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Wednesday, 3 November 1976
Page: 2280


Mr NIXON (Gippsland) (Minister for Transport and Acting Minister for National Resources) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this Bill is to authorise nonrepayable grants to the States over the 3-year period 1976-77 to 1978-79 for the assessment of the quantity and quality of their surface and underground water resources. Commonwealth involvement with the States in water resources assessment goes back to 1964. Following a recommendation by the Australian Water Resources Council, the States, with financial support from the Commonwealth, embarked on an accelerated program to establish a comprehensive network of stream gauging stations and to substantially improve knowledge of underground water resources. As well as implementing programs in its own Territories, the Commonwealth has assisted the States by making available grants of $2.8m, $4.Sm, $8.2m and $15.9m over successive 3-year periods- a total of $3 1 .4m over 12 years. The Bureau of Meteorology has also contributed significantly to the progress of the assessment program over this period with a concurrent expansion of its network of meteorological stations. In 1974, the program was expanded to include assessment of the quality of surface and underground water.

The success of the Commonwealth support for these activities is reflected in expenditure by the States at levels in excess of those required to attract the maximum Commonwealth grant. Under the impetus of the program, the number of stream gauging stations has increased from some 1450 in 1964 to about 2750 in 1975, while the area over which surface water resources are now measured has increased by some 40 per cent during this period. Similarly, the area over which an evaluation of underground water resources can now be made from available data has increased by approximately one-third over the same period. Nevertheless, there remain areas of the continent in respect of which our knowledge of water resources is inadequate, either where data is insufficient, or where the available records are of too short a duration to allow reliable assessments to be made. Data concerning the quality of our water resources is also very limited, and increasing emphasis will be given to this aspect during the coming triennium.

The Commonwealth now proposes to make available a total of $6.658m by way of nonrepayable grants to the States to assist in achieving the proposed programs for 1976-77. This will enable Commonwealth assistance to be maintained in real terms at the level of assistance provided in 1975-76. The Commonwealth has also undertaken to support the program for 1977-78 and 1978-79 at levels to be determined before the commencement of each of these years.

I turn now to the Bill itself, the provisions of which are broadly similar to the 1973-74 legislation and with appropriate provisions for continuing assistance to the States in 1977-78 and 1 978-79. Provision for grants in respect of expenditure by the States on approved programs is made in sections 5 and 6. In respect of each State, Commonwealth grants for both surface and underground water assessment will be determined by the excess of expenditure over and above base amounts specified in the schedule to the Bill until total expenditure is double the base amount. Further expenditure will be funded on a dollar for dollar basis until the maximum grant as specified in the schedule is payable. The maximum grant to each State for 1977-78 and 1978-79 will be determined on an annual basis. In aggregate, Commonwealth assistance for 1976-77 has been allocated between the States in accordance with an agreement reached at the eighteenth meeting of the Australian Water Resources Council.

The Bill also contains a number of machinery provisions which are generally similar to those of the previous Acts relating to this program. These include provision in section 4 for Ministerial approval of annual programs of assessment, and section 9 provides for the submission of annual reports by the States on the progress of the program.

Australia has experienced severe and, in places, record droughts and floods during the past decade. Members with a close interest in Australia's water resources will be acutely aware of the variability of our rainfall and stream flows, the dangers of over-utilising our underground water storages and problems of water quality in years of low surface and underground water supplies. The assessment program for which Commonwealth funds are to be made available for a further 3 years will provide vital information on the availability and quality of surface and underground water across the whole range of climatic conditions experienced in Australia from year to year. This information is indispensable if the planning, development and management of our valuable water resources for domestic, industrial and rural purposes are to proceed on a sound and scientific basis.

I have pleasure in commending the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Dr Cass) adjourned.







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