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Wednesday, 25 September 1974
Page: 1389

The PRESIDENT -Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-

This Bill is designed to provide extra funds for sewerage backlog programs in Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia. Honourable senators will be familiar with the vast national sewerage program introduced by the Government to tackle the backlog in Australian sewerage programs. The Government regards the removal of the sewerage backlog and the ability of State and local authorities to keep pace with the demand for new services as a yardstick of social progress in Australia.

If we cannot provide the most basic of all services then quite clearly the structure of Government in this country has failed the people it purports to serve. We have no cause for pride in the quality of services when millions of gallons of raw sewage is pumped each week into the seas off our coast, bays and inlets, metropolitan rivers and creeks. A warning is sounded for future generations when we find that our rivers are recording a level of pollution from sewage which is alarmingly high.

The experience of other countries reinforces this message. We do not want to see our oceans and waterways converted into running cesspools in the way that the great rivers of Europe have been polluted. The tragic experience of the Mediterranean and the Rhine, Elbe and Danube Rivers is a reminder to us of what can happen to our own seas, streams and rivers which are still untainted. For these reasons we have stressed the importance of this scheme and our determination to remove the sewerage backlog over the next eight years. In particular, the national sewerage program gives expression to our concern that all new land subdivision should be given adequate sewerage treatment facilities. We also insist that these treatment facilities should meet standards which safeguard the environment. No house now being built should have to wait for long to be connected to a complete sewerage system.

Beating the sewerage backlog breaks down into 2 parts- connection to a reticulated sewerage system, and overcoming inadequate trunk sewers and treatment standards. About one sixth of the main urban areas of Australia were unsewered at December 1972, the last figures available. There are many examples of the inadequacy of urban trunk sewerage mains and treatment works. I do not want to list them here. I have touched on their existence to indicate the size of the problem and the level of capital spending that will be required to overcome them. They reinforce the point that these great problems will not be solved without heavy capital spending. Spending on sewerage works soaks up an enormous amount of captial, both for the expansion of services to meet growing populations and to chop out the backlog in services which now exist. It means that the States and local government cannot tackle the backlog and at the same time keep up with new services without strong support from the Australian Government.

Provision of sewerage is often made difficult because of the existence of hilly, rocky and swampy country in many of the new areas developed around our cities. Septic tanks can provide a substitute in sparsely settled and relatively flat areas but it is at best a poor substitute. In densely settled areas which have high water tables or are rocky or swampy the septic tank is no substitute for reticulated sewerage. We concede these difficulties but we are determined to overcome them and provide the strongest possible lead for State and local government authorities to give Australians proper sewerage.

It is appalling to have to record that the sewerage from 400,000 people in Brisbane is still discharged untreated into Moreton Bay at the mouth of the Brisbane River. The Melbourne Press in the past year has been studded with reports of high levels of pollution from sewage on the beaches and bays of Melbourne. Quite often in Melbourne, heavy rains force overflows of sewage into the city's stormwater drainage systems. This noxious waste is then transmitted through the suburbs of Melbourne. Most metropolitan streams in Australia record levels of E.coli which are completely unacceptable to this Government. These are examples of the social evils the extra assistance given by this Bill is designed to remove from our cities and countryside.

The Sewage Agreement Act of 1973 appropriated $30m of loan funds at the long term bond rate to the States for sewerage backlog works for 1973-74. 1 stress that this is additional to the normal allocation of loan money each year to the States for sewerage works. This program was tailored to fit the ability of the State sewerage authorities to speed up their works programs after this allocation was made. With one exception, the initial allocations to the States have been spent. The total program for 1973-74 included 8 1 reticulation projects, 35 main, submain and carrier sewer projects, 6 pumping stations and 10 treatment plants. In the course of the 1973-74 financial year, it became clear that Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia needed further financial assistance. This was necessary to keep up the existing rate of progress of works throughout the whole of the year. It is important that the momentum built up by this program should be maintained so that the sewerage backlog in the main urban areas disappears in the shortest possible time. The Government's advisers reviewed the programs and we decided on agreements with the three State Governments for extra works. These agreements will be effective once this Bill is passed; but for the double dissolution it would have been introduced in the Autumn session of Parliament.

Turning to the assistance sought by the States, Victoria asked for $3. 95m, Queensland $2m, and Western Australia $3m. We have agreed to these allocations except for Queensland where Sim will be made available. This means that the total allocation of financial assistance for sewerage backlog in 1973-74 will be $37.95m. It will be distributed between the States in this way: New South Wales, $ 11.2m; Victoria, $ 13.25m; Queensland, $4.1m; South Australia, $1.6m; Western Australia, $6. 8m; Tasmania, Sim. The extra money will be made available on the same terms and conditions as the Sewerage Agreements Act 1973. We have carefully assessed the impact of these programs on manpower and material resources. Most of the works have already been completed and therefore will involve no significant pressure on resources. Where works will not be completed for some months, we have ensured that our allocations will not impose a strain on resources.

I turn now to the programs for each of the States. The program in Victoria is important because good progress has already been made and the extra money will enable greater inroads into the sewerage backlog to be made. I am convinced that the additional funds will accelerate the strong drive the Melbourne authorities have started against pollution in metropolitan streams and along the bayside beaches. It is only in such a co-operative manner that we can solve the problem.

In Queensland the extra assistance will concentrate on projects designed to remove the backlog of poor sewerage services in Brisbane. It will include the start of the Luggage Point treatment plant which will treat sewage from the main sewerage area of Brisbane to comply with Water Quality Council standards. This will bring important benefits to the environment in Central Brisbane and in the outer suburbs of the city.

In Western Australia the extra assistance will mean that existing programs will be maintained at peak level. Without this assistance, the Perth Metropolitan Water Board would have to cut back its accelerated works program, and this would mean a reduction in contract staff. With regard to longer term programs in the Budget session, the Government will announce details of the form and level of finance to be provided. The level of financial assistance under this Bill now before the House has been taken into account in preparing the long term program. I ask honourable senators to note that the form and level of finance proposed under the long term program cannot be anticipated from the financial arrangements under this Bill.

In summary, this Bill provides extra amounts of up to $3m to Western Australia, $3.95m to Victoria and Sim to Queensland in the 1974-75 fiscal year as part of the program to cut out the sewerage backlog. The extra money will allow the level of activity reached under the existing accelerated program to be maintained. The funds will be provided under the same terms and conditions as in the Sewerage Agreements Act of 1973. This was the first real drive of an Australian Government to work together with the States and local authorities to cast out the backlog of sewerage and to protect the environment. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Carrick) adjourned,

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