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Wednesday, 29 August 1973
Page: 516

Mr CORBETT (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - My question is addressed to the Minister for the Environment and Conservation. Does the Commonwealth Government intend to repudiate completely the undertaking given by the previous Government to share with the Governments of Queensland and New South Wales the cost of construction of Pike Creek Dam? Will the people on the border of New South Wales and Queensland, as well as other areas of the Commonwealth, share the more and better water that the Prime Minister talked about yesterday? If this undertaking by the Commonwealth Government is not to proceed, will any assistance be given to the State governments if they decide to proceed with this important part of an overall national water conservation program? If not, what proposed development schemes in southern Queensland in any field are likely to be given Commonwealth Government assistance, or are all proposed development projects in that area to be scrapped or deferred as far as the Commonwealth Government is concerned?

Dr CASS (MARIBYRNONG, VICTORIA) (Minister for the Environment and Conservation) - We do not intend to continue to support the construction of the Pike Creek Dam. The project was first discussed in 1969, and in 1970 the then Prime Minister indicated that the Government would be prepared to co-operate, pending appropriate arrangements being made. By the end of the last Parliament no prior arrangements had been made and no legislation had been introduced to establish the basis of cooperation. We have reviewed the project. In reviewing it, we found that it was economically dubious and that the main use of the irrigation water would be to increase the growing of tobacco. That would hardly appeal to a wowser such as I. In any case, the project, along with many other projects which were handed on to us when we came into office, was reviewed by the Coombs task force which also recommended that on economic grounds and because of growing environmental concern we should not continue to support the project. So we have notified the Premiers of both States accordingly. We have indicated, though, that we will share the cost of any work undertaken up to the time that we notified them of our decision, because of the understanding that the Australian Government would be sharing the cost. We will honour those promises. But we do not intend to continue with the rest of the project. I understand that the total expenditure to date has been approximately $lm.

The honourable member should have no fear that this move suggests that we will dump all other projects in Queensland. That is not true at all. We do not intend to pursue the ad hoc-ery of the past. We intend to try to assess the total water requirements for the whole continent. We intend to draw up some priorities on how we should approach these problems, bearing in mind not just the benefits that might accrue in rural areas alone, which seem to have been the main emphasis in the past, but also the benefits which may accrue to people, including those living in cities. I am not discounting the needs of the rural section, but I am insisting that it is time that we paid more attention to the needs of people in the cities as well. We have a proposal for a national water policy. It has been drafted and is about to be submitted to the Cabinet.

Mr Lynch - It took a long time.

Dr CASS - It took a long time? The Opposition had 23 years in office to do something and had no policy on it.

Mr Lynch - You have not done anything in the time that you have been in office.

Dr CASS - We have not done too badly in the 6 months or so that we have been in office in relation to the concept of .a national water policy. When I put the suggestion to officers of my Department they said that it had not been thought of previously. Many of them were interested in the idea. They had not been asked about it previously. So I asked them whether they could come up with a proposal. It will be considered by Cabinet shortly. Then honourable gentlemen opposite will be able to understand the approach, and in that context all these proposals will be considered.

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