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Tuesday, 27 October 1964

Senator O'BYRNE (Tasmania) .- 1 relate my remarks to Division No. 853 - Australian Capital Territory Services, and in particular to the proposed expenditure of £54,000 on the operation and maintenance of Lake Burley Griffin. Last year there was an appropriation of £30,000, of which £9,1 13 was expended. Lake Burley Griffin finally came into being this year. It is more or less unanimously agreed that the lake has surpassed the hopes and expectations of even those who were responsible for its contruction. The construction of the lake has had the effect of uniting both sides of the city of Canberra. In every respect it is a magnificent project.

Recently I read the report of the Department of Health that the water of the lake was unfit for swimming. The report should be placed before honorable senators so that they may look at it and if necessary seek other opinions. Some years ago when I was the Vice-Chairman of the Public Works Committee I saw a report from the Department of Health about the water in the Queanbeyan River, which was being considered as a possible source of supply of drinking water for Canberra. That report showed that dead drought stricken sheep were in the catchment area and that this was one of the causes of the pollution of the Canberra water supply.

When we went to the area we found that the farmers, in estimating the value of their properties, would not admit that it was a drought area. They said that their land was valuable and that droughts were practically unknown in the area. We followed up the report of the Department of Health. We found that the dead sheep, which were shown in a photograph that was given to us as evidence of the pollution of the water, had died in a stock train and had been left on the side of the railway line. Yet that was submitted to us as a reason for deciding against water from the Queanbeyan River being used for drinking purposes by the people of Canberra.

One of the reasons that was given for condemning Lake Burley Griffin for swimming was the discharge of drains into the lake. As an amount of £54,000 is to be spent this year on operation and maintenance work in connection with Lake Burley Griffin, I would ask whether it is not possible to find an alternative discharge for the drains. After all, over the years in Canberra we have been drinking water that has been discoloured. At times it has looked as though it contained enough livestock to populate a zoo. Some people, particularly in country areas that take their water from rivers and have not the elaborate filtration or other treatment plants that the more advanced municipalities have, drink water straight from the rivers and it has no effect on their health.

Senator Maher - They have done it throughout history.

Senator O'BYRNE - Yes. Man has thrived on it. The dill water that is served up has no flavour. A little bit of livestock adds flavour to it. After the expense of creating this wonderful lake it is a pity that a report from a section of the Department of Health should lead to a widespread belief that swimming in the lake would be deleterious to health. I have seen swimming pools that were a mecca for sun lovers and bathers, but after thousands of people had swum in them the water looked as thick as pea soup. It would be much more healthy for people to swim in Lake Burley Griffin, with its broad expanse of water, than it would be for them to swim in a pool used by thousands.

I want to raise an objection to the belief that Lake Burley Griffin is unfit for swimming. I would like an assurance from the Minister that we can have a look at the report that has condemned the lake for swimming. We should have other opinions based on a practical examination of the water, and the Minister should see that such opinions are obtained. Because people are allowed to row and to sail on the lake, there will be occasions when, through capsizes, there will be swimming in the lake, regardless of whether or not it is condemned for swimming. After the wonderful work that has been done to make the lake as perfect as man can make it, there is this stigma which I believe is unnecessary. I would go so far as to say that the water in Lake Burley Griffin would be just as good for drinking and for swimming as 95 per cent, of the water in the rivers and water holes of Australia. For that reason I think that the Minister should have another look at this matter.

Senator Wright - Did the honorable senator refer to all water holes in Australia?

Senator O'BYRNE - Yes. After all, most of the outback rivers do not flow continuously during the year. They become a series of water holes, or depressions in the river bed. Of course, between falls of rain the water holes are used to supply water for domestic purposes to many towns and to many stations. Over the years I have seen people thrive on water that was so discoloured that it resembled milk rather than water. I think we are becoming a little too sophisticated when we allow a report, such as the one which evidently has been submitted, to prevent people from swimming in the lake because of the belief that some harm could come to them. If the Minister were to express views on this matter, or if he could give the Senate an assurance that we can see this report, I would appreciate it very much.

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