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Tuesday, 9 March 1971
Page: 712

Mr CHARLES JONES (Newcastle) - The Bill before the House is concerned with a grant of financial assistance to the State of New South Wales for the purpose of flood mitigation works on the Tweed, Richmond, Clarence, Macleay, Hunter, Shoalhaven, Bellinger. Hastings, Manning, Hawkesbury and Moruya Rivers. The rate of subsidy will be on the basis of $2 by the Commonwealth, $2 by the State and $1 by the local authority, with the exception of the Hunter River where the subsidy will be on the basis of $3 by the Commonwealth, $3 by the State and $1 by the local authority. Under this Bill the Commonwealth is to provide $9m which, together with the $9m provided by the State, will give considerable assistance to the State Government and the local authorities and will enable them to take greater steps in carrying out this work than have been taken to the present time.

One of the heartening things about this Bill is that the grant of assistance will be made retrospective to 1st July 1969. But a matter which concerns me - and my electorate is in the Hunter Valley - is the fact that we have had to wait almost 20 months for the Government to make up its mind to introduce this Bill which makes money available for the work to be carried out. In the flood which occurred in the Hunter Valley on 1st, 2nd- and 3rd February last a considerable amount of damage was done purely and simply because certain work had not been undertaken. If the Government had made up its mind earlier, this work could have proceeded and a lot of damage which did occur would not have occurred. A number of farms which have been put out of production would not have been put out of production and losses would not have been incurred by the occupants of those farms. This is a matter with which I should like to deal later.

As we are all aware, the Hunter Valley contains one of the most fertile river plains in Australia. In the lower Hunter River area there are approximately 94,000 acres of some of the most fertile land in Australia. This land is available to be used for intensive cultivation and to obtain a quick turnover of the commodities which are required, such as lucerne and green vegetables which are sent to the adjacent cities of Newcastle, Cessnock, Maitland and also Sydney. As a lot of this land is now unproductive and will remain unproductive for some considerable time, this Government has to do something about the matter, and I hope that the Minister for National Development (Mr Swartz), in his reply to this debate, will be able to say why the Government has not taken earlier the steps which it is taking tonight in order to provide the necessary finance for this flood mitigation scheme.

Up to date a considerable amount of money has been spent on making improvements in the Hunter River Valley, and 1 want to quote from a publication which was prepared by the New South Wales Department of Public Works. It discloses that the work which has already been carried out in the Hunter River Valley has been most effective. It shows that the following work has been completed: 60 miles of levees, including spillways; 8 miles of control and diversion banks; 0.6 miles of pilot channels; 5 miles of bank protection; 40 miles of flood canals; 14 miles of stream improvements; 70 flood gates; and 65 farm crossings. This report covers the period to the end of 1969. It is the latest information available. The report for the following year has not yet been sent to the Government Printer. This report gives some indication of the amount of money which has been spent on flood mitigation work on the Hunter River. The work is similar to that which has been carried out on other rivers which have already been included in the scheme. The first 6 rivers on which work was undertaken were the Tweed, Richmond, Clarence, Macleay, Hunter and Shoalhaven. The work which has been carried out on all these rivers has resulted in increased production worth millions of dollars. But this Government refrained from carrying out work in these river systems for some considerable time, and I will deal with that matter shortly.

We have reached the stage where the Government has now made up its mind to proceed with work on the rivers to which I have referred. It is remarkable that the Government decides to carry out flood mitigation work when it gets into trouble. In 1963 the Government was in trouble. After the 1961 elections it had a majority of only one. On the eve of the 3963 elections the then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, brought down in this place the first flood mitigation Bill which provided for Commonwealth expenditure of some $8m. Further work was not undertaken, but now it is obvious that the Government has again got into trouble. We find that some 20 months after the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) made a statement on this matter, the Government finally has introduced the Bill which we are presently debating. It would appear that the only time when the States or the people involved in this flood mitigation work can expect any assistance from the Commonwealth Liberal-Country Party Government is when it is confronted with some economic problems such as those which are facing it today. At that stage this is one of the election gimmicks which the Government uses.

