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Wednesday, 24 March 1965


Senator DITTMER (Queensland) . - At the outset let me say on behalf of the Opposition that we support at all times measures to assist under-developed countries with underfed people but we condemn this Government which has been in office since 10th December 1949 for its characteristic laziness, ineffectiveness and inefficiency. This Government's sins of omission and commission are too numerous for me to mention in the time allotted to me, but may I say that the Bill now before us and the original legislation, the Indus Basin Development Fund Bill, show the measure of the Government's laziness or lack of knowledge. I do not know at whose door the fault lies.

The Government proposes to assist another two Commonwealth countries but we have received no details of the proposal. It is no use the Government saying that because this is a supplementary bill only a very brief statement is necessary. If honorable senators cast back their minds to 1st December 1960 they will recall that the Minister who tonight introduced this Bill, on that occasion also provided very little information about the project under consideration to which Australia was to contribute £6.965 million, New Zealand £1.250 million, Canada £10 million, the Federal Republic of Germany £13 million, the United Kingdom £26 million and the United States of America £79 million. In addition, America was to make a loan of 70 million dollars and promised a further 250 million dollars to assist in the completion of the scheme.

On that occasion, although presumably the Minister or his advisers knew the details, only a broad outline of the project was given. At no stage were we afforded any measure of detail about, for example, the number of acres likely to be irrigated and. the number of people to be settled on the irrigated areas. He did not tell us how many acre feet of water would be made available. At no stage did he furnish us with any information about the amount of electricity that would be generated. Is this the way in which Government supporters, Opposition members and the people of Australia aire to be treated? Either the Government is adopting a cavalier attitude towards the expenditure of funds, or it just does not know in what directions the money will be spent.

The second reading speech on the Bill now before us covers little more than one page. As I have said, it is no use the Government claiming that this is only a supplementary bill designed to provide another £4,669,000 towards the cost of the project, because, when the initial Bill was introduced, little more information was furnished. It is time the Government realised that it has a real responsibility to this country even though, through a series of misfortunes for the people of Australia, it has achieved success at various elections.

On 2nd December 1960 I said that the Government was perhaps underestimating the cost of the project. Now, four years later, we learn that it has underestimated the cost. When we are going to spend money that is collected from the people, we have a responsibility to see that it is spent wisely. We have a responsibility - and this applies particularly to the Government - to see that the project planned is completed within the estimated cost and as near as possible to the estimated time. I know that in this case unusual engineering difficulties were encountered but we must remember that this project was under consideration for a number of years.

The Indus waters have been a bone of contention for many years, first between the princely States and provinces of India. After 1947 following the partition of India, they were the cause of dispute between India and Pakistan. Consideration was first given to a settlement of the dispute between the two countries in 1951. This was directed to the problem of the distribution of the waters of the Indus River and its five tributaries. The Indus Waters Treaty between Pakistan and India was not signed until September 1960. Previously the scheme had been submitted to the various countries which have subscribed to it. It appeared that reasonable time had been allowed to estimate the likely cost of the project. But the Minister for Works (Senator Gorton) informs us now that the estimate has been increased by £140 million. Greater care should be taken in estimating the total cost of major projects and this is certainly one of the biggest in the world today. Perhaps some experts were left out of the picture. We know there is an inflationary trend all over the world. Costs are rising. Unusual engineering difficulties may be encountered in particular projects. But there must be some way to get closer to the actual ultimate cost.

By and large, the engineers know the problems they have to meet and they know the costs. Perhaps other experts should be called in to advise them on likely trends in costs and money values. We should not be faced with continual increases in the amount of money needed for a project after an estimate has been made.


Senator Marriott - Like the Sydney Opera House.


Senator DITTMER - That is one such project and there are others which are the responsibility of this Government. We are not discussing the Sydney Opera House but the Indus Basin development scheme. I am speaking in general terms because this debate gives me an opportunity to say that this is characteristic of governments of all kinds. It is particularly characteristic, however, of successive Menzies Governments and I refer to the frequency with which the actual cost of completed projects has exceeded the original estimate. I could run through a number of them if the Senate wishes. I plead for a more careful estimate of the cost of completing major undertakings.

Despite the laziness of the Government and the cursory way in which the Minister has presented this Bill and its predecessor, the Opposition supports the measure. Throughout the years we have made our attitude plain. We believe that the haves have a responsibility to the have-nots even if it entails sacrifices because we have to do what we can to help countries whose people are under-nourished. This project comes within that category. The Indus River traverses approximately l.,800 miles. It rises in the glaciers of Tibet and, fed by the snows of the Himalayas and other ranges, it contains an enormous volume of water. The Indus is fed by five tributaries and its flow is largely seasonal.

