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Wednesday, 28 March 1973
Page: 779

Dr CASS (Maribyrnong) (Minister for the Environment and Conservation) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time. This Bill concerns grants to the States over the next 3 financial years to continue acceleration of measurement of discharge of rivers and investigation and measurement of underground water resources. Following a recommendation by the Australian Water Resources Council, the Commonwealth and State governments in 1964 adopted an accelerated program of surface and underground water investigations to establish a comprehensive network of stream gauging stations and to improve substantially knowledge of underground water resources. Besides implementing its own accelerated program in the Northern Territory, the Commonwealth has assisted State programs by making available grants of $2. 8m, $4.5m and $8. 2m over successive 3- year periods.

The success of the overall program to date has been shown by the fact that the States have continued to undertake annual programs considerably m excess of requirements to attract the full Commonwealth subsidy. Accordingly this Bill, in contrast to previous Acts where maximum Commonwealth grants have been calculated as a proportion of less than the full proposed State expenditure, provides for the Commonwealth to meet fully half the cost of proposed programs submitted by the States. The governments involved had reason to be satisfied with progress so far. However, it was apparent to the Water Resources Council that, if the objectives of the program as envisaged were to be achieved, a further expansion of effort was needed, and this is reflected in the programs planned by the States for next triennium.

Surface water measurement programs total $13. 7m, an increase of $5.2m on programs for the period just completed, and underground water measurement programs total $16.5m, an increase of $5.9m on the programs covered by the 1970 Act. These proposed increases in expenditures are due to both general increases in costs of labour and materials and also increases in the scope of the works being undertaken. In many authorities for the first time in several years sections concerned with resource assessment are now operating at full staffing strength.

The Government now proposes to make available a total of up to $ 15.1m by way of grants to the States, to assist in implementing the planned programs in the next 3 years. This figure represents an increase of almost 85 per cent over the level of Commonwealth aid in the past 3 years and almost a sixfold increase in assistance when compared with the first 3-year program. In making this increased contribution, the Commonwealth is confident that the States will increase their own commitments so that the objectives endorsed by the Water Resources Council may be achieved. The current legislation does not of course cover the Northern Territory, which will be provided for in appropriations for the Department of the Northern Territory.

I turn now to the Bill itself, the provisions of which are similar to the 1970 Act which it is designed to follow. Provision for grants in respect of expenditure by the States on water resources investigation and measurement is contained in sections 4 and 5. Commonwealth grants will be provided, in accordance with the amounts specified in the schedules, to assist the States to undertake the programs of expenditure necessary to meet the aims of the accelerated program. In respect of each State, the Commonwealth grant will be the amount by which the expenditure exceeds a base amount until expenditure is double this base amount. The grant for expenditure greater than this is on a dollar for dollar basis until the ceiling set out in the schedule is reached. Grants have been allocated between the States on the basis of their own proposed programs.

The Bill contains also a number of machinery provisions which are similar to the previous Acts relating to this program. These include provision for approval of the proposed programs by the Minister in section 7, provision for submission of progress reports in section 8, and provision for advance payments to the States in section 9. The developmental works to utilise the nation's water resources must be preceded by thorough

Investigations of these resources and this requires adequate basic data. The program of water resources assessment in which all governments in Australia are participating has been devised with this end in view. I have pleasure in commending the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Lynch) adjourned.

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