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Wednesday, 3 June 1970

Mr KELLY (Wakefield) - In addressing myself to this Bill I want to make 2 or 3 points. I particularly want to refer to statements made by the previous Minister for National Development, the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn), for whom I have a respect bordering on veneration. 1 must admit, however, that I find some of his arithmetic a bit queer. The honourable member for Farrer said in this House yesterday that the Keepit Dam area produces annually $4.7m worth of crops and at that rate the dam would pay for itself within 8 years. The honourable member also said that the Ord River scheme produces annually $2.2m worth of goods and at that rate it would pay for itself in 9 years. There are 2 fundamental weaknesses in the honourable member's argument. He omitted to state that a good deal of the produce grown in those areas and evaluated in that manner was subsidised production. There are also a great many inputs other than the dams which go into the production of the produce. For example, the work, the superphosphate, the machinery, and all the inputs except water, all have an influence on production, but no allowance was made for these.

The next matter I want to deal with is the reference by the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby) to the suburban lobby. I thought that he mentioned this matter of the suburban lobby with some sense of criticism. I presume that he meant by this reference those people who criticise irrigation; certainly that was the implication. I have been known to be critical of irrigation in some forms. I wonder whether the honourable member calls me a representative of the suburban lobby. I point out to the honourable member that my fore fathers came here some 130 years ago and have been farming the same country ever since. I do not know whether the honourable member could say the same. My electorate of Wakefield, which covers 150,000 square miles, is 3 times bigger than the electorate of Riverina. If I am regarded as a representative of the suburban lobby I hope that it does not get around my electorate.

I have noticed continually during this debate that there has been a tendency to be critical of Dr Davidson because he has had the temerity to criticise irrigation in some forms. I think we have to be careful about this, lt is easy to traduce people who do not think as we do. Dr Davidson had the courage to stand up and spell out with startling clarity in his book 'The Northern Myth' the kind of inevitable mistake that we are tending towards, and he has followed up that book with another. I do not mind the criticism made of him for what he has said, but 1 do object very much, as do a lot of other people in this country, to the kind of vilification that he has had to suffer. I have noticed the honourable member for Riverina is pretty quick at issuing challenges. If the honourable member for Riverina is so critical of Dr Davidson's theories I think it would bc a useful exercise for the honourable member to invite Dr Davidson to participate in a debate. I understand he suffered at the hands of the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull) in a similar debate. It may be that the honourable member for Riverina would like to take Dr Davidson on under the same terms. The third thing I would like to say is that the honourable member for Riverina said that one-third of the agricultural production of Australia came from irrigated land. I do not know whether that is so or not - it depends on how he defines the term 'irrigated land'. If 5 acres of land are irrigated on a farm of, say, 150 acres, does the honourable member measure all the products of that farm or does he measure only the products of the irrigated land? I challenged the honourable member at the time to give the sources of his information. When these sources are provided I shall be happy to have a look at them.

If we look at the Bundaberg dam proposal from the point of view of purist economists such as the honourable member for Dawson used to be - I presume this is so because he would not have gained a doctorate from being an impure economist - it does look a little queer. The cost to the Commonwealth of S 12.8m for engineering works comes out at SI 40 for every irrigated acre. The Queensland taxpayer puts in another amount of money, and the total cost works out at $225 for every irrigated acre. I presume that this scheme is costed in the same way as almost all other large irrigation schemes in Australia in that the water charge will be sufficient to cover the distribution of the water along the channels but will not be enough to pay for the amortisation of the headworks. I ask the Minister for National Development (Mr Swartz), who is at the table, whether that is so. If it is not so, I will be interested to hear his reply. In this case the taxpayer is making a contribution of $225 for every irrigated acre in order to ensure that sugar can be grown profitably. Yet, there are other parts of Queensland where farmers are only too anxious to increase the production of sugar without any government or taxpayer contribution whatever. The purist economist would look at this proposal and say: 'Well, it does look a bit odd. lt is hard to justify it on an economic basis'. Good cases have been made out in support of this proposal. The chief one, of course, is that it will even out the production and there will not be the fluctuations that you get from dry land farming in the area, particularly with the underground water supply drying up. It is said that unless this matter was tackled and something was done the position for Bundaberg would be a serious one. We have done something.

The important thing to realise is that the justification for this proposal is on social grounds and not on economic grounds. 1 am not saying that it should not be on social grounds but I am saying that from now on we face the fact that all of these judgments will be made on social or sometimes political grounds. I have areas in my State which could benefit from irrigation. People make a case for irrigation and say: Look what it is going to do for the starving stock'. They use this kind of argument. If we accepted that argument we could say in the case of Oodnadatta, which experiences droughts fairly frequently, that we could save the situation for the people there by constructing a large dam across a gorge in that area. If the people at Oodnadatta could get water the cost would certainly even out from a production point of view. But this would not be sensible.

Closer to Adelaide there is an area about which I have great knowledge and for which 1 have very great fears. This is an area around Virginia. The underground source of water in the area is drying up. However, there is now available a source of effluent water. I imagine that inauguration of the use of effluent water would not attract the Minister with the same enthusiasm as would the opening of a dam. lt may be that the use of this effluent water or some such fire brigade action will be needed to solve the problems of this area. It is quite clear that if judgments are not to be made on economic grounds - and the judgment in this instance has not really been made on economic grounds - they will be made on the basis of social grounds. They will be made on the basis that something has to be done for Bundaberg; that something has to be done for particular people. But I should think we could spend the money to better advantage. Therefore, if the judgments are to be made on social grounds, hereafter I will be making very strong pleas for Government contributions to solve the social problems that are inherent in this area that I know so well. It may be that it will have an economic justification. But whether it has economic justification or not. I know that from now on the judgments will be made on social and not economic grounds.

The only other thing I want to say is that the honourable member for Dawson was critical of the Government because not enough cost benefit analyses were available. I admit quite clearly that I would have liked more economic argument to sustain the case. I understand that some of my colleagues in the Australian Country Party had the advantage of this. I certainly did not. I should have liked to have had this information. But I am critical of the honourable member for Dawson for his statement that there should be economic assessments available to enable us to weigh one scheme against another. What concerns me so much in this and other debates on irrigation is that we become misty eyed about irrigation. So many of us lose all sense of economic responsibility. It is true that we ought to measure one economic scheme against another, but even more we ought surely to measure irrigation schemes against non-irrigation schemes. I can think of so many things that I could do much more profitably with the SI 00m that is to be spent on irrigation. The country is crying out for things that need to be done in the rural sector. The country is crying out for measures that will encourage decentralisation. But we become misty eyed when irrigation is mentioned. Because the whole community says that Australia is the driest continent, irrigation automatically is considered to be good. Fine flowing phrases like 'The desert shall blossom as the rose' overwhelm our sense of economic responsibility. I am concerned that irrigation projects always, have lacked the economic examination which I think is vital to a country with limited resources. If we do not have limited resources, well and good. But if we have limited resources - I think we are well aware that we have - we ought not only to weigh one irrigation scheme against another, as I agree we should, but also to have much more sense of responsibility. We ought to weigh an irrigation scheme against the other things that could be done with the same amount of money and which in so many instances, I think, are much more valuable. That is my main plea to the House. I know from bitter experience that it will not receive much sympathy. ] know that there are votes in constructing dams. I know that to open a dam gives an opportunity for eloquence which makes such occasions attractive to politicians, but I think as a Parliament we give way far too quickly to such temptation. We have a greater responsibility to weigh one thing against another. In the future - it is too late on this occasion - -I hope that we will do rather better in this regard than we have in the past.

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