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Tuesday, 16 November 1976

Mr O'KEEFE (Paterson) -Members of the National Country Party fully support the States Grants (Water Resources Amendment) Bill which provides financial assistance to the States in connection with the assessment of thenwater resources. Country members of the Parliament are well aware of the need to conserve water resources. We are, of course, vitally concerned with floods and droughts that occur from time to time and we know the great benefit to be derived from the conservation of Australia's water resources. There are 2 river systems in my electorate of Paterson. One is the Hunter River which rises in the Dividing Range and traverses the rich Hunter Valley, flowing out eventually into the sea at Newcastle. It is pleasing to note that on this river we have the wonderful Glenbawn Dam situated above Scone, which provides water all year round for irrigation, stock and domestic purposes. On the other river system, the Namoi River system which flows on the other side of the Dividing Range, there is another splendid dam, the Keepit Dam which provides water for the Namoi River for irrigation of cotton crops, pastoral crops and cereal crops.

This Government is vitally concerned with furthering the program of water resources in Australia. A few weeks ago the New South Wales Grant (Namoi River Weirs) Bill was passed by this House. This provides for 4 weirs on the Namoi River to irrigate cotton and cereal crops. Only several weeks ago, on the Gwydir River in the north-west of New South Wales, the great Copeton Dam was officially opened. The Government provided a huge amount of money- I think it was over $20m- towards this conservation program on the Gwydir River. It is good to see our water resources being conserved in this manner. Country members feel that there should be far more dams and conservation schemes implemented throughout the countryside.

The Bill provides for the continuation of assistance to the States in the conduct of co-ordinated programs for the assessment of the quantity and quality of water resources, both surface and underground. Assistance to the States was initiated by the States Grants (Water Resources) Act of 1964. This was the beginning of the scheme which we are debating today. The legislation was enacted as a result of recommendations made by the Australian Water Resources Council, which was established in 1962 by agreement between the Commonwealth and all State Governments. The Council was set up with the objective of providing a comprehensive assessment of Australian water resources on a continuing basis and the extension of measurement and research so that future planning can be carried out on a sound and scientific basis. The Council consists of Commonwealth and State Ministers with responsibility for water resources. Most States have a water conservation and irrigation commission. These would be the Ministers conferring with the Commonwealth in this Council.

In a publication entitled 'Review of Australia's Water Resources' published in 1963, the Council explained the importance of making a comprehensive and continuing assessment of water resources on a national basis. It made 3 points:

Data is necessary for the economic and safe design, operation and management of water control projects; Australia is the world 's driest continent. There is a real need to know the potential and limitations of water resources; and Water resources have a bearing on population growth, decentralisation of population and industry, increasing exports, improving standards of living and national defence.

As I said earlier, these water resources have a bearing on irrigation of crops, the increase in cereal and cotton crops, dairying and pasture improvement. The work involved in water resources assessment is being carried out in close collaboration with the Bureau of Meteorology, which is making detailed assessments of rainfall distribution for the Water Resources Council. Country members of Parliament find that the advice provided by the Bureau of Meteorology is invaluable at all times. Indeed, in times of flood on the northern rivers of New South Wales, its information is extremely accurate. So, if the Bureau's information is accurate for flood purposes, it will be accurate for the purposes defined in the Bill.

The Water Resources Council has appreciated that stream gauging could not be sufficiently comprehensive to embrace the whole continent. Many streams would remain ungauged. Honourable members who have travelled around Australia, as most country members do, would know that Australia is a huge continent with many streams and many untapped water resources to be investigated. The network of gauging stations could not provide data to enable more general assessments of catchment areas. To overcome this deficiency, the Australian Representative Basins Program has been devised by the Council. Under this Australiawide program up to 100 carefully selected representative catchments are being assessed in detail. Honourable members can readily see of what great value this information will be. From the data collected it will be possible to estimate the likely water resources in areas between catchments. The data recorded in each catchment includes climatic conditions, geology, soil types, topography and vegetation. Measurements are made of rainfall, stream flows, evaporation, humidity, solar radiation, groundwater storage and underground water movements.

Since 1964, States Grants (Water Resources) Acts have provided assistance to the States for measurement of streams and underground water resources. The basis for assistance is a grant of an amount which a State spends over and above a base amount. For each State a maximum amount of grant is provided. Expenditure by a State up to twice the base amount attracts a grant equal to the excess over the base amount. Further expenditure by a State is funded on a dollar for dollar basis until the maximum amount of grant is payable. The amount of Commonwealth assistance provided in the Bill which we are now discussing, and available for each State, has been allocated in accordance with an agreement of the Australian Water Resources Council. Earlier Acts since 1964, covering successive 3-year periods, have provided total grants to the States of $3 1.4m over 12 years. These Acts are concerned with the measurement of discharge of rivers and investigation and measurement of underground water resources. During this period the number of river gauging stations has increased from 1450 to 2750, the measurement of surface water has increased by 40 per cent and underground measurement has increased by one-third. These figures are extremely interesting and indicate the progress that is being made in investigation in the water resources field.

In 1974 the program of work for the measurement of water resources was expanded to embrace the assessment of the quality of surface and underground water. This broadening of the work being done is reflected in the Bill by defining 'assessment' to include measurement of flow and quantity, the examination of quality and the work of recording, arrangement, analysis or publication of information. The Bill makes available $6.658m for 1976-77 and enables the Commonwealth assistance to be maintained in real terms. The levels of assistance for the years 1977-78 and 1978-79 are to be determined before the commencement of these years. Schedule 1 of the Bill outlines the amounts payable to the various States for the assessment of surface water sources. Schedule 2 indicates the amounts payable for the assessment of underground water resources. We know the value of these investigations. We support the Bill in its entirety.

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