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Tuesday, 17 November 1964

Senator HENTY (Tasmania) (Minister for Civil Aviation) . - I move -

That the Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill concerns financial grants to the States over this and the succeeding two financial years to accelerate the measurement of the flow of rivers and the investigation and measurement of underground water resources. The Government's decision in this matter was announced by the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) in his recent Budget Speech. The Treasurer also said that it was expected that legislation would be introduced during the current parliamentary session and that provision had been made for payments to the States of £4.02,000 in the 1964-65 Budget.

The provisions of this Bill have arisen out of recommendations to the Governments by the Australian Water Resources Council which was established by joint action of the Commonwealth and the States in November 1962. The work of the Water Resources Council is aimed particularly at learning more about Australia's water resources - precipitation; surface run off in streams and rivers; water below the surface of the ground; and water which is lost due to factors such as seepage and evaporation.

It is well known that Australia is a dry continent and it is also fairly well known that the flow of our rivers varies considerably from season to season and year to year. Droughts and floods are very much a part of the Australian environment. Some people may be inclined to query such a statement because it is getting on for 20 years since south eastern Australia experienced a severe long term drought. But for those who are far removed from central Australia where droughts are not uncommon, it is as well to recall the severity of the 1935-45 period and not become too complacent about the relatively good seasons that eastern Australia at least has experienced since the war.

The measurement of water resources and the development and conservation of water resources will not prevent the occurrence of the catastrophic flood or the severe drought. The ability to plan and construct dams with good basic data can however considerably reduce the effects of these extremes of nature. Good data can also ensure that money is not wasted in providing over large dams and other structures to compensate for ignorance about the natural phenomena that these types of water conservation works will be required to provide against over the years. Possibly of most importance, however, is that a good knowledge of our water resources will enable a proper appreciation to be made of water resources in relation to national growth and will provide guidance during consideration of matters such as extending development to, or in, one area as compared with an alternative area.

It is therefore pertinent that the principal objective of the Australian Water Resources Council is -

The provision of a comprehensive assessment on a continuing basis of Australia's water resources and the extension of measurement and research so that future planning may be carried out on a sound and scientific basis.

This objective sets out a principle which the Government has been following in other fields. The principle is that of ensuring that there is sufficient information available about Australia's natural resources to provide a sound basis for developmental planning. I need hardly point in this regard to the forward looking activities of the Bureau of Mineral Resources of the Department of National Development which have led to so many mineral discoveries and developments; to the basic topographical mapping activities of the Division of National Mapping of the Department of National Development; to the basic research activities of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation; and to. the type of advisory service instanced by the Bureau of . Agricultural Economics.

The Commonwealth Government took the initiative in establishing the Australian Water Resources Council. The Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) said in his policy speech in November 1963 that the Water Resources Council would be supported "vigorously, financially and otherwise ". The result is this Bill which could mean the Commonwealth providing financial assistance to the States of as much as £1,377,000 over the first three years. It is more than appropriate that I mention that the Water Resources Council has been established in a spirit of great co-operation between the States and between the Commonwealth and the States, and this is due small measure to the diligence and efforts of the first Chairman of the Council, Sir . William Spooner, when he was the Minister for National Development. The good work is being continued by his successor and we find the same spirit of co-operation in the Standing Committee of officers under the chairmanship of Sir Harold Raggatt and in the several technical committees which carry out the more detailed assignments.

In each State and in the Northern Territory there is one principal authority concerned with the measurement of stream flow, although several agencies may carry out stream gauging for special purposes or in special areas. There is also generally one authority in each State which undertakes the investigation and assessment of underground water , resources. However, because water is used for many purposes ranging from municipal and industrial use to irrigation and the generation of hydro-electricity, there are many agencies and individuals vitally interested in records of river flow and underground resources.

I suggested a little earlier, in broad terms, that water storages for municipal and industrial supplies or for irrigation and hydro-eelctric schemes depend for their dimensions and their cost and reliability on studies of samples of stream flow records, precipitation records and evaporation measurements. Stream flow measurements, particularly those covering periods of drought, are most important. For flood mitigation works and the design of bridges and culverts similar measurements are necessary, with the accent being on periods of high stream flow. Measurements of a different type, but also aimed at assessing quantity, variability, and cost must be made to assess the artesian and sub-artesian water supplies used over a large area of Australia for domestic, industrial and stock watering purposes.

A long period of stream flow measurement is desirable if the chances of catastrophic water shortages or costly, overdesigned structures are to be avoided. In south eastern Australia the 18 year period since 1946 has been relatively wet, whereas the 10 years prior to 1946 covered a period of severe drought. The last 18 years would therefore provide a misleading sample of stream flow, a sample in fact which, taken of its own, would make insufficient allowances for drought conditions. The advantages of a long sample of measurements, preferably 50 years and more, taken at key positions on representative streams, will be almost self-evident to those at all familiar with the vagaries of Australian rainfall and run-off.

