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Tuesday, 28 August 1973
Page: 487


Mr FAIRBAIRN (Farrer) - I am g!ad to have the opportunity tonight to speak about a matter which is of great public concern in the south-eastern States of Australia. I refer to the recent letter by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) to the Premiers concerned suggesting that no further contracts be let until certain aspects of the building of the Dartmouth Dam have been investigated, lt appears that the Prime Minister in his letter suggested 3 things. The first was that the building of the dam be undertaken more slowly and, therefore, that costs be spread over a longer period. The second was to see whether the salinity in the River Murray could be reduced by some other method which was either cheaper or quicker. The third was to see whether water from the Blowering Dam could be released so that it would not be necessary to build the Dartmouth Dam or so that it could be built more slowly while using the Blowering water.

The more one looks at this whole matter the more extraordinary the proposition becomes. 1 can well understand the Coombs task force bringing up this matter. It was given the job of telling the Government any ways in which it could reduce expenditure. It put forward a great many propositions, some of which were accepted and many of which were not. 1 can understand the task force bringing up the proposal, but how the Government ever came to endorse it is quite beyond me. Was any assessment made? Were any experts asked for their opinions on this? How did it get through when two of the people who will be vitally affected if what is suggested comes about are the Minister for Immigration (Mr Grassby) and the honourable member for Darling (Mr Fitzpatrick), who are Labor members and whose electorates are further down the Murray and Mumimbidgee Rivers.

Let us look at the Prime Minister's proposals. The first is that the dam should be built more slowly. We know that the water is needed urgently. The dam should be filling now, not just being built. It would have been, but for the antics of the Dunstan Opposition in the South Australian Parliament which prevented the dam from being commenced until fairly recently. It would give South Australia the first additional water it has had since 1915. It would make available 250,000 additional acre feet to South Australia and it would make available urgently required additional water to New South Wales and Victoria. We know, particularly in the case of New South Wales, that there is a shortage of water in the Murray and that some water is being diverted from the Murrumbidgee for use in the Murray, to make sufficient water available there. If the dam is built more slowly the urgently needed water will not be provided.

We know that the longer a dam takes to build the more costly it is. There is a provision in the River Murray Commission legislation which says that if the price of a dam or a particular structure is more than 10 per cent more than the price agreed to by the States the matter has to be renegotiated. The Dartmouth Dam is due to go to tender on 15 October this year. That means that before that time there must be a clear understanding by all the tenderers that this work will proceed. One cannot possibly call tenders and then say that it is doubtful whether the project will proceed. We know that by 1 May 1974 the decision is due to be made by the River Murray Commission and by the 4 governments concerned to proceed with this work and to select the successful tenderer. I do not know what is meant by building this dam more slowly. I can recall extremely well that in my early days in politics a Labor government was in power in New South Wales and that government took an incredible time to build dams. In fact it was an extraordinary thing that during the time that the New South Wales Labor Government was in power for 20 years it never commenced a dam which was completed, lt is true that it completed dams that had been commenced before it came into office. It also commenced other dams which were not completed. Here was a record of a Government which had dams lying around the country. When the Government had a bit of money it used day labour to work on the construction of dams, lt would build them for a little while and then leave them rotting with the rabbits getting into them. It would come back two or three years later and spend a little bit more. So we found that dams which started off at a cost of £500,000, as was then the case, finished up costing £20m and taking 20 years to build. Is that the sort of thing we want?

Of course, dams cost money to build and we get nothing back from them until they are completed. Therefore the faster they are built the better it is for everyone concerned. The Dartmouth dam will be storing water, if there is no impediment by the present Government, by July of 1976 - that is, in less than 3 years time. Surely the best thing to do is to go ahead with the construction of this dam at the greatest possible speed. There is another reason why the dam should be completed and that is, of course, that the speed of building these dams is determined by other factors. For example, the coffer dam, which is a major part of the dam, has to be built at considerable speed in the early stages so that it will not be topped by a flash flood. We know that if the construction of this dam does not proceed fast enough and a flood gets over the top it will carry it away and there will be enormous damage in the Mitta River. So much for the question of whether we should build the dam more slowly.

The next question is whether salinity can be reduced and therefore avoid the need to build a dam at Dartmouth or the need to build it so quickly. Here we know that the experts have told us that in this time scale no major reduction in salinity can be achieved. Perhaps some minor reductions can be achieved in the Mildura area. But of course we have already undertaken 2 major works, one at Lake Hawthorn and the other at Barr Creek to prevent salinity flowing back into the Murray, and that has improved the water enormously. Can the Blowering Dam water be released? The answer to that, of course, is that the Blowering water is owned by New South Wales. All the waters in any of the tributaries of the Murray are owned by the State concerned irrespective &i whether the Commonwealth builds a dam. But in this case the States have used partly their own money and partly loan moneys which they have to refund and there is no doubt whatsoever that they own all the water in the Blowering Dam. Whilst at the moment there is a little uncommitted water there the States will in the very near future be needing this water because they are undertaking a reappraisal of the Colleambally irrigation area. I am sure that the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby) would protest very strongly if water in his electorate was taken away and sent down to Adelaide. Of course, one wonders what the national water resource development program is going to get.

What really concerns me are the snide remarks made by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), who struts around with all the panache of a pouter pigeon, saying in effect: 'I am the only Prime Minister who has met on this topic with the Premiers in the last 60 years'. All I can say is that what a tragedy it is that he did meet them, because he obviously did not understand the problem at all. Previously Ministers have met and Minis ters knew much more. If it had only been left to Ministers this whole sorry state of affairs would never have happened. The Prime Minister names the water requirements of Albury-Wodonga as a reason for reappraisal. Well, that is just ludicrous, because within this time scale - and we are talking about 3 years to finish the dam - there would be at the most an increase in population of 10,000 people and that would not effect the use at all. He talks about another survey. We have already had an extremely good survey of salinity in the Murray conducted by the outstanding firms of Gutteridge, Haskins & Davey and the Hunting Technical Services. As a result of that we have taken considerable action and we will in time take more.

The Prime Minister talks about the use of the Blowering water to flush the Murray. Of course, he apparently does not realise at all that you cannot flush water upstream. I would have thought that anyone would realise this. But the worst part of the Murray from the point of view of salinity is the Barr Creek-Kerang-Wakool-Swan Hill area. How do you put water in from the Mumimbidgee and flush it up there, it is just so ludicrous.

I conclude my remarks by asking why on earth did the Prime Minister not get some technical information from the experts before he rushed into this like a bull into a china shop?







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