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Wednesday, 24 August 1983
Page: 200

Mr ANDREW(5.00) —The River Murray Waters Bill is probably one of the most important and significant documents to come before the House this session. It is certainly the most significant from the point of view of South Australian members. It is for that reason that a larger proportion than normal of South Australian members have addressed themselves to this Bill. I point out to the House that this Bill has had bipartisan support in all that has been said here this afternoon and yesterday.

This Bill directly affects South Australians, it directly affects my constituents and it directly affects me. It is more important to South Australians than to any other of the States signatories to the Bill. The River Murray provides 80 per cent of the water than runs off from the State of South Australia. A total of 1.1 million people in South Australia rely on that river; 90 per cent of the State's population, 49 per cent to 62 per cent-depending on whether it is a drought year-of water for stock, domestic and agricultural use comes from the River Murray and 80 per cent of Adelaide's water is drawn from it . If the honourable member for Grey (Mr O'Neil) chooses to take a bath, 90 per cent of the water that fills his bath comes from the River Murray. I make a point that ought to be borne in mind: While the honourable member for Grey might use the same voluminous quantities of bath water as the rest of us, the Aborigines in his electorate could live on 1.5 litres of water a day. Australians, particularly South Australians, manage to consume an average of 532 litres of water a day. It takes 435 litres of water to grow the wheat to bake a loaf of bread and 3.8 litres of water to brew half a litre of beer. Let us not underestimate the importance of water and the Murray stream to South Australian people.

There has been an historic fascination with the River Murray system. People have been obsessed with the potential of this great river system since Captain Sturt sailed down the river to the mouth in 1829-30. But in spite of the interest, it took 50 years-from 1863 to 1913-for an agreement to be reached on the way in which the river ought to be managed. That 50 years spanned three conventions, three conferences and, in 1906, an agreement that was never ratified. As honourable members are all aware, further negotiations took place until 1913, and finally in 1915 or, as the honourable member for Grey suggests, 1917-I have no intention of being in dispute with him this afternoon-the River Murray Waters Agreement was finally ratified. It has concerned me that we have created in this House the impression that the river is all but finished. I suggest that that is quite wrong. We have allowed a much flaunted impression of neglect, but the reality is that much has happened on the river to make the things we want and need to do possible.

From 1922 to 1940, in order to better manage the river system, 13 locks and weirs were constructed and the Murray mouth barrage was put in place. In spite of the gloom, in spite of the current headlines that say that the river is dying and in spite of the fact that in one day 20,000 tonnes of salt will pass the front of the Berri Hotel the river continues to be a very viable and essential stream. The honourable member for Mallee (Mr Fisher) made the point that only 7 per cent of the water delivered in the Wimmera-Mallee irrigation area reaches its destination. That is not true in the electorate of Wakefield. Real steps have been taken to ensure that effective and efficient water distribution techniques exist within the Wakefield irrigation area. I am pleased to be able to say that exciting initiatives are occurring to the extent that the river drainage that was once a problem is now proving to be over-engineered.

Mr Jacobi —I'll say, but it has taken a long time though.

Mr ANDREW —I agree. The reality is that the initiatives that have been taken in irrigation water distribution have enabled a much better river environment than we had previously. I pay tribute to those who have been prepared to upgrade Riverland irrigation and drainage areas and to introduce sprinkler and drip irrigation so that the previously overburdened river and drainage systems can now cope with the irrigation techniques. As the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly) pointed out in his contribution to this debate, what is needed is a much wider adoption of modern and effective irrigation techniques. This Bill enables the Commission to monitor the water quality which is now so important.

I agree with the honourable member for Hawker (Mr Jacobi) and the honourable member for Grey that the Bill does not do what we, as Riverland irrigators, South Australians or people concerned with the Riverland environment would like it to do. We would all like it to do much more. But the initiative for a more efficient Bill now rests solely in the courts of the honourable member for Hawker and the honourable member for Grey. No one suggests that this Bill is perfect. All the speakers in this debate have said-I endorse their remarks-that this Bill is only the first step. It took 50 years to take the first step. Perhaps this Bill is the second step. But at least this Bill comes into this House in a climate and an environment which is much more sympathetic with what is being done to the river system than has historically been the case.

I can give examples of some of these places. In South Australia-the State on the end of the sewer some would say-river red gums are being regenerated in some places because of more efficient water management techniques. This Bill is a step in the right direction. If further steps are to be taken they now rest squarely with the Government. I note proudly that the Government has picked up the theme of my maiden speech and that there are now Labor governments in each of the three States through which the River Murray is running. Those governments now have taken the initiative of reinforcing what this Bill endeavours to do. I pay tribute to the Hon. Peter Arnold, the former Minister of Water Resources in the South Australian State Government. He was part of the initiative that brought this present inadequate, but essential, Bill into being. I point out to the House that, while I have no wish to be repetitious about the things that other honourable members have said or about the history of the river system, the new Agreement is a great improvement on its predecessor. The most significant addition, particularly for South Australia, is the new initiatives included in Part IV. It sets out provisions for water quality and control. The principal initiatives in this Part provide power for the Commission to:

consider any or all relevant water management objectives, including water quality, in the investigation, planning and operation of works;

monitor water quality;

co-ordinate studies concerning water quality in the Murray River;

recommend water quality standards for adoption by the States;

make recommendations to any Government agency or tribunal on any matter which may affect the quantity or quality of Murray River waters;

make representations to any Government agency concerning any proposal which may significantly affect the flow, use, control or quality of Murray River waters;

have regard to the possible effects of its decisions on any river or water management objectives when exercising its powers under the agreement.

The new Agreement, therefore, for the first time requires the Commission to take account of water quality in its management of the Murray River. As far as South Australians are concerned this is a major advance.

Earlier the honourable member for Hawker challenged members of the Opposition not to go 'wet', if honourable members will pardon the pun, on the question of how to implement this Bill. I reiterate the statement I made that the implementation of this Bill now rests squarely with the Government. I do not challenge the authority of the honourable member for Hawker; I respect his view. But the reality is that any extension of the powers of this Bill would call for State governments to surrender the sovereignty that they currently have. That will not be an easy exercise to undertake.

I support whatever reasonable action the honourable member for Hawker may take in strengthening the powers of this Bill. I simply say as a South Australian that the Bill is a positive step in the right direction and it is significant that South Australians will now have some sort of control over the actions that may well defile the very water source they use. This sort of control is their right. I support the Bill.