Stream flow is measured by gauging stations which usually record automatically on a chart the variation in water level. Gauging sites often need to be specially pre pared by building concrete weirs and installing permanent cableways and recording houses. There are about 1300 stream gauging stations in Australia at present and it is proposed, through this legislation, to commence a programme under which these will be increased by 1500 to provide a basic stream gauging network within the next ten years. While the installation of gauges to record water levels is the first but most important step in assessing stream flow, other procedures and equipment are required to calculate the relationship between water level and river discharge at gauging sites and to convert the water levels to usable form. This Bill will provide also for the necessary equipment to be purchased and staff employed to carry out these associated procedures and to record and publish results.

The investigation of underground water is quite different from, and more complex than, the assessment of stream flow. Underground water moves extremely slowly and there are enormous areas of land to be investigated. Here again the earlier the investigation starts the sooner will a proper knowledge of the resources be available for developmental purposes. Underground water investigations involve geological and geophysical exploration, the drilling of bores and the recording of water levels, yields and water qualities. These procedures and the determination of the rate of recharge and the reliability of an underground resources often require considerable resources of staff, funds and time.

The provisions of this Bill make separate reference to the measurement of the discharge of rivers and to the measurement and investigation of underground water resources. The Government has substantially accepted the recommendations of the Australian Water Resources Council concerning Australia's needs for finance for water resources measurements and has agreed to make available the considerable finance on a long term basis which is provided for by this Bill. An endeavour has been made to ensure a fair Australia-wide allocation of funds based on the needs for stream gauging as assessed by each State. In the more complex case of underground water investigations, ah overall amount has been arrived at and this has been allocated between the States on a uniform basis using area and population as the yardsticks, as suggested by the Council.

The Premier of South Australia is not completely satisfied with the allocation between the States of the funds made available for underground water. While five Slates have agreed to the proposals as they stand in the Bill, South Australia would like to see a review undertaken of the distribution df underground water assistance for the second and third years. The Water Resources Council of Commonwealth and State Ministers is scheduled to meet in Hobart on 22nd January next and it is intended to have this matter discussed and reviewed by the Council after which the Minister for National Development would be in a position to again refer the matter to the Government if that is called, for. The current legislation does not of course cover the Northern Territory. The acceleration of the measurement of river discharges and underground water resources in the Northern Territory has been taken up by the Minister for Territories and an expedited programme paralleling that in the States is to be undertaken.

The Government has accepted that there should be a 10 year accelerated programme of stream gauging throughout Australia and this legislation is to ratify the provision of finance for the first three years. As far as the' measurement of stream flow is concerned, each State has submitted its estimates of the capital cost of establishing within 10 years a basic network of stream gauging sites fully equipped and with all the associated equipment and facilities required to operate' the stations and compute and record the discharge of streams. Each State has also provided estimates of the annual cost of operating and maintaining the network. The upper limit to the Commonwealth financial assistance .grants has been determined from these State estimates of annual operational and capital expenditure requirements.

Provision for grants in respect of expenditure by the States on stream gauging is contained in clauses 4 and 5 of the Bill. Clause 4 provides for capital expenditure and clause 5 for operational expenditure. Commonwealth grants will be provided, in accordance with the details specified in the First and Second Schedules, to assist the States to attain the programme of expenditure necessary for the establishment of the basic network of gauging stations. In respect of each State, the Commonwealth grant will be the amount by which the expenditure by the State, up to the ceiling of the agreed programme of expenditure, exceeds the base year figure. The' grant, however, will be limited to 50 per cent, of the total expenditure.

These provisions for the measurement of river discharges could involve the Commonwealth in contribution of £767,476 over the three- year period. Financial assistance for underground water investigations and measurements is provided for in clause 6 of the Bill. In this case capital and operational expenditure are aggregated and there is payable a Commonwealth grant of £2 for each £1 of expenditure by a State over and above the base year figure. The total Commonwealth grants for underground water investigations available to the States in respect of each year's expenditure by the States are as follows -


The Commonwealth totals have been allocated between the States on the basis of the States' respective areas and populations, equally weighted.. The percentages applicable to each State are the following-e


The States' shares derived from these percentages are set out in the Third Schedule to the Bill.

The Bill- also contains a number of machinery provisions of the kind normally incorporated in measures of financial assistance to the States. These include provision for approval by the Minister of programmes of works, provision for the making of advance payments to the State, and provision for submission of progress reports. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

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