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Thursday, 27 September 1973
Page: 1614

Mr WHAN (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I direct my question to the Minister for the Capital Territory. What is the degree of pollution in the Molonglo River and Lake Burley Griffin resulting from the now disused mines at Captains Flat? Is excestive pollution coming from these disused mines and is there any danger of that pollution destroying the quality of Lake Burley Griffin? If there ls such excessive pollution and danger, what steps is the Government taking to solve the problem?

Mr ENDERBY (Minister for the Northern Territory) - I think the best way to answer the honourable member's question is to describe the problem briefly. There is pollution in the Molonglo River. It comes from the waste - the tailings - left from the old Captains Flat mine which closed in 1961 or 1962. An estimate that has been given of the degree of the waste is that about 1.5 million cubic yards of slime, dust and other pollutants are in continual danger of sliding into or moving towards the Molonglo River. This situation should be a real lesson to all of us in thinking of such enterprises. Enterprises may operate in a community for years and give profits to people involved in them, but when they close down, years later the community as a whole faces the collective social price of having to fix up the mess.

There is also this to be said: Very little was done by the previous Government to attend to this particular problem. The legal position is that the State of New South Wales is under an obligation to keep the Molonglo and Queanbeyan Rivers, which flow into the Australian Capital Territory, free of pollution and protected against pollution. This requirement is contained in the Seat of Government Administration Act of 1909 or 1910. The fact is that these rivers are polluted and the State of New South Wales is, I suppose it would have to be said, in breach of its obligations. But one can sympathise with the State Government because it is a feature of modern federalism that the State Government has to say: 'Well, where do we get the funds to put the matter right?' An interdepartmental committee has been working on the subject. I hope, with my colleagues the Minister for Environment and Conservation and the Minister for Urban and Regional Affairs, to be a party in initiating action in order to avoid any future risk of pollution. The problem also is related to the proposal to build the Googong dam. That would turn off waters for an interim period from the Queanbeyan River into the Molonglo River while the dam was being constructed. The fact that pollution is diluted at the moment by that excessive water would stop for awhile, and there is a risk there. But we are hoping to initiate action.

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