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Tuesday, 9 March 1971
Page: 707

Mr LUCHETTI (Macquarie) - It is a paradox that in this, the driest of the world's continents, we should be considering flood mitigation, what we are to do with surface water, how rapidly we can discharge surplus water into the Pacific Ocean and, furthermore, why we should be content with a consideration of the problems of flood mitigation only on the eastern coast of New South Wales and why this study and consideration should not be extended to the other river systems' of New South Wales and, if other States will cooperate, of the other States of "the Commonwealth. I want to pay a tribute to one who deserves to be acknowledged, who was perhaps mainly responsible ' for the adoption of flood mitigation work on the north coast of New South Wales., I refer to a former honourable member for Cowper,

Mr FrankMcGuren, because it was through his constant advocacy, persistence, constant representations, speeches in this place and uflagging zeal in talking about these matters, that the Government finally in a time of crisis was compelled to take action.

I can recall that the honourable member for Lyne (Mr Lucock) the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Jeff Bate), the honourable member for Cowper of that time, Mr McGuren, and I journeyed to the north coast to the area of one of the most terrible floods that had visited the coast of New South Wales. It was in May 1963. For some days great volumes of water had built up over the coastal plain, flooding out farms and vegetation, destroying crops of all kinds, washing livestock out to sea, devastating the countryside in a shocking and horrible fashion and bringing great hardship upon the people of that community. Following our return from a visit to the area pressure was exerted upon the Government of the time to take action because the tragedy was so great - this was acknowledged - on the north coast and the central coast of New South Wales. The Press also supported the representations made on our side of the House that the Commonwealth Government and the State too should join with the progressive local government governing bodies in providing funds to meet this situation.

I join with other speakers in expressing words of appreciation', to those county councils such as the Macleay River County Council, the Tweed Shire Council, the Richmond River County Council and local government bodies generally for what they have done in planning this flood mitigation work, trying to overcome the immediate question of draining water off their lands to the Pacific Ocean. Even at this time, when it Hoods, water covers considerable areas of the countryside. That is not to say that a tremendous amount of work has not been done. 1 pay a tribute to those responsible for their thoughtfulness and leadership, and for planning for each river system the type of work that is required to overcome the immediate problem, either by cleaning out the river system, altering the banks of the river, building up levees or building and cutting canals out to sea. These county councils have done much to mitigate the damage df flood.

As far as the Bill in concerned, flood mitigation works means works tor the purpose of reducing the likelihood or mitigating the effects of flood. I should like to think that our thoughts on this subject would go far beyond the limited requirements of the Bill itself. I should like to think that the proposal of the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) for a wider consideration of this matter would be adopted. I should like to think that in this country, where we need to preserve and store water, action might be taken to deliver water to drier areas and thus mitigate the damage caused by floods and help to overcome this problem. But the history is one of the rapid drainage of water to the sea. 1 was somewhat disappointed with the remarks of the honourable member for Cowper (Mr Robinson) this afternoon. He failed to pay tribute to his predecessor. It would not have been a great sacrifice on his part to have done so. He would not have given away anything. Back in those days when the campaign for flood mitigation was being fought here in the Parliament the then honourable member for Cowper, Mr McGuren. moved an amendment in relation to the Advance to the Treasurer, proposing that the estimates for the Department of the Treasury be reduced by £1 as an instruction to the Government to make an immediate grant on a fi for £1 basis with the New South Wales Government for the urgent and imperative work being carried out by the county councils to mitigate and control the frequent disastrous floods in the northern rivers of New South Wales in order to preserve the valuable production of the great north coast farming areas and to prevent the heavy economic losses which follow these floods.

This motion was supported by members of the Australian Labor Party, members of the Opposition, and we brought to the attention of the Parliament the great damage that was being done and the need for action, whether it be in the sense that was put forward in other days by a former honourable member for Cowper, Sir Earle Page, who advocated a gorge scheme and the storage of water to be delivered to other places or whether it be the sort of scheme that has come to be accepted. Whatever it was, it was an earnest approach to a great challenge to the people on the coastline of New South Wales.

When from time to time these cases were being presented the Opposition found that members of the Government were not sympathetic. I think of the words of the present leader of the Australian Country Party, the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr Anthony). These are his words in reply to the Labor Party proposal:

When the honourable member for Cowper rises in this chamber and says that the Commonwealth should enter this field, he is only trying lo create a diversion. He is trying to pass the buck on to the Commonwealth Government, although this is a State responsibility. What is the difference between the State undertaking flood control and building dams such as the Glenbawn dam and the Keepit clam?

The Leader of the Country Party, the honourable member for Richmond, would have no part of that proposal. He said: This is not a matter for the Commonwealth Government; this is a responsibility for the State Government of New South Wales'. Let us be done with this matter. Let us be fair to the former honourable member for Cowper. Let us be fair to MrMcGuren. Let us give credit where credit is due. Let us end for all time this churlishness of wanting to sneer at and deride someone who has made a signal contribution to the development of this country and to the people of the north coast of New South Wales. It is important to remember that following a parliamentary visit to the north coast in 1963 and our persistent motions subsequently, legislation finally was introduced on 5th March 1964 and it received royal assent on 23rd April 1964, despite the fact that the Leader of the Country Party had said earlier that it was not a Commonwealth responsibility. It was a case of the people of the north coast of New South Wales winning a significant democratic battle because they had a member in this Parliament who was prepared to speak for them and to play a vital part in developing this country.

