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Wednesday, 30 May 1973
Page: 2853


Mr WHAN (Eden) (Monaro) - The Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority was established by the Commonwealth in 1949. Its function was to carry out detailed investigation, design and construction of the Snowy Mountains scheme over the period of its operation. An area of over 2,000 square miles has been worked and there is now an integrated water and electrical generating system. It is quite a feat by world standards. There are now hundreds of miles of transmission lines interconnecting the supply systems of New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory. The capital cost of the scheme will amount to about $800m by the time of its completion, all of which will be paid for from revenue from the supply of electricity. A water supply of 2 million acre feet is a bonus to the inland of Australia and it will not be necessary to cover the cost of delivering the water because that cost will be covered by revenue from electricity supply.

The Snowy Mountains Council was created to direct, control and maintain the completed works, and it now operates from Cooma. As the scheme is in my electorate, situated in our largest snow area and one of the most scenic regions in Australia, I have asked the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) and the Minister for Tourism and Recreation (Mr Stewart) to organise a government members' tour of the area. This has been agreed to by both Ministers. I hope honourable members, particularly new members, will take the opportunity to inspect the scheme and to see the area in which it is situated.


Mr Fairbairn - Are only government members invited, or all members?


Mr WHAN - All members are invited. I thank the honourable member for the correction. In 1970 the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation was established to use the engineering skills and expertise built up by the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority. The Corporation has won overseas projects against very strong international competition. On the invitation of the New South Wales Government the Corporation is involved in work on the Shoalhaven scheme and the Eastern Suburbs Railway. This Bill removes the restraints on the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation that confine its activity to the development of water resources, works associated with electricity and underground works. Even in those areas, because of the restrictions, the Corporation had to operate through private consulting engineers and could not engage in any construction work in Australia. We believe that they are unnecessary restraints on the operations of the Corporation.

The possibility of completion with private enterprise is a myth. On the contrary, the Corporation has provided opportunities for private enterprise in this country that did not previously exist. We believe that the unnecessary restrictions have had quite a dampening effect on the expansion of the Corporation. The Bill lifts the restrictions and the Corporation can now accept contracts for consultation and construction works. This will allow the Corporation to tender for works on such projects as the national pipeline. I also feel that in addition to the restrictions imposed by the Act another anomaly deserving the attention of this Parliament has existed. The Commissioner of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority inherited very strong arbitral powers which presumably were required for the functioning of the Authority during the construction period of the scheme. These powers are now extremely overbearing and wide sweeping in respect of the present function of the Authority and the future function of the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation. I believe, as the member for the electorate, that those arbitral powers should now be subjected to very close scrutiny. The powers associated with the man in charge of the new organisation should be reduced to fit the function of that position. With the removal of the restrictions on the scope of the work that the Corporation can undertake it is expected that many more people will be absorbed from the Snowy Mountains Authority. In this respect I would like to discuss for a few minutes the impact of this measure on the town in which the Corporation is situated.

Land sales are currently being undertaken by the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority. In my view, at least, this action seems contrary to the express function of the lands commission and of the Department of Urban and Regional Development. That Department has established a lands commission to purchase land for urban development and a Cities Commission to develop that land under proper guidance. In respect of Cooma, the temporary nature of the Snowy Mountains Authority is relevant. Its objectives have been achieved and I think it is time to review what is to happen to the houses in

Cooma. Most of the Authority's houses in Cooma were built for a short life span of about 20 years. Most of them have exceeded that life span. The Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation, a permanent organisation, has been established and it is time that we looked at the provision of permanent accommodation for the people employed by the Corporation and the Snowy Mountains Council. On that point it seems sensible to employ the resources of the Cities Commission. I hope that that aspect of this Bill and its relationship to the setting up and administration of the Corporation can be handled between the Corporation and the Cities Commission. I hope that some consideration will be given to the wider work of the Corporation.

The social conscience of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority has become one of its claims to fame. The Authority's consideration for conservation, its employees and the people in the communities which impinged upon the activities of the Authority has become a legend in the area. It would be a pity if, at the inauguration of the Corporation, that social conscience was forgotten. I would not like to see the continuation of the work that has now become fairly standard; that is the indiscriminate sale of land to various interests in the private sector in the Cooma area. I commend this Bill to the House and I look forward to the stability that it will introduce into my electorate. I look forward to greater achievements from the Corporation. I am sure it will be a worthy successor to the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority.







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