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Wednesday, 23 August 1972
Page: 326

Senator PRIMMER (Victoria) -We on this side of the House are in no way opposed to this Bill and we hope to give it a very speedy passage through this chamber. The Bill provides the sum of $2m to the State of Victoria to carry out the reticulation, via pipes, of water in the north west area of the State of Victoria. This area is generally known as the Millewa. Until now the reticulation of water in that area, as in many other areas in that State, has been carried via open channels. I suppose, like everything else, the channels become dated and become history. I think that they were a great achievement by the men who made them; the engineers who designed them; and the surveyors who surveyed them. There is little doubt that in their own time the channels were something of a marvel for the amount of work and time that were expended by men and horses to construct them. But the channels have been a very wasteful way of distributing water. According to my figures only one gallon in 20 of the total water released from the Murray River reaches its ultimate destination under this scheme.

The main deterrent to water flowing into such regions has been seepage and evaporation. Anyone living in a city or in a provincial town in this Commonwealth may look somewhat askance at the granting by the Government of a sum even as small as $2m to pipe water into an area known as the Mallee or the Millewa. But I can assure the Senate that to those people living in this area this grant will mean a great deal. Perhaps some of them for the first time in their lives will be able to use what we would call clean water for the purpose of washing clothes, bathing and showering instead of having to drag water from a dam. That water has always appeared to me to be muddy but the people who live in this area assure me that it is clean.

I see some slight difference between the provisions of the Bill and its Schedule. Reference is made in the Schedule to the actual construction work that has been done or is to be done. To the best of my knowledge, at the present time all of this work has been completed. Paragraph 4 of the Schedule provides:

The construction of a storage tank capable of storing approximately ISO acre feet of water, about 8 miles south-west of Werrimull.

That work has been completed. The tank was filled but it leaked and, subsequently, had to be drained. The leak was found and patched up. So, perhaps we are voting money for work that has been done already. But I do not think that there is any disagreement on the need for this work.

One other feature of this system of piping water is that it will mean a continuous supply of water to farms in the area where previously the dams on those farms under the open channel system were filled, I understand, once or at best twice a year. I suppose that, in effect, the people who live in this area will receive the benefits of this grant gratis, but each and every farm holder or householder in the area is responsible for the erection on his property of a 5,000 gallon storage tank as well as the necessary connections from the main to the tank. People in the area estimate that each and every land holder will pay approximately $3,000 for that work to be carried out.

I note in the explanatory memorandum provided by the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Cotton), who represents here the Minister for National Development (Sir Reginald Swartz), that it is anticipated that an increase in stocking rates in this area could take place. An increase of up to 20 per cent in stock numbers is quoted. If this is feasible - I am not one who will say that this is not feasible; I suggest that it could be feasible - I believe that this increase of up to 20 per cent in stock numbers will be advantageous to those people who reside in the area. Particuarly would this have been so in recent years with such problems as wheat quotas and bad seasons for wheat growing. Any diversification that these people could make away from pure wheat to some form of animal production would be a welcome change, I am sure.

I said earlier that the Opposition has no intention to debate this matter at length. Frankly, I believe that this is a move for the better. I only hope that Commonwealth grants will continue to be provided to Victoria for the reticulation of water to other areas of that State and to do away with the present open channel system. I might mention that the open channel system in what is termed the dry land farms of north-west Victoria has been responsible for a great deal of salination of land and pastures there. I understand that, in the Millewa district, this is not the case to any great extent. As I have already mentioned, water flows there for a few weeks of the year only. Salination is a problem in other areas. Seepage contributes greatly to the lifting of the watertable and consequently the salination and destruction of pastures together with the virtual destruction of the soil itself. I only hope that, in years to come, money will be expended in these other areas to try to eliminate the terrific waste of water that occurs currently because of the open channel system of reticulating water throughout those areas.

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