The proposed legislation takes the situation a step further. The initial legislation concerned 6 rivers on the New South Wales coastline and involved the expenditure of about $5m. This legislation provides for $9m to be spent over 7 years on 11 rivers on the eastern coastline of New South Wales. This is to be commended. It is necessary. There is need to help those who are prepared to help themselves. All honourable members are familiar with the devastation and tragedy caused bv Hood and the misfortunes of those people who are subjected to recurring floods which come with regular monotony and regular disaster. AH honourable members know of the great losses to the dairying industry and the vegetables, fruit and pastures on the river systems. Flooded rivers, when they change course, tear out great stretches of the alluvial Hats, occasionally deporting the soil on other land but frequently carrying it out to sea. Floods cause severe damage to roads, railways, telephones and electricity services. These facilities are all victims of uncontrolled flood. It is up to the Parliament to give more thought to what can be done about the tragedy of Hoods.

In proposing an amendment the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) has suggested that members of the House should engage in an examination of the question of flood disaster and flood mitigation. He has proposed the appointment of a committee to investigate this matter. Is this not a reasonable suggestion? Surely it is the responsibility of members of the Parliament to look carefully into questions of this kind and not to accept existing conditions as the ultimate. Whatever has been achieved up to the present time, much more requires to be done. The honourable member for Dawson has. quite rightly, referred to the east coast of New. South Wales but my mind turns to the areas west of the Great Dividing Range where, because of the flooding of the western rivers, many areas are flood bound and people are suffering tremendously because of the lack of flood mitigation work and because the Government has failed to harness, store and control water. The basic consideration should be what can we do to control water in this dry continent. What can we do to conserve water? What can we do to distribute water? What can we do to make the best possible use of the water?

The proposal that a committee should be appointed by the Parliament to look into this subject should commend itself to every responsible member of this chamber. On this occasion members should forget narrow party lines. We should be looking at the major question which is affecting the people of this nation. Of paramount importance is the inadequacy of water in one place and the surplus of. water in another. There is a necessity to store water. All of these questions should receive close attention by members of Parliament who have been sent here by their constituents to deal with such questions. Surely honourable members accept the fact that there is need for action in this field and that such action should not be limited to the eastern coastline of New South Wales but should be extended to include the overall problem.

The present subsidy to some extent is meeting the requirements of those engaged in flood mitigation work. A S2 for $1 subsidy is provided for the river systems with the exception of the Hunter River where the subsidy is S3 for $1. This is a reasonable proposition and it has been accepted, but I am not content with this type of flood mitigation. We must go far beyond this and 1 should like to think that a plan would be developed for the purposes of: diverting water from the river plains on the eastern coastline to other areas where it is required. I was pleased to note that this legislation contains provision to enable the extension of mitigation work to other river systems on the coastline of New South Wales The Hawkesbury River has been included and during the life of this legislation some $2,060,000 will be used for flood mitigation undertakings on the Hawkesbury, Colo and Nepean rivers. The Windsor, Colo, Baulkham Hills, Penrith and Camden councils will contribute to this worthwhile project. I believe that consideration should be given to the manner in which our river systems are used and also to the way in which land abutting and in close proximity to the river systems is used. At times I am somewhat concerned that contractors can remove great quantities of gravel from river plains, thus weakening the banks of rivers and helping to create dangerous situations. This is an aspect to which a committee, such as is proposed by the honourable member for Dawson, could give consideration.

I believe that the Parliament is accepting to a greater extent than ever before a responsibility for seeing that action is taken not only in respect of flood mitigation and reducing the likelihood of floods with their disastrous and damaging consequences but also in overcoming floods. In a Bill of this kind, limited as it is, I cannot put forward proposals that I should like to submit to the Parliament. I should like to propose a wide ranging national conservation authority which would have regard for all water that is precipitated in Australia - water that is urgently required in some parts of the Commonwealth. Such water would help to provide life-giving properties to some of the driest parts of Australia.

As far as it goes this Bill meets the requirements of many people. I can only hope that those engaged in local government will find the measure acceptable to them and that the measure will provide the additional finance that they so urgently require. I hope that the Government, despite the assurances given by the honourable member for Cowper, will have another look at the Nambucca River to see if it is not possible to provide funds so that this river system, too, can receive the assistance required for a practical programme of flood mitigation. Surely the fact that the Nambucca people have not the resources at this time to match the Commonwealth and State in their grants should not deny those people the opportunity of having necessary work done on the banks of the Nambucca River to preserve that area. I support the broad principles of the Bill but feel that the amendment moved by the honourable member for Dawson goes a long way in dealing with the question that this Parliament ought to be considering, the investigation of an outstanding issue concerning floods in this country, the need to look after people who are suffering the effects of floods and the mitigation to the fullest extent of the very great disasters which occur.

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