As I said earlier, the recent flood to which the Hunter Valley has been subjected and which is now subsiding has caused a considerable amount of damage. I spent nearly the whole of yesterday with Mr Unicomb the Labor candidate for the electorate of Paterson at the next Federal election, and 1 am confident that he will be the next member for Paterson. He gave me a very good account of what work has been carried out and of the damage which was caused in the flood. I found that work was stopped on the Oakhampton spillway because the Government's contribution to the scheme was not made until after 1969. This spillway was breached in a number of places. This resulted in floodwaters coming over the top of the spillway into the ponding area, filling this area more quickly than would otherwise have been the case and breaking the banks of another spillway which should have held back the water. This is typical of some of the tragedies which occur in these valleys when there is a heavy concentration of rain such as that which was experienced in the Hunter Valley recently.

There were numerous other examples of similar damage occurring because work had not been carried out. The river broke its banks at Bolwarra, and immediately there was flooding in that area. As the river was heavy with sand, sand flowed over and now thousands of tons of sand have been dumped onto properties making them almost non-productive for some considerable time. These properties will be non-productive until such time as the owner can remove the sand. At the present time one owner is removing sand from his farm by using a new method of ploughing. The bottom soil can be brought to the top and the sand ploughed to the bottom. Some farmers in discussion with me yesterday indicated that at the present time their farms, which were inundated with sand in the 1955 flood, are again inundated with sand, and that where they have not been able to get rid of it there has been a marked difference in the yield from the crop when compared with the yield from crops planted in the natural alluvial soil in the Hunter Valley. This has resulted in a part of the crop being destroyed or becoming non-productive, and it has meant a considerable loss of earnings to these people.

At another place Wyburn's levee was breached, which resulted in the New England Highway being closed for a couple of days. The same thing happened to the railways. The railway line was cut for 12 to 14 hours which resulted in considerable loss to the New South Wales Railways and caused considerable inconvenience to the people who were travelling by rail. This was another example of work not being completed because of insufficient funds. In late 1969 when no additional Commonwealth money was forthcoming the Department of Public Works had to terminate the services of either a number of its own employees or the contract people whom it was employing at that time.

One of the great tragedies of this recent flood, as has been the case with respect to all previous floods, is the way in which the banks of our river are taken away by flood. In one section where the bank was 20 feet to 22 feet high a section of 60 feet has been torn away. This huge slab of some of the most beautiful alluvial soil that one could ever wish to see has been destroyed. Another result is that the river changes its course. The river builds up on one side while its other side is torn away. It is no use what ever for the river to build up in the area that it does.

One of the things that concerns me as the member for Newcastle is the fact that all this erosion which has taken place as a result of these floods - I have been unable to obtain confirmation of this information - has led to a reduction in the depth of the steel works channel from the Dyke end to the BHP wharf in the Port of Newcastle. As a result of siltation, the depth of this channel has been reduced from 36 feet to 33 feet. I ask honourable members to work out the significance of the reduction of the whole of that channel from a depth of 36 feet to 33 feet. This silt has been carried down the river from the upper reaches and the lower reaches of the Hunter River. It has all finished up in the Port of Newcastle. Let us consider the effect that significant siltation like this has on the flow of the river. In the basin the depth has been reduced from 36 feet to 35 feet. This means that ships using the port of Newcastle cannot enter the port as heavily laden as they would normally be capable of being loaded.

The same thing can be said about the basin area. This will cost the owners of these ships thousands of dollars in increased freight over a period because their ships are not able to carry the amount of cargo that they normally would carry. What does this siltation cost? It is estimated that, in normal circumstances, it would cost the Martime Services Board of New South Wales approximately $lm to remove the silt from the port of Newcastle by dredging. The farmers in the Hunter River valley will have lost approximately $lm in crops destroyed. Approximately 35,000 acres of farm land, including some of the richest farms in Australia, will be out of production for at least another 6 months. All one can see in the valley is huge areas of farm land covered by water. It will take several months for that water to drain away, lt will be some considerable time after that before the farmers will be able to undertake any ploughing and get their farms into production again. So, the farmers will lose money. Not only have they lost approximately $lm worth of crops but also they will have no incomes whatever for the next 6 months. In some cases, the period may be longer than that.

Honourable members can see what is happening with local government, lt is estimated that repairs to flood damaged roads, bridges and similar local government facilities such as drains will cost $100,000. In my opinion, the figure is a moderate estimate of the damage which has been caused as the result of the flooding of roads. What does this mean? It means that as traffic continues to move over these roads, the surfaces will break up. The estimate of $100,000 is a moderate one. I believe the final figure will be far in excess of that amount.

It can be seen from what I have said already tonight that this Government is to be condemned for having failed to continue the previous agreement for the past 20 months. The Hunter Valley Conservation Trust, which is charged with the responsibility of carrying out this work, did not know where it was going. It was told by the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) in his policy speech in 1969 that his Government would continue the scheme. But it has taken 20 months for the Prime Minister, or the Minister responsible for this proposal, to introduce a simple Bill that requires little drafting. The Government cannot say that it has not had draftsmen available to prepare the legislation because this Bill is a simple piece of legislation which could have been introduced during the first full week that the Parliament sat following its resumption after the last election.

If we consider the matter overall, we shall see that the Government itself must accept some responsibility for this total loss of production and earnings by some of these people in the lower Hunter valley area. As I have pointed out already, at least Sim in crops has been lost together with loss of incomes for at least half a year. Some of the people to whom I have spoken are taking what has happened quite philosophically. Their attitude is: 'Well, we have been putting up with it for some considerable time'. 1 think that 36 major floods have occurred in the Hunter valley over the last 68 years. So, the people have become quite accustomed to floods. But it is time to mitigate the effect of these floods. Referring to the legislation, I think that what is proposed can be marked down to the credit of a former member for Cowper, Mr Frank McGuren.

Mr Nixon - Oh, are you trying to run him as a candidate?

Mr CHARLES JONES - We may run him as a candidate. If we do, the Country Party can say goodbye to Robinson. The Country Party has already lost the seat of Casino in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in the last election and it was battling to hold the seat of Clarence. So, the Minister can take it from me that, if McGuren runs, he will give it a shake and the new member for Cowper in this House will be in the ranks of the Labor Party.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock - And the honourable member can take it from me that this is irrelevant to the subject matter of the Bill.

Mr CHARLES JONES - It is in the Bill, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will deal with you in a moment. This Bill could be classified as the McGuren flood mitigation legislation. Honourable members who were here in 1962 will recall the number of times when Frank McGuren asked questions and moved motions on this subject. For example, on 4th October 1962 during the discussion on the Advance to the Treasurer, Frank McGuren moved:

That the amount of the vote - 'Department of the Treasury, £66,442,000'- be reduced by £1- As an instruction to the Government - To make an immediate grant on a £1 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 and 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 prevent the heavy economic losses which follow these floods.

That was a sensible approach to the problem. At approximately the same time the then Leader of the Opposition, the present right honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Calwell), made a public statement following a visit to the north coast of New South Wales by members of the National Development Committee of the Australian Labor Party who discussed the problem of flooding with various flood mitigation councils. The then Leader of the Opposition announced that the next Labor government would subsidise on a £1 for £1 basis expenditure by the New South Wales Government on flood mitigation. This promise upset the Country Party whose members ridiculed the proposal every time Frank McGuren raised this subject in the Parliament.

Let us look at what the present Leader of the Country Party, the Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr Anthony), had to say in reply to the amendment moved by Frank McGuren to which I have just referred. The present Deputy Prime Minister said:

Is it any wonder that the people in this area are concerned? Yet this member for Cowper comes here and has the audacity to say that the Commonwealth Government should give money for flood control works.

Mr Sinclair - The Deputy Prime Minister is a very good member.

Mr Foster - I rise to order. Is it in order for the Minister for Primary Industry to interject from a seat other than his own?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! The point of order is without substance.

Mr CHARLES JONES - The present Deputy Prime Minister continued:

I am very sensitive about this matter, because the country councils are being hoodwