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Wednesday, 23 March 1966

Mr LUCHETTI (Macquarie) .- The honorable member for Dawson (Dr. Patterson) deserves the thanks of this chamber and he will receive the thanks of those afflicted by recurring droughts throughout Australia. We are fortunate indeed to have the honorable member for Dawson with us here. He is a man of great quality and outstanding integrity. Because of his dissatisfaction with the Government he was prepared to give up a sinecure to come into this Parliament to speak for the people and to reveal to them facts relating to the development of Australia which had been hidden prior to his arrival here. I place on record today my appreciation to him and I thank him for what he has done and what he has said. It is important that he should speak in the Parliament as often as he cares to do because of all the problems facing this nation, the shortage of water is of paramount importance. Upon the solution of the problem depend the survival of the people and the development of Australia.

The Opposition feels that action to conserve water is required now - not sometime in the future. Money is required. The skilled field officers from the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority, including those engaged in investigation and survey, rather than being allowed to leave this country, ought now to be employed in getting on with the job of providing the water necessary for this nation. 1 was utterly shocked and dismayed, sickened and saddened, with the performance of a group of members of the Australian Country Party who constantly heckled and interjected when the honorable member for Dawson was speaking and whose laughter showed their cynicism and their lack of respect for this question. I can only say " Thank you " to the Minister for National Development (Mr. Fairbairn) who moved for the grant ing of an extension of time for the honorable member for Dawson so that he could develop his theme and say the things that he wanted to say with respect to this matter. But it is a pathetic truth that the Government is smug, self-satisfied and content with the tragic developments in Australia and the desolation. Those of us whose eyes go beyond the lush verdant lawns and the flower gardens and lake of Canberra, and those who know Australia, are moved with pity for people who are suffering because of government neglect. Merely to play politics here today is not good enough.

I propose to reply to the Minister for National Development who spoke of what has been done, what ought to be done and what will be done. 1 say to him that his responsibility starts with Commonwealth Territories and then extends to the nation generally. Replying to a question which I had placed on the notice paper, the Minister told me that there is not one major water storage scheme north of the 26th parallel. Yet that includes the whole of the Northern Territory, which is the sole responsibility of the Minister for National Development, his predecessor and the non-Labour Government of the Commonwealth of Australia. The Minister tried to make capital out of what was happening in New South Wales. There is no State in Australia that has a belter record in respect of water conservation than New South Wales, which has Glenbawn, Keepit, Burrendong, Burrinjuck, Hume and Wyangala storages and the Menindee Lakes. Chowilla is being built. All these schemes arc known and all have been engaged in by and developed under Labour governments. Yet the Minister asked whether work was going on in New South Wales. Honorable members know that funds are required to do such jobs and that all we have had in recent times have been apologies from those on the opposite side for their failure to do anything.

A terrible drought afflicts Australia at the present time. Along the Macquarie River the water is no longer available for the gardens and there is a fight for the trickle needed to sustain life along that vast river system. The people of Cobar, who have a great industry, want water. This situation should move people with hearts of stone and it should move a government and a parliament into action, but such is not the case.

When the terrible drought is discussed we encounter the sort of banter that we have experienced in this House today from honorable members opposite - particularly those in the Country Party corner. In the Press we have seen these headlines -

Stock water scarcer at Singleton. Drought " forces shearers from industry ". Water control body may disband. Bourke faces a hard road back. Drought toll to spread - Cutler.

Mr. Cutler,the Deputy Premier of New South Wales and a member of the Country Party, has spoken of the terrible toll from the drought. All these Press clippings bring their story. If we were to try to keep a complete file we would have so many clippings that there would be no room to store them. Unfortunately, when the rains come, the Government forgets these things. This is a matter on which, as the honorable member for Dawson has said, honorable members should join together and work as one for the good of this country and for its protection. The " Sydney Morning Herald ", in a thoughtful editorial on Tuesday, 8th March 1966, said -

The Commonwealth is aware that the State, which this year provided a record $23! million for water conservation, has not the funds "in either the short term or long term" to cope, because the Minister for Conservation, Mr. J. Beale, has said so. This fund shortage affects great and small projects (Mr. Beale is known to favour a scheme, costing some $200,000, which would provide a network of small weirs on the river system). New South Wales is now carrying out a survey of water resources in 30 major river valley systems with almost no prospect of being able to act on the findings for years to come.

Clearly, the Commonwealth must intervene with a long-term programme. . . .

The article states that the Commonwealth Government has no long range vision. That thoughtful editorial ought to be heeded by honorable members opposite. The failure of State and Commonwealth governments to agree on a common approach to these matters over the years is one of the most disheartening facts that we are facing at the present time. Reports and inspections are not good enough. Action is required now and money must be provided if something is to be done. We have seen puny and pitiful efforts made by the States. The problems of the Darling River that the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Ian Allan) knows so well and has brought to our attention certainly deserve immediate action. This is not something for the future. On numerous occasions, members of the Australian Labour Party have directed attention to this. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) on 12th October of last year, when proposing for discussion a matter of public importance, dealt with this specific matter. On that occasion we heard from the Government side of the chamber only words such as we have heard this afternoon: " Let it go for some time in the future. We shall blame somebody in the past. We say that we cannot do anything just now. We must look at the matter." I say that what is needed is action to be taken now. Without our waiting for further discussion, funds must be provided and officers of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority who can help in undertaking the task ought to be sent immediately where the job needs to be done. That is all that the honorable member for Dawson wants.

This well prepared document "Some Notes on Drought in Australia " which was compiled by officers of the Bureau of Meteorology contains a section headed "What is Drought?". The definition of drought given is " severe water shortage ". Where there is a plentiful supply of water, there is no drought. In the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area and other great projects undertaken in New South Wales, there is ample evidence of the truth of that. There is at present a crisis caused by drought and we all know it. The member for Dubbo in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly raised the matter in the State Parliament recently and asked the Premier, Mr. Askin, whether he was aware that the Water Research Foundation of Australia had a backlog of more than 100 vital research projects estimated to cost $1 million. I say to the Commonwealth Government: Please do something about the situation.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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