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Tuesday, 18 May 1965

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (Western Australia) . - I rise to support this Bill. I agree with Senator Scott that it is an important measure for a number of reasons to which I shall refer later. It is pleasing to Western Australians that this assistance is to be given by the Commonwealth Government particularly in view of the response we had about two weeks ago to our request for assistance for the Ord River scheme. However, I regret that in this case the Government has seen fit to depart from the principle embodied in the grant for the modified comprehensive water scheme. In that case the Commonwealth Government made a straight out grant. Under the provisions of the Bill now before the Senate assistance is to be given to Western Australia by way of a loan, bearing interest and repayable in instalments over a period of 15 years as Senator Cant has mentioned. These repayments are to commence 10 years after the payment is made by the Commonwealth Government. Therefore, no payment will be required by the Commonwealth until after the completion of this scheme.

What worries me about this arrangement is that no doubt the Western Australian Government will endeavour to recoup some of the interest and sinking fund payments that it is required to meet. Perhaps it will endeavour to recoup itself by increasing the charges for water supplied to the farmers. This would be a very serious matter because it would add to the costs of primary producers. 1 referred to this matter in my speech on the Budget last year and I said then that I believed Western Australia could not afford to service loans of this kind and at the same time carry out a programme of development over a land mass covering 32.8 per cent, of Australia. Western Australia must look to the Commonwealth Government for assistance and the Commonwealth must give this assistance on a grant basis rather than through loans as provided in this Bill. The two honorable senators who have participated in the debate so far devoted a good deal of time to the benefits which will be derived by Western Australia from this proposal. I do not want to go into that aspect because, as I have said, I dealt with it during the Budget debate last year, but I agree with what they have said.

I believe that this will not be the last occasion on which Western Australia will ask for assistance to further the extension of water to the country areas of that State. To support that statement let me point out to the Senate the situation which exists in Western Australia. I think all honorable senators realise that by world standards Australia is an arid continent. I have obtained statistics which show that the average rainfall in Australia is 16.5 inches whereas the average rainfall on the land masses of the rest of the world is 26 inches. Even in the United States the average is 29 inches. It is rather interesting to note the rainfall on other continents. In South America it is 53.1 inches, in Africa 28 inches, in Asia 25.4 inches and in Europe 24.3 inches.

Rainfall in Australia varies from something like 178 inches at Deeral in north Queensland to well under 5 inches in the Lake Eyre region. Even in the same State and in the same district there is a great variation. For instance, in 1945 the average rainfall at Deeral was 287 inches whereas in 1943 it was down to 109 inches. The rainfall on individual properties in the drier areas in the centre of Australia may vary from 1 inch to 20 inches from year to year.

In the southern portion of Australia the rainfall is more or less uniform and comes in peak periods, mostly in the winter. In the northern portion of the continent the rainfall comes mainly wilh the monsoons over a. period of three or four months. It is interesting to note also - this is not common to Australia but applies throughout the world - that the heaviest falls of rain are generally on the eastern side of continents so it is obvious that Western Australia has a lower rainfall than the eastern States of Australia have.

When we consider the water potential, Western Australia has something like 8 per cent, of Australia's total potential of which 6 per cent, is in the northern areas and the remaining 2 per cent, in the south western part of the State. The proposed extension with which we are dealing covers a large area of the wheat belt but to the north of the area young men who have taken up many thousands of acres of land are today carting water for up to 50 and 60 miles. They have not even drinking water at some periods of the year. Senator Scott gave one reason, but there are many other reasons why these people cannot get water. They have spent thousands upon thousands of pounds putting down bores in a search for water, but with no result. They have even tried constructing dams but the soil there is too porous to hold the water, with the result that the dams leak and their efforts and money are wasted. So the only way in which water can be extended to these areas is through pipelines. Again I say that Western Australia cannot construct these pipelines on her own. She has been spending £500,000 a year from her own resources, but even if she were to keep on at that rate of expenditure, it would be almost the end of the century before water could be supplied to those parts about which I am speaking. I am sure that the people who live there cannot wait that long. Therefore I make an appeal here and now to the Senate and to the Government to realise, please, in advancing money under this Bill that this is not the last time the Government will be asked to assist a State that is developing about 1 million acres a year, most of which is in the drier areas, for the State will require further assistance to extend water to them. I support the Bill.

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