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Wednesday, 24 August 1983
Page: 204

Mr LLOYD(5.24) —The River Murray Waters Bill is the first major change or extension to the powers of the River Murray Commission since 1914 when of course the first legislation which covered water quantity was passed. This legislation covers water quality. The fact that it has been so long between the first power of the River Murray Commission and this extended power indicates the difficulty of progress in a federal system in which four governments have to agree. The River Murray Commission-the body that comprises or represents the four governments on an equal basis-is a truly federal body. As it was established in 1917, it is probably one of the oldest federal bodies, if not the oldest, in Australia. While acknowledged that the States have been slow to agree and to legislate to provide more power to the River Murray Commission must also be acknowledged that any developments are difficult.

Although the new Agreement is limited, one must congratulate the four governments because at least some progress has been made, even though it may be too late and too little by some people's standards. It brings forward some significant developments for the River Murray Commission. It allows the Commission to formulate quality objectives which it has never had the power to do before. The States are now required to inform the Commission of any works being carried out in their areas which could alter the quality of the main stream. As the shadow Minister for the Environment, the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly), has pointed out, the States have been slow to remember that they have this new requirement. There are also new and more flexible arrangements with regard to State allocations of water. It is significant that the States are now being made more accountable for the quality of water not just in the river, but in all of the tributaries, even though the tributaries remain under the control of the States. The River Murray Commission, by monitoring the river, knows very well that pollution is entering the river from any tributary in any State. The States will have to tighten their overall water management procedures. They will have to provide more public information and they will have to explain their actions. In other words, they will be generally far more accountable, or be required to be more accountable, to the nation and other States than they have been in the past.

I certainly support the River Murray Commission as the body to control the co- ordinated policy for the River Murray. There are limits within our federal system. But we must do what we can from time to time to strengthen its role. TVAs-Tennessee Valley Authorities-the United States Corps of Engineers, Delaware systems, et cetera are merely grandiose ideas on the part of some people. I believe that their promotion in Australia is counterproductive because they take people's minds away from the reality of our federal system and our limited constitutional power, upon which we must always concentrate if we are to make further progress with the river.

I particularly commend the honourable member for Bradfield for his formation of a River Murray committee consisting of coalition members at State and Federal levels. It is a significant achievement. I also commend him for the 10 policy proposals which he presented earlier during this debate. I draw the attention of honourable members to one of them. He suggested that the allocation of finance for River Murray works which would be undertaken by the responsible State along the Murray under the Commonwealth's national resources program-or the bicentennial program, when we return to power-be made through the River Murray Commission rather than to the States. The financial power is tremendous and does not require the legislative approval of the four governments. The alteration of this procedure alone would greatly strengthen the power of the River Murray Commission to obtain the necessary co-operation and co-ordination.

We expect a lot of the River Murray. People are very quick to criticise its management and problems. But I am not aware of any other river in the world over which such precise management controls are required. The average flow of the Murray is about 12 million megalitres of water a year. But the annual flow varies dramatically, and in an extremely dry year, such as in the year 1982-83 which has just concluded, the flow can be as little as 2 million to 2 1/2 million megalitres. The total storage capacity under the control of the River Murray Commission is about 9 million megalitres. In a dry year the river is expected to provide about 7 1/2 million megalitres, of which 4 1/4 million megalitres is for irrigation, 250,000 megalitres for towns and cities, 1 1/4 million for South Australian flow, and 2 million megalitres lost to evaporation. To provide this volume in some years, 5 million megalitres must be drawn from storages. Thus, in an extremely dry year there is a very tight situation; hence the dramatic rundown in the storages over the last 12 months. Of course, storages are still at very low levels.

In an average year, about 1.4 million tonnes to 1.5 million tonnes of salt is discharged from the Murray, but this amount can actually increase several times in a wet year. I emphasise that the misconception that many people have is that somehow or other in a dry year the amount of salt in the river increases. Actually, it decreases. It increases in a wet year. Each State contributes about one-third of the salt which enters the river, much of it entering by natural means. It has always done so and always will do so, irrespective of irrigation. In dry years in the past, the Murray River has ceased to flow to the sea. Quite frankly, the river in the year just concluded-the driest of all years for river flow-would have stopped flowing to the South Australian border if it had not been for the dams built in the upper river area, particularly the Dartmouth Dam.

Almost every major newspaper, magazine and television program in Australia at some stage has carried an article or a series-a film has also been made-about the gigantic myth that the Murray is a dying and deteriorating river. This week' s Bulletin is no exception when it comes to the inaccuracies printed about the river. I only wish that the Press would check with the River Murray Commission for some facts before they print their articles. I quote from this week's Bulletin:

Last year the problem was different. Then, with record low levels from drought, the salt content of the lower Murray was so high the water was hardly drinkable, even after treatment.

The implication was that the salt level increased last year. I will refer later in the debate to figures from the River Murray Commission which indicate that the salinity level actually dropped. The article continued:

Salinity is the Murray's single biggest problem. The river carries millions of tonnes to the sea each year.