The proposal is to harness this tremendous volume of water in the interests of a great number of people. There are 50 million people in the affected area and the land under irrigation totals 30 million acres. This is probably the largest area of irrigated land in the world. It is not irrigated according to our ideas with dams, pumps and concrete canals but entirely by the flow of the river. In some seasons, those at the lower end of the Basin do not get enough water for irrigation. By and large the three eastern tributaries are in Indian territory. When those in the upper reaches and along the tributaries are drawing water and the flow is not constant, those along the lower reaches, and particularly the Pakistanis, are deprived of adequate water for irrigation. As a result, agricultural production is not sufficient to feed the people. This is what led to arguments and acrimony between India and Pakistan.

The project under discussion is an attempt to solve this problem. Credit must go to Mr. Eugene Black of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development who realised that this was a question of equitable distribution of water between the two countries. He approached Mr. Nehru of India and President Khan of Pakistan. After discussion they concluded the Indus Waters Treaty. Plans for distribution were made in association with works to provide dams, irrigation facilities, hydro-electric power and other developments. India agreed to contribute £62,500,000 sterling which is near enough to £80 million Australian. Arrangements were made for waters of the eastern rivers to be available completely to India but for a period of ten years, to be extended if necessary to 13 years, water was to be permitted to go to Pakistan for certain periods of the year. The countries agreed to co-operate and to establish a commission composed of a representative of each country to handle disputes. It was agreed that in the event of a disagreement, an arbitrator would be appointed.

This was a tremendous step forward. It was agreed that a proposal should go to the International Bank for the completion of this enormous engineering undertaking. The plan visualised the provision of water to irrigate an additional 30 million to 60 million acres of reasonably good agricultural land. This would extend the range of agricultural products from wheat and cotton to rice, barley, various types of corn and oil seed.

Honorable senators can see that this does represent something really tangible to the ultimate future of these people. The Opposition says - and we have claimed so through the years - that Australia has been parsimonious. As a comparatively wealthy nation, considering the relatively few who live here, we have a responsibility, financially and otherwise, to our fellow man. I do not think that we have adequately fulfilled our obligation to these people. Nor does my party think that we have done so. For a number of years the Australian Labour

Party has suggested that it should be the responsibility of this country to provide 1 per cent, of its national income to assist underdeveloped countries, but actually, for the present year, and taking Papua and New Guinea into account, we will have provided little more than £40 million. We will have provided little more than half of one per cent, of our national product. That is not good enough. Of course, this is what you come to expect. Day in and day out, month after month, year followed by another year, we have this parsimonious approach by the Government, whether in regard to aid to underdeveloped countries, whether it is food for starving people, whether it is to meet the educational needs of our children or the adolescents of this country, whether it is to provide a reasonable and adequate health service or decent hospital services at a reasonable cost to the people, whether it is in regard to national development, particularly in the north, or whether it is to meet the needs of irrigation in Queensland, Western Australia, New South Wales or South Australia.

The Minister, in reply, will rise and tell us that the Government is assisting with the Chowilla Dam in South Australia and with the Blowering Dam in New South Wales. Those are about the only two irrigation projects in Australia that the Government is assisting and this is the most arid continent in the world. We have become accustomed to our deficiencies and the careless recklessness of our Government. We just do not know when it will accept a real responsibility and whether it is capable of exercising responsibility.

We realise that in this area served by the Indus Waters there are 50 million people living at a very low standard. In many seasons they die through famine. We realise that the soil in that area is rapidly being spoilt by salination with the lifting of the water table. We realise that here is a way in which to help these people and that we can lift their standard of living somewhat, perhaps not to the level of our own but at least much beyond that which is their lot at the present time. We realise, as a responsible Opposition, that we have an obligation to support this Bill. We do support it but at the same time we do not hesitate to condemn the Minister - not as an individual person, but as the representative of a Cabinet - for the lazy approach which has been adopted. If it is not a lazy approach then it does betoken an almost complete lack of knowledge of where this money is going to and what really constitutes the project. We condemn the laziness and lack of interest displayed by the Government which has not provided a sufficient and reasonable amount of knowledge regarding the project to this chamber and to the people of Australia. The people's money is to be devoted to this project. We condemn the Government for its ineffectiveness and its repeated acts of inefficiency.

Senator SCOTT(Western Australia) [9.551. - Mr. President, I rise to support the Indus Basin Development Fund Supplemental Agreement Bill and I would like to correct a few of the inaccurate remarks made by Senator Dittmer who has just resumed his seat. He started off by condemning this Government for its lack of knowledge of the scheme and for its inability to assess its cost in the first instance.


Senator Dittmer - The honorable senator is not accurate to start with.







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