool upstream from the Coomealla and Curlwaa pumps.

This practice has been the concern of growers for many years and resulted in many protests being made to the Victorian Government. But the selfish practice which is damaging some of the best citrus and grape vines in Australia continues without any apparent concern for those further down the river. Part of the letter read:

About 4 years ago the Federal Government gave Victoria $1.6m to instal electric pumps on Lake Hawthorn and several miles of piping to take highly saline water to evaporation basins well back from the River Murray but it claimed the Victorians used some of the grant to excavate a large earth channel to allow large quantities of highly saline drainage water to flow straight back into the Murray River.

If this is correct, and there is some evidence to support the statement, surely we have no justification to spend the people's money on grants for water investigation when we cannot control this type of thing between the States. A further letter from the Curlwaa Salinity Committee states:

We are extremely disappointed and distressed with the Prime Minister's statement, which is the answer to 2 years of repeated appeals by a salinity committee to the various Governments to do something positive in reducing the salinity of Murray water where it flows through our district.

The means to reduce the salinity are clearly stated in the report of the Gutteridge Committee, which was released in 1570, after 2 years investigations. lt would seem none of the Parliamentarians present at the 2nd March 1973 Meeting bothered to read this report, perhaps they, are unaware of its existence.

The position as we see it is we are back where we were at the end of 1967, when the Government of the day decided to employ Gutteridge, Hoskins and Davey of Sydney and Hunting Technical Services Ltd of London to investigate the Murray water salinity. Their report contains all the information that the Steering Committee needs to make a start on diverting saline drainage water away from the Murray River without delay.

This information was obtained from the 3 State Water control departments, the only competent source available to the newly formed steering committee.

Here's hoping that Dr Cass is more successful with the State Ministers for Water Supply than Mr Johnson is with the State Ministers for Housing.

I do not claim that everyone who writes a letter outlines the true position but surely claims made in letters should be investigated. 1 believe that the last 3 annual reports of the River Murray Commission more than indicate that the growers in this area have just reason to complain. On page 5 of the 1969-70 report of the River Murray Commission the following appears:

During the past year, the Barr Creek pumps diverted for evaporation in Lake Tutchewop, a volume of 6,810 acre feet containing 23,450 tons of salt. The Lake Hawthorn pumps near Mildura diverted to inland evaporating basins a volume of 2,150 acre feet containing 7,590 tons of salt.

As was discussed in last year's report, due to the limited evaporating capacity of the storage basins, it is not possible or necessary to pump continuously, from Barr Creek or Lake Hawthorn. During the oast year, advantage was taken of a number of Murray flushes to release saline water from Barr Creek and Lake Hawthorn.

In the Commission's 1970-71 report there is a similar statement but the figures are different. The report states:

Two Victorian salt disposal schemes at Barr Creek near Kerang and Lake Hawthorn near Mildura were operated and prevented saline drainage waters reaching the Murray. During the past year, the Barr Creek pumps diverted for evaporation in Lake Tut.chewop a volume of 10,570 acre feet (55 per cent more than 1969-70) containing 32,420 tons of salt. The Lake Hawthorn pumps near Merbein diverted to the Wargan evaporation basins, a volume of 820 acre feet (a reduction of 60 per cent on last year's figure) containing 3,100 tons of salt.

According to the 1971-72 report the position is worse as far as Lake Hawthorn is concerned. The report under the heading 'Victorian Salt Disposal Schemes' states:

Salt disposal schemes at Barr Creek near Kerang and Lake Hawthorn near Merbein were operated by the Victorian State Rivers and Water Supply Commission and reduced the quantity of saline drainage waters reaching the Murray. During the year, the Barr Creek pumps diverted for evaporation in Lake Tutchewop 7,780 acre feet (75 per cent of last year's total) containing 25,800 tons of salt. The Lake Hawthorn pumps diverted to the Wargan basins a volume of 755 acre feet (a reduction of 10 per cent)

My point is that in areas which mainly affect the quality of the water in Victoria there is a great build up of pumping to the evaporation basins. On the other hand, in 1968 the Barr Creek pumps pumped 6,810 acre feet to evaporation basins. This was increased to 7,780 acre feet in 1971-72. However, in the pumping to evaporation basins from Lake Hawthorn, which affects to a higher degree the quality of water in New South Wales, in 1969-70 some 2,150 acre feet of water was pumped and this was reduced to a mere 755 acre feet in 1971-72. It appears to me from those figures that the fruit growers in this area have good reason to complain. Those are not my figures. Anyone can find them in the reports of the River Murray Commission. The Commission claims that the water is allowed in the channel from Lake Hawthorn only when the river is in flush, but the growers in the area claim there is always some water in the channel. 1 have passed over the channel many times and have yet to see it dry. The Curlwaa Salinity Committee has complained continuously to me about this and I ask the Minister to give the matter consideration when further investigation of this area is made. I congratulate the Minister for the Environment and Conservation (Dr Cass) for the interest he has shown in this problem. It appears that at last a real investigation will be carried out,for the people in this area.

Motion (by Dr Cass) agreed to:

That the question be now put.

Original question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.







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