I have already told honourable members that the average flow is about 1 1/2 million tonnes. It continued:

When the water is used for irrigation, the salt leaches down through the soil to accumulate in the water table.

Actually, the reverse usually happens. The geology of the area, the underlying basis of soil in the area, means that the salt is already present. As water is applied and the water level rises, the salt that was already present rises in the water. That is at variance with the comment made in the article. Some of the articles to which I am referring that have built up a gigantic myth about a dying river are based, in my view, on a deliberate misinformation campaign promoted in South Australia. Once again, the River Murray Commission has never been checked for the accuracy of these statements and allegations that have been made. That campaign was promoted particularly against New South Wales and its allocation of pumping licences from the Darling River. The Darling is a New South Wales river, not a River Murray Commission river. That campaign has been particularly damaging in several ways. Part of the campaign from South Australia is based on the argument that, if water is removed from the Darling, the quality of water to the people of Adelaide will be reduced. The opposite is the case. Because of the turbidity of the Darling River, if water was removed from it and less reached Adelaide, the quality of Adelaide water would be improved.

The second part of the argument is that the river flow has not reached the sea at certain stages over the last couple of years due to dams built in the upper river areas and irrigation along the river. As I have already said, over the years the Murray has stopped flowing from time to time. If it had not been for the dams, particularly the Dartmouth Dam, the Murray River would not even have reached South Australia during the last year-the year of the lowest flow on record. Once again, it proves the tremendous value of the Dartmouth Dam for providing a reserve of high quality water for all people along the river.

The next point is that the river quality is deteriorating and that somehow or other, year by year, the salinity level is increasing. I refer now to some correspondence and information provided by the River Murray Commission in April of this year. This information is public for anybody who bothers to take the trouble to ask for it or to read the Press releases that the Commission puts out from time to time. The correspondence states:

To summarise, salinities this irrigation season have been very good given the extreme drought conditions experienced. They have been at least as good as last season which included a flood, and much better than those experienced during the 1967/68 drought.

Of course, 1967-68 was a very dry year. I will give the House some figures. These are EC levels, salinity levels, in the river at different places: In 1967- 68 at Swan Hill the average for December, January and February was 180 EC units. In the 1981-82 spring flood year, when there was a lot of water, it went to 270. But in this very dry year it was 140, even lower than in the previous dry year. At Waikerie in South Australia in the 1967-68 year it was 1,240 EC units. In the 1981-82 spring flood it was 930 and in the 1982-83 very dry year 840, lower than in each of those two previous years. In case honourable members think that is a little out of date, I will quote figures for two weeks-the week ended 13 April 1983, which would have been just about the last dry week before the rains, and the week ended 21 April 1982, a similar week in a far wetter year. At Swan Hill the figures were 170 EC units this year, last year 290; at Waikerie, 750 EC units this year, 1,100 last year; at Murray Bridge, 1,000 EC units this year, 1, 150 EC units last year. So much for the myth that the river is continually deteriorating. I only wish that people would check the facts with the River Murray Commission instead of listening to misinformation and reading misleading articles which keep appearing in magazines and newspapers.

I acknowledge that we have a very serious situation and that much remains to be done, but the point is that salinity levels are being reduced by a series of programs: First of all, government-financed programs which are keeping saline drainage away from the river; secondly, the construction of the Dartmouth Dam and, had we continued in power, a further dam to provide higher quality water for security and quality purposes in the upper Murray; and, thirdly, the laser land-levelling techniques which are now being widely used by irrigation farmers in my area and other irrigation areas. That land is being levelled at the rate of 5 per cent a year and, as the technique has been used for only about three or four years, that rate is accelerating. That is a tremendous uptake of new technology. Groundwater pumping to lower groundwater in irrigation areas is doing three things at the same time. Firstly, it is lowering the groundwater level; secondly, it is providing about 200,000 more megalitres each year for irrigation; and, thirdly, it is keeping groundwater away from the river. Those two innovative farmer programs were aided very much by the taxation incentives introduced by the last Government and by some excellent co-operative education programs and relationships between State departments responsible for agriculture , water supply and the farmers. These measures in turn are allowing continual reductions in State departments' estimates of what further works for the diversion of saline drainage from the river are necessary, which means a reduction in the cost of big capital programs. For this to continue requires public support and acknowledgement of the great work being done, and it certainly means that continuing government support through taxation incentives, loan schemes and government capital works is necessary. I would like to commend the Commonwealth Development Bank which has recently instituted a special laser loan scheme to encourage farmers even more to do the expensive work that is necessary.

Irrigation farmers have also been criticised for being inefficient and thus needlessly contributing to the salinity of the river. I acknowledge that mistakes have been made in the past in certain irrigation areas. The same could be said of the siting of towns on coastal rivers along the eastern coast of Australia or of putting Darwin and Townsville in cyclone-prone areas, but nobody ever talks of moving any of those towns. We should also acknowledge that we are criticising now with a level of technology which was not available in the early days. We also have to acknowledge that some farmers are better managers than others.

I want to abolish a few more myths. Irrigation farmers in the Goulburn-Murray irrigation district are efficient. By United States irrigator standards they are very efficient. I have personal experience over 20 years of living and working on and visiting irrigation farms in the Platte Valley of Nebraska, the Columbia Basin system in Washington, the Central, San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys of California and the Imperial Valley of California. The irrigation farmers in all those irrigation areas put on and drain off far more water than any irrigation farmer in Australia. Australian irrigation farmers are also responding to the new technology quicker than their counterparts in the United States; and I was in some of those irrigation areas two months ago. For example, as I have said, we are already ahead of the United States in the use of lasers, although the technique has been used for only a few years.

I am particularly concerned by a report to be released in the near future entitled 'Perspectives on Australia's Water Resources to the year 2000'. From what I have heard in certain comments that have been made about it, certain conclusions have been reached irrespective of the evidence. I believe that this document will be recommending that a punitive user-pay requirement is needed for irrigation water. Quite bluntly, if that is the case, it is contrary to United States experience, to the way in which to work with farmers and farmer sociology , and to the Australian experience. I cannot remember any unionists in Australia responding to the whip. Recently when in the United States I discussed these policy matters with the United States Department of Agriculture in Washington, with officials in Nebraska where there are eight million acres irrigated-three times our total irrigated acreage-and in the Imperial Valley in California. The Colorado water being applied in the Imperial Valley is more saline than any water in the River Murray.

The people I spoke to acknowledged that they had discussed a punitive user-pay policy for water pricing but had rejected it in favour of co-operative education of the sort that we are using and an encouragement to use technology. They said that if there were to be a penalty it should be on the amount of drainage water that goes off a farm, not on the amount of water put on a farm. The price of water in most of those areas of the United States, the combined water application and drainage rate, is about half what it is here in the Goulburn- Murray area. I acknowledge that in parts of the Central Valley it is higher because there is competition for water between urban and rural users such as there is in the Hunter Valley in this country, but there is not a policy of applying a penalty price. If this report recommends this way and if it is used by State irrigation authorities as an excuse to apply a punitive price for water , I believe it will be counterproductive. It will make our irrigation farmers less competitive than their United States counterparts in export markets because the price they pay for water is about half what we pay now. It will also reduce the ability of farmers to invest in new technology which in some cases, with lasering, can cost several hundred dollars a year.

Much was made by the Government in the Budget last night of a 19 per cent increase in the expenditure on the national water resources program. That is a Budget allocation of 19 per cent more than was actually spent last year. A look at last year's Budget Papers and at what was said at Budget time will reveal that the figure then was $41.7m. In other words, it is an increase of less than 10 per cent and far below the average increase in Budget expenditure. As $38.9m still has to be allocated, no one can tell me that it is all going to be spent. I hope that it is spent. Just as last year's allocation was not spent in total because of the problems of the States-I think the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Brumby) referred to this-I believe that this year's allocation will also not be spent. One of the reasons that the previous Government brought in the bicentennial water resources program which did not require dollar for dollar money was that the States were too slow in spending money and we put in $70m a year without waiting for the States to put up their dollar for dollar amount. Much has been made in the debate this afternoon about water research, but I noticed with some curiosity that expenditure on water research this year has been halved to $500,000 from $1m last year. To conclude and to return to the Bill, I believe progress is being made at a pace thought impossible a few years ago, and I appeal to the Government not to upset a successful combination of policies.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

It is to be recalled that the same limitation of liability will also apply in the proposed new section 12 of the Migration Act relating to criminal deportation. I digress to make the point that the House should not make the mistake of confusing amendments to section 14 of the Act on security grounds with amendments to section 13 on the basis of criminal deportation. The protection of those who are within the scope of proposed new section 14 (1)-that is to say, temporary residents or permanent residents of less than 10 years standing-will be maintained if and when their conduct brings them within the much narrow scope of this proposed new sub-section. The Minister may not order their deportation unless a commissioner who is or has been a judge of a Federal court or of the supreme court of a State or Territory, or a barrister or solicitor of the High Court of Australia or of a supreme court of a State or Territory of not less than five years standing, and who is appointed by the Governor-General has reviewed their case and has reported to the Minister within the framework of section 14. The Government has also decided to remove from the Bill reference to certain sections of the Crimes Act under which conviction may result in deportation on security grounds.

I conclude by saying that we also intend to amend clause 13 which amends section 16 of the Act to render non-citizens to be deemed a prohibited non- citizen when in seeking a further entry permit after their arrival they have produced or caused to be produced certain false, forged documents or have made or caused to be made a false or misleading statement. I hope that with regard to this Bill which has been introduced, the amendments which I will introduce tonight and a further Bill which will be introduced after we have received the Human Rights Commission report the House will consider this matter further, especially with regard to civil liberties, and regard it as part of a continuing and ongoing review of the Migration Act 1959 which has not been amended for so many years in such a progressive way. I thank the House.