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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3465

Mr FORREST (Mallee) (20:55): The Australian Association of Master Plumbers advise me that there are 525 master plumbers in the federal division of Mallee. So I wish to support this motion on their behalf to celebrate World Plumbing Day last Sunday week, on 11 March. Today I salute them, for they have come from a long line of plumbers who for millennia have delivered safe water to their communities and disposed of waste.

The simplest and most primitive forms of plumbing and water delivery were first used in Egypt, Assyria and Babylon. More complex delivery systems called qanatswere later used in Persia, as Babylon became, which is now known as Iran. But it was the Romans who took plumbing to another level. Over some 500 years the Romans built 11 major aqueducts. By 226 AD Rome was being watered by up to 830 kilometres of aqueducts, delivering 227 megalitres of water every day. The Romans also built aqueducts in other parts of their empire, including France, Spain and Northern Africa. The Romans used lead in their pipes, unfortunately, and poisoned themselves in the process. It is interesting to note that the word 'plumbing' comes from the Latin word for 'lead'—'plumbus'. Some say that the regular use of lead in plumbing was a contribution to the downfall of the Roman Empire. That is subjective, but lead is a very toxic heavy metal, has no safe level in the body and affects the nervous system—causing behaviour disorders, seizures, coma and death.

So whilst there have been many mistakes in the past, we have learnt from them. Plumbing by definition is a utility that we use in our buildings, consisting of pipes and fixtures for the distribution of water and gas and for the disposal of sewage. The word 'sewer' comes from the French word 'essouier', which means 'to drain'. Among the early plumbers of note were the Incas, who used stones for drinking water and sewage waste. As a civil engineer myself, I was fascinated to view some of their ancient work during a visit to Machu Picchu many years ago. The Incas of Machu Picchu built numerous water fountains, and these were interconnected by channels and drains excavated in the rock, that were designed for irrigation and direct supply to individual dwellings.

Plumbers on a larger scale are generally known as civil engineers. They were first employed by the Roman military but it was when they were engaged in municipalities that the word 'military' was dropped and they became civil engineers. They produced great engineering feats in those times and, in 2012, we need to use similar engineering to fix the problems and meet the challenges we confront in the Murray-Darling Basin. Security and supply to irrigators and the environment is about dams and storage, and efficient water supply is about fixing the leaks in the channels. In the Murray-Darling Basin we seem to be stepping backwards. The Romans dealt with their water challenges without hesitation and so should we if we are to be a proactive nation. It was Julius Caesar himself who said that the security of the latest new city he created was best assured by securing the water supply. 'Secure the water and you secure the citadel,' he demanded.

We have to look for large-scale engineering solutions to address the needs of the river community as well as the environment. People forget the Murray and Darling rivers are drains carrying water, silt and nutrients to the sea. If Australia is to prosper, we need to look at plumbing on a large scale, to ensure water security for our river communities and our environment. We should consider more storage to conserve huge volumes of water for the environment and economic prosperity when the Murray-Darling Basin is awash, as it is now in 2012, so the environmental releases can be more natural to the seasons. We have come from drought to flood in 2012. The Murray-Darling Basin Plan has a long way to go before it meets its purpose, but we need the large-scale plumbers of the land to design and build modern water storage in the mode of the Romans. I would like to recognise the contribution that plumbers and engineers have made; I dare say that their contribution to human longevity has been greater than that of the medical profession. Today I salute them and join in the comments from other members in recognising that safe and secure water is the key to good health.

Debate interrupted.