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Wednesday, 9 October 1991
Page: 1591


Mr ELLIOTT(8.30 p.m.) —-In speaking to the Department of Primary Industries and Energy estimates, I note at the outset that not a great deal of rural industry takes place in the electorate of Parramatta these days--although I can claim that it was the founding place of Australian agriculture, both in wheat and wool, and it has a very distinguished history indeed in terms of this nation's early agriculture. What I would like to do tonight is to speak largely to the estimates relating to the water resources area of the appropriations.


Mr Snowdon —-There are a lot of yabbies in the Parramatta River.


Mr ELLIOTT —-It does affect the Parramatta River, as the Parliamentary Secretary suggests. In particular, I am concerned to deal with the major problem we have in parts of western Sydney relating to urban flooding. Probably one of the notable things about Australia is that we have times when we are ravaged by terrible floods and other times when we suffer the great distress that drought causes through much of the country. Our climatic conditions inevitably create pressures for people in both urban and rural parts of Australia.

In the Budget this year, the Government has recognised the particular problems we have with urban flooding in large metropolitan areas such as western Sydney, making major allocations to deal with those problems. It is very pleasing to note that, in the total allocation for the Federal water resources assistance program this year, which nationally is worth $26 1/2m, something of the order of $5.69m is being allocated to flood plain management projects within New South Wales. A significant portion of that is going to deal with the substantial problems of urban flooding that exist in areas such as the Parramatta electorate that I represent.

This assistance is notable for a number of reasons. It helps to accelerate the process of making flood free the homes of the people who live in areas such as Parramatta, Toongabbie and so forth. That has been a constant demand from people who live in those regions, in large part because of the very substantial concerns they have had with flooding in recent times. I will not go through each of the floods that have had devastating effects on families in western Sydney. Suffice to say that there have been at least two occasions in the last five years when over 400 homes have been flooded, and that is a problem which I think most people would see as a very major national concern.

As a result of those concerns, the people from the region have been pressing State and Federal governments to provide more funding to help to overcome the flooding and urban drainage problems that we have. Many of those problems, of course, are due to poor planning decisions in the past. Nevertheless, they are practical problems that governments, including local government, have to face these days.

With that in mind, earlier this year the flood mitigation authorities of New South Wales met with the then Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, the present Treasurer (Mr Kerin), to press the case for more funding to deal with these urban flooding problems. It was with that in mind that the Minister made a detailed inspection of western Sydney flood problems late last year. So, in the process leading up to the Budget, I and my Labor colleagues from western Sydney very firmly put the case on behalf of the people of that area that more had to be done by the Federal Government. We knew that in doing so we had the very strong support of the community in western Sydney, and we also knew that the local government bodies throughout the region were very supportive of any additional initiatives that could be taken in that regard.

We had thought that we were operating with the support of the New South Wales Government, which had made a lot of noises in the past about inadequate Federal funding to deal with local flood mitigation. So, back in June, the new Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Mr Crean) was able to announce a supplementary allocation for flood mitigation works in our region. We welcomed that. The problem was that at that time the State Government refused to match the supplementary funding that the Commonwealth had provided, so that opportunity was largely lost.

In this year's Budget the Government decided, as well as providing the normal assistance under the appropriation for the water resources assistance scheme, to proceed with a new initiative, the western Sydney drainage initiative. The Cabinet took the decision, as part of this year's Budget process, to allocate an additional $1m to this program, designed specifically to deal with urban drainage needs in western Sydney.

The program was instituted to find ways of more innovatively dealing with the problems of drainage to ensure that the local problems that the Minister and many of the people in western Sydney know exist could be adequately addressed by all levels of government. The scheme was adopted on the basis that there would be contributions in the ratio of $1 from the Commonwealth, $1 from the State and $1 from local government. So the decision was taken to include that extra $1m in this year's Budget.

The reaction to that scheme from the community at large has been very positive and very encouraging. They have welcomed it. The reaction was similar from local government. I have a couple of letters, which I will not have time to read out, from local councils in the affected areas that indicate their very strong support for this new initiative. They have welcomed the fact that at last there has been a positive recognition by the national Government of the need to overcome our particular flood mitigation needs in western Sydney. Obviously the people in the community are anxious to accelerate any works that overcome those particular concerns.

The reaction from the State Government so far in relation to this initiative has been one of what we might term deathly silence. We have been endeavouring--Commonwealth officials, the local councils and the communities in those regions--to get a positive answer from the State Government saying that it would match the funding that we have provided in this year's Budget. To date, all of those efforts and all of the attempts by people in the community to get such a commitment from the State Government have been met, as I have said, with total silence. There has been no commitment; no demonstration of any commitment. When the State Budget was presented in September, there was no recognition in it at all that the State Government would do anything like match the funding that was provided with this new Commonwealth initiative in this year's Federal Budget.

This is simply not good enough. The Commonwealth Minister and the Commonwealth Government have taken proper steps to respond to the representations from the community at large in western Sydney, and from the members of parliament that represent that region, and we expect the State Government to honour the previous undertakings that it had always given that it would always match any Federal funding that was available for flood mitigation works in our region. It had suggested that it would be only too willing to match that funding at any time that the Commonwealth came to the party. Well, the Commonwealth has come to the party, as these appropriations we are dealing with tonight will attest. Yet we still cannot get cooperation from the Greiner Government. As the people of the region have been saying in recent weeks, that is simply unacceptable.

Some very significant works could be done with this funding, which, if we aggregate the funding from the three levels of government, amounts to $3m a year. The Commonwealth has given a commitment to maintain that funding for at least three years. I am confident that the $9m that could be allocated could do very substantial things to alleviate the flood problems in the area. Just to give an example of the sorts of works that are proposed, one of the particularly chronic problems that we have in western Sydney--(Quorum formed) (Time expired).