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Tuesday, 9 October 1973
Page: 1723


Mr CONNOR (Cunningham) (Minister for Minerals and Energy) - Mr Speaker, so much for the melodrama; now for the facts. These might have been made available on the last evening on which the Parliament sat had it not been for the turbulence and behaviour of the Opposition which resulted in the sitting of the House being abruptly terminated. (Opposition members interjecting) -


Mr CONNOR - Mr Speaker, members of the Opposition are interjecting. The Opposition spokesman, the honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser), was heard in silence and I expect the same courtesy to be extended to me.


Mr SPEAKER -I intend to see that the Minister is heard in silence.


Mr CONNOR - Having bitterly opposed the Chifley Government's Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme and having boycotted its inauguration, it is consistent for the Opposition to again abuse that undertaking for political purposes. Power politics are being played in New South Wales by a Liberal Government in the present power dispute. It is a sure-fire vote winner for the Askin Government to pull a major industrial upheaval correctly timed for the coming State election based on these emotional issues. The present target date is 17 November. Not to be outdone, the Opposition has sought to involve this Government in the dispute. As a bonus, of course, the honourable member for Wannon seeks to big note himself against his rivals, the honourable members for Flinders (Mr Lynch), Kooyong (Mr Peacock) and Hotham (Mr Chipp), who are prepared to knife one another in turn, and then their present incompetent leader. I reject with contempt the censure motion as despicable and emanating from a Party which would stop at nothing and stoop to anything to achieve its political objectives.

The impasse in Snowy power generation which I forecast at our last sitting week has now arrived. The New South Wales Government is in a desperate position, having exhausted 80 per cent of its yearly allocation of Snowy Mountains waters for electricity generation in 5 months, with only 20 per cent remaining to meet its requirements during peak demands in the remainder of the planning year, namely to 30 April 1974.

The Electricity Commission of New South Wales advised at 1700 hours on Friday, 28 September, that it would be limiting its draw on the Snowy to conserve water so that its further requirements could stay within the limits of its yearly allocation, even though this might lead to load shedding. The 35-Hour Week Committee controls were lifted on 29 September 1973. The 200 megawatt control was renewed yesterday. The intensification of the New South Wales blackouts is a direct result of the New South Wales 35-Hour Week Committee dispute, as lamely admitted by Fuel and Power Minister Fife. The Askin Government has in no case taken disciplinary action against State Electricity Commission employees, not one of whom is on strike and none of whom have been suspended. Instead it has to date carefully avoided full confrontation with these men knowing that a major industrial dispute would cripple New South Wales. The time to pull it, I repeat, has not yet arrived. Nevertheless, it has been quite prepared through its representatives on the Snowy Mountains Council to provoke such an industrial flare-up amongst its State Electricity Commission employees who work on the Snowy Mountains hydro-power stations.

The honourable member for Wannon would, of course, be delighted if I had not chosen the wise and responsible course. I was- not prepared to place the Snowy Mountains power system in a worse situation than that operated by Premier Askin. The Opposition asked for the tabling of all documents relevant to this issue. I gladly table them, fo its embarrassment, and not singly to be quoted out of context, as occurred last Thursday week, tout in proper association. The first document is an address by Mr D. W. Douglas, Operations Engineer of the Snowy Mountains Council, given to the New South Wales Electricity Commission engineers at Carlingford, Sydney. I quote:

The purpose of the Snowy Mountains scheme is to collect, regulate and use the waters of the southwardflowing Snowy River plus other streams in the Snowy Mountains to serve two prime objectives. The first is to augment the flow of the westward-flowing Murray and Mumimbidgee Rivers to permit largescale expansion of primary production by irrigation of the dry fertile plains of the Murray and Mumimbidgee valleys. The second is to generate large quantities of peak load power for New South Wales, Victoria and the A.C.T.

It might be interesting in passing to note that although this is merely an off-peak system, it has been used as a base load system for some months by the New South Wales Electricity Commission. That Commission and the Premier and Government of that State were not prepared to face up to the industrial realities. I now table -


Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - What about your 35-hour week letter?


Mr CONNOR - May I have some silence?


Mr SPEAKER


Mr CONNOR - I now table the draft provisional minutes of the Snowy Mountains Council meeting held on 14 August last which noted a report from Operations Engineer Douglas that power generation at the then current high rate beyond September could cause flooding in the lower Tumut River and that the New South Wales and Victorian Electricity Commissions' planned entitlements of generating water would be exceeded. The New South Wales representative agreed that, to avoid flooding, pre-releases from Blowering reservoir would need to commence within a week. The functions of Blowering reservoir are well known. It is owned and operated by the New South Wales Government. Its planned function is to trap all water discharged from power generation during the winter and to store that water for release during the warmer months to the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. Normally at this early stage it is filled only to about 85 per cent of its capacity. In the 10 days from 22 September to 2 October 24,000 acre feet of water were lost - sufficient to irrigate an area large enough to feed 400,000 people.

On 28 August operations engineer Douglas, with growing alarm, called together the Operations Engineers Committee, comprising the operations engineers from the New South Wales and Victorian electricity commissions. The water liaison officers of the New South Wales and Victorian irrigation commissions also attended. 1 now table Mr Douglas's notes of that meeting and also a letter dated 5 September sent by the Secretary, Mr Gleeson, at the direction of the Chairman of the Council to all its members, requiring their comments on Mr Douglas's notes as a matter of urgency. It is clear from these notes that the New South Wales generation requirements from the Snowy scheme, during September were likely to be such as to cause flooding in the lower Tumut. The notes also show that if power generation were restricted to the extent necessary to avoid flooding the Snowy scheme could not meet demands and load shedding could become necessary in New South Wales.

On 18 September Mr Douglas sent a teleprinter message to the Secretary of the Council, Mr Gleeson, advising him that Blowering reservoir was at spillage point and that the system control engineer from the New South Wales Electricity Commission had confirmed that the alternative to meeting generation schedules which at that date would cause spillage at Blowering reservoir was to shed load. He further advised the Snowy Mountains Coucil that until it had considered the situation the Operations Engineers Committee itself had decided to adopt some policy. The policy was:

Provided the only alternative to generation from the Tumut system which will induce spill from Blowering is load shedding, generation from the Tumut system will be such as to endeavour to restrict the release. . . .

I table the text of that teleprinter message. On Friday, 21 September, a meeting of the Snowy Mountains Council was convened for Tuesday, 25 September. I table the text of that teleprinter message. In the event, the date of this meeting was altered to the morning of 26 September. I table the text of the further notice.

On Saturday, 22 September, Blowering Dam commenced to overflow, and Mr Douglas received advice that the operators of the Tumut stations intended to limit generation from those stations in accordance with determinations by the 35-Hour Week Committee. Mr Douglas telephoned me at Wollongong at midday on Saturday, 22 September. This was my first knowledge of the situation. At no time and at no stage during the whole of this situation have I been approached by the trade unions or the 35- Hour Week Committee to implement their policy. I requested Mr Douglas to telephone the leaders of the 35-Hour Week Committee in Sydney, so that he could explain to them the overall situation and the difficulties of operating a complex system which required maximum flexibility and control, and to report to me on the following day as to the results of his discussion. On Saturday night, 22 September a request not to operate the Tumut No 3 power station was acceded to. I did not authorise that, but I can understand the growing concern of Mr Douglas which impelled him to act as he did.

On Sunday morning, 23 September, I received a telephone message from Mr Hunter, a departmental officer and a deputy member of the Council, who told me of further union demands. I instructed him to get the Federal officers together for me to confer with them at Parliament House on late Sunday afternoon. I drove to Canberra for that purpose. Shortly after my arrival at Parliament House I was telephoned by Mr Reiner, Deputy Chairman of the Snowy Mountains Council and Australian Director-General of Works, who informed me that he had been in consultation by telephone with the State representatives on the Snowy Mountains Council earlier that day. I table his 'Note for File' of 28 September 1973 which gives the exact details of what happened on that Sunday prior to his telephone message to me. I quote:

Industrial Action by E.CNJS.W. Hydro Operators of the Tumut Power Station

The attached resolutions of the EC.N.S.W. hydro operators of the Tumut power stations of the Snowy

Mountains Scheme were brought to my notice by the Operations Engineer of the Snowy Mountains Council by telephone during Saturday 22 September 1973. At 6 p.m. on Saturday, 22 September, demand was placed on the Operations Engineer by the Co-ordinator of the New South Wales 35-hour Week Committee through nominated representatives in the Tumut power stations, not to operate Tumut 3 power station from 6 p.m. Saturday, 22 September, to midnight the same day.

This demand and a subsequent demand not to operate Tumut 3 until 4 p.m. Sunday, 23 September, were acceded to. The officers controlling power supply from the Snowy were not advised by the E.C.N.S.W. of any adverse effect on their system imposed by the Snowy scheme during this period.

On Sunday morning, 23 September 1973, a further demand was placed on the Operations Engineer to limit power generation from the combined Tumut nations to 200 MW from 12.37 p.m. on 23 September 1973 until 6 a.m. on Monday, 24 September 1973. New South Wales power requirements from the Snowy were met within this limit of generation from the Tumut Stations during the afternoon of Sunday 23 September 1973.

However, as this limitation was expected to lead to load shedding in New South Wales during the evening peak ... I sought the views of members of the Snowy Mountains Council as to whether in the circumstances, E.C.N.S.W. hydro operators who refused to follow the directions of the Snowy Mountains Council's Operations Engineer, should in their view be stood down and replaced by E.C.N..S.W. engineers who had volunteered to man the stations and who had been moved to the Tumut area by the - (Extension of tune granted) I take it, Mr Speaker, that I will have the same period of time as was granted to the Opposition spokesman on this matter.


Mr Viner - You can have all day.


Mr CONNOR - He happened to have a further advantage of 5 minutes. Mr Reiher's minute continues:

It was impracticable to call a formal meeting of the Council at such short notice and with the Snowy Mountains Authority member of Council, Mr P. G. Collins and with Mr Hunter, ... I sought the views of other Council members in turn by telephone . . .

The consensus of view of the Council and in particular of the New South Wales and Victorian State Government members of the Council, was that E.C.N.S.W. hydro operators in the Tumut power stations of the Snowy Mountains Scheme who were not prepared to follow the directions of the Operations Engineer of the Council, should be stood down, and that the operations tasks should be performed by alternative manning forces, provided by the E.C.N.S.W.

A.   S. Reiher Deputy Chairman. 28 September 1973

You will note, Mr Speaker, the role played by the representatives of the New South Wales and Victorian State governments who were members of the Council. They were quite prepared to precipitate an industrial stoppage on the Snowy Mountains scheme and to introduce professional engineers to replace those men who ceased duties - action which the New South Wales State Government was not prepared to take in New South Wales. I told Mr Reiher I was not prepared to accept the consensus of view of the Council which would place the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme in a worse position than that of the New South Wales power stations. Two union demands had been met before I had any knowledge of them. Later that afternoon I met at Parliament House with Messrs Reiher. Douglas and Collins. Also present were Messrs Townsend and Hunter of my Department. Refusal to comply with the request of the operators would have resulted in a complete stoppage of generation and the introduction of strike-breaking engineers and this action could have provoked a general upheaval among the Snowy Mountains Authority's own employees.

During the course of my discussion with my officers I said we were faced with 2 stark situations: Further wastage of- irrigation water through the Blowering and the depletion of Lake Eucumbene which was already half empty, and also with a general industrial upheaval. We would have the worst of both worlds. I said that in the circumstances it would be preferable to conform to the requirements of the 35-hour Week Committee which would at least provide some relief to the system rather than to accept the decisions of the New South Wales and Victorian representatives on the Council which would have led to an even worse situation. I was concerned to ensure that only the hydro-electric plant operators normally employed on the stations be allowed on the premises and that the safety of both men and plant should be ensured. I also considered it entirely unacceptable that the Snowy undertaking should be placed in a worse situation than that which operated in stations in New South Wales and be discriminated against by any outside body or persons. I specially stressed that management and control of the stations was to remain in the hands of the Council. It was pointed out to me that because of the views of the New South Wales and Victorian Council members expressed in telephone conversations earlier that day it would be necessary for me to issue a ministerial directive in writing. I instructed Mr Reiher that as no typist was available, he should prepare an appropriate directive and on the following day it was sent to me by courier from my Department. I table a copy of that letter.


Mr Hunt - What was the date?


Mr CONNOR - It is dated Monday, 24 September. My decision was an honest and responsible one. Only one formal advice to the Snowy Mountains Council control centre from the Electricity Commission of New South Wales that shedding was to occur due to failure of the Snowy to meet its demands was received. That was at 1703 hours on Sunday, 23 September. I also asked to be provided with daily reports of both the restricted power outputs and their effect on the water conservation system. I am particularly concerned about the storage position of Lake Eucumbene which is at present 54 per cent full. Its full capacity is 3.9 million acre feet; it contains 7 times as much water as Sydney Harbour. This is the second lowest level of Lake Eucumbene since the completion of the total system. It was at its lowest on 31 August, a month earlier, at 51 per cent. Normally it is partly replenished by the melting of snow. The Spencer's Creek readings show that at the end of September 1973 there was 21 inches of snow at that point containing a water yield of 10 inches. The annual average depth of snow at this time at Spencer's Creek is 67 inches, containing 30 inches of water. This is equivalent to a drop in rainfall of 20 inches for the year. Even if the whole of the water from the melting snow flows into Lake Eucumbene it will add100,000 acre feet less to its storage than the average.

On 26 September - the Wednesday - the Snowy Mountains Council met in Canberra. I table a copy of its draft provisional minutes. The Tumut system had reached a critical situation resulting from the filling of the Blowering reservoir by consistently high energy demands from the Electricity Commission of New South Wales over the past several months. The position had been reached where water was spilling from the Blowering reservoir and flow limitations of the lower Tumut River were becoming a serious constraint on the flexibility of the scheme and its capacity to meet further energy demands. The operational guidelines which are contained in the draft provisional demands were strictly adhered to. I also refer honourable members to a minute of the Deputy Chairman on 26 September which was tabled by me in Parliament on 27 September. It was conveniently ignored by the Opposition. I especially refer honourable members to the paragraph which says:

Irrespective of the industrial action directed at the Tumut power stations of the Snowy Mountains scheme by the hydro plant operators of the Electricity Commission of New South Wales during the past several days, responsible management of water at Blowering Reservoir required curtailment of energy production from the Tumut system. At its meeting today, the Council set down operational guidelines which will have the effect of curtailing power production. . . .

I also table for the information of honourable members a copy of a Press statement by Mr Macbean of the 35-hour Week Committee in which he said:

At no time have I or any other members of the 35-hour week committee asked Mr Connor to reduce regular output of the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric system.


Mr SPEAKER - Order! The Minister's time has expired.







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