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Wednesday, 23 March 1966

Mr KELLY (Wakefield) .- Mr. Deputy Speaker,I join with the Minister for National Development (Mr. Fairbairn) more in sorrow than in anger in telling the honorable member for Dawson (Dr. Patterson) that a higher standard of political ethics and of performance than he has displayed was expected of him. I regard the proposal of this subject for discussion today as a matter of public importance as being nothing more than a mean little political manoeuvre. I had hoped that the honorable member would be above this sort of thing. He ought to realise that the problems of drought are not solved in this way. They can be solved only by our taking a national view of the situation, not a mean political view such as the honorable gentleman has taken in this instance. I claim to know something about the subject of drought, Sir, for I live in the dry north of the driest State of the driest continent in the world. I was brought up on drought. I may not have any academic qualifications but I believe that that does not prevent me from speaking with some knowledge of what I have been through.

Let us consider the terms of the proposal for discussion. It begins with a reference to what is described as the need for the Government to counter the effects of the current drought. That is just about the silliest statement that I have become aware of for some time. What is the point of building dams during a drought to counter the effects of that drought? It took 20 years to construct the Keepit Dam by day labour and four years were spent messing about with the Eucumbene Dam before it was put under contract. Does the honorable member for Dawson seriously think that the problems of the current drought can be tackled by setting to work to build dams at this stage? Yet that is what he envisages. If he does not mean that, what does he mean?

The proposal then refers to future droughts. I should like to give an analogy here. As I have said, I live in a dry area. A considerable creek runs through my property, however. Shiny eyed people travel up from Adelaide, see that creek and say: "You must build a dam, Mr. Kelly. That is the thing to do. That would solve your problems." I know that I could build a dam and I know that I could fill it about one year in four. I know also that the evaporation rate in the district is about six feet per annum. If I wanted to store water for drought years, I would have to reckon on an 18 foot loss of water, and only what was left after that, if anything, would be effective water. Considerations of this sort make me stop and think about whether I should build a dam. Maybe, if the Government built it for me, that would be all right. But that does not accord with my political philosophy. I have always understood that I should solve my own problems by tackling them myself as best I can. For that reason, I say that on my property the best thing to do is to store fodder and to make other provision rather than to store water. This may appear to be a sordid attitude, because it may seem that, in the running of my property, I am interested only in making money and not in making speeches. We must realise that if we are to decide the proper thing to do to counteract droughts we must weigh all the considerations in the way in which I have to weigh the considerations involved in running my property.

The proposal goes on to suggest that this Government should provide the States with additional funds. Are we not doing just that? Is not our subvention to the States increasing? Indeed, it is increasing in a way that, some of us are beginning to think, may even be weakening the fibre of the Federal system of government. We supply the States with money only to find that some of them undertake projects such as the construction of an opera house. Have not the States a responsibility to determine a proper order of priorities for the spending of their funds? If a State chooses to spend the available money on an opera house, that is its business. It is certainly not ours. We give the States the money and surely it is their proper responsibility to determine what they shall do with it. I know that in my own State, South Australia, at least in the past - I cannot speak for the future - a proper proportion of the funds provided for the State by the Commonwealth has been spent on water conservation in the most effective and efficient manner.

The next matter referred to in the proposal before us is the construction of practical water storages. What does the honorable member for Dawson mean by the phrase " practical water storages "? Any hole in the ground will store water. Surely the honorable member meant economic water storages. He is an authority on economics but evidently he shied away from the implications of economic water storage, so the expression " practical water storage " literally means nothing. I repeat that any hole in the ground will store water. So we can only believe that the honorable member really intended economic water storages. I understand that he has a doctor's degree in economics. He must realise that one way to look at the economics of a dam is to consider it from the standpoint . of whether the construction costs are sufficiently small for farmers to be able to afford to pay for their water enough to cover the amortisation costs of the dam. If this is what the honorable member means, let him tell me where there is in Australia a dam the construction costs of which can be termed economic- in that sense. However, I should think that the political philosophy of the party that he has now joined would probably lead him to say that he has in mind a dam that is economic if it is paid for by the taxpayers. That is what he may mean. I ask him whether he does. If he has in mind dams paid for by the taxpayers so that the farmers need not meet the amortisation costs by means of the charges that they pay for their water, he should say so.

As a dry country farmer, I should like to say something about that. I have had to tackle my own problems on my own property in my own .way. I have had to clear my own scrub and the like. I have never thought it a proper function of a government to do for me the things that I should do for myself. But I leave that aside for the moment. Let us suppose that the honorable member for Dawson imagines that it is the proper function of a government to construct dams at the expense of the taxpayers and not impose full charges for the water supplied by those dams, leaving the taxpayers to pay interest on the capital, amortisation charges and the like. What would that mean? Would it not mean more taxation? If it would not mean that, it could mean only that we would have to go without something else that we need. These are the facts of life. If this is what the honorable member has in mind, why does he not say so?

The proposal before us went on to suggest that , the investigation staff of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority be made available to the States free of cost. What nonsense this is. Does not the honorable member realise that the fundamental problem in Australian irrigation is soil conditions? How many irrigation schemes have we seen begun without proper investigation of soils and the economics of the proposals? What background and qualifications have the members of the investigation staff of the Authority that would fit them to determine those matters properly? The fundamental questions we have to ask are the grass roots questions: What type of soils have we? What kinds of crops can we grow in those soils? The Snowy Mountains Authority is, I admit, an excellent conception and organisation from an engineering point of view. In that connection I pay it every tribute. But when we get down to an examination of -the growth of crops I believe the officers of the Snowy Mountains Authority would be the first ones to admit that somebody else is better fitted to handle the job. It is of no use suggesting airily that the problem should be handed over to the Snowy Mountains Authority, as if that organisation could readily solve it. The honorable member for Dawson should know better than anybody else that the fundamental requirement is far more than one of engineering and dam construction. There is a fundamental problem of economics and land usage.

It seems to me that the honorable member for Dawson has departed from the high standards of ethics that he previously held and has indulged in political manoeuvring in a way which I find intensely disappointing. I pay a tribute to the honorable member for Dawson in saying that I believe that in his previous position he was able to think things out very clearly. I hope that in his future work in this place he will not throw aside that attribute and start advocating all kinds of hot air schemes which have no chance of solving our problems. Those problems can be tackled properly only if all of us here, on both sides of the House, examine them with clear eyes.

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