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Thursday, 24 March 1994
Page: 2358

Senator BELL (1.49 a.m.) —As I have already indicated to Senator Richardson, I intend to speak about the water supply at Campbell Town—so you are all excused! I wish Senator Richardson well and I have already indicated that. Today, I received some important correspondence from some of the citizens of Campbell Town, one of Tasmania's oldest towns some 60 kilometres south of Launceston. Campbell Town is located in the heart of prime pastoral land producing some of the world's finest wools, and I say that without qualification.  Campbell Town's domestic water flows from the Snowy River into Lake Leake where it is stored. From Lake Leake it travels in a canal, which is actually a clay ditch, for approximately eight kilometres into the Elizabeth River. That flows through pastoral and cropping land. There are some irrigators who have access to the Elizabeth River at this point. The town draws its water directly from the Elizabeth River.

  The correspondence I received—and I am sure you are interested, Mr President—was in the form of a petition. It was asking the federal government to initiate research into the causes of the poor quality of the township's water supply. It noted that claimed causes of the deteriorating quality included increasing sewerage discharges, increasing use of agricultural chemicals and increasing erosion due to the agricultural and forestry operations.

  About 140 citizens signed that petition in the few days that it was circulated. They are keen to see some action taken because there is no doubt that the water quality is worse than it has ever been. The local council has been of little assistance to the concerns of the residents. The local council, the Northern Midlands Council, sent some correspondence to one of the residents. The building and health surveyor writes:

Unfortunately we have no water treatment plant for the Campbell Town Water Supply Scheme, nor for any other scheme in the municipality. Consequently the quality of the water is seasonally affected by heavy rainfalls in the catchment areas, particularly where there are large areas of land under cultivation or where there is logging activity.

It may be of little consolation to know that the Northern Midlands is not the only municipality that has untreated water supplies. Nevertheless, it is significant to realise that almost all country towns suffer the same plight, simply because in the past they have lacked the population and therefore the resources to provide costly water filtration plants.

As a result of amalgamation we will be able to address this problem more effectively in the future, but it will take time and it will be costly.

Although there is no legal requirement on Councils to provide fully treated water that meets the standard of the National Health and Medical Research Council, it is certainly our intention to aim for this standard and upgrade our supplies as finances are made available.

The only treatment that our main water supply schemes receive is chlorination and fluoridation and as a result of this, we can at least say that the water is safe to drink, even if it is not aesthetically appealing at all times.

Yours faithfully

That was signed by the building and health surveyor. A building and health surveyor was also quoted in the Tasmanian Country of Friday, 29 October 1993. In a recent report to his council he said:

The quality of our drinking water has been a concern for many years and would undoubtedly be the greatest source of complaints that we receive in respect of services rendered.

In that same newspaper article, a Campbell Town resident Mr John Watson was quoted. This was not Senator Watson, I would hasten to add, but a resident of the town. He said:

"Campbell Town very much depends economically on the visitors it attracts. I've worked as Education Officer at The Grange for many years.

  "We have approximately 2000 guests using The Grange—

which is an adult education or a community education residential centre—

in an average year, and many complain about the water. We now regularly collect rain water from a tank and deliver it to The Grange.

Another document I have here quotes the council's environmental health officer. In a report to the council he writes:

During recent inspections under the Public Health Food Hygiene Regulations quite some criticism was directed at me for checking out the hygiene of food preparations, when a basic ingredient supplied by council was unfit for human consumption. Although chlorination may have rendered the water free from all harmful bacteria, it was nevertheless undrinkable because of its physical properties.

Whilst this matter may not be unique to Campbell Town, the residents are rightly concerned. In their petition to the Senate, the residents are not asking for a grant, although I venture to suggest that some of the pork-barrelling largess which was distributed before the last election might have been better spent addressing problems such as these. Nevertheless, the residents are not asking for something for nothing. I think that a good start to satisfying their demands would be the application of minimum national standards for domestic water. Assistance to meet those standards could, in the first instance, be via long-term loans.

  The Northern Midlands Council is saving up for its water treatment plant. The council has about $300,000 in the bank but it does not want to call tenders until it has closer to $1 million. Even then, that will only be the start of the program of building treatment plants. So the resolution of the problem seems to be well into the future. It seems to me that the federal government could, and should, accept the responsibility for ensuring that all Australians can rely on having access to a good standard of domestic water. This is a matter that should continue to be taken up, not only for the residents of Campbell Town but for the residents of many other small country towns around Australia who have not been able to guide themselves to resolving the water problems that they have in common, which seem to me to be of greater priority than many of the other things we concern ourselves with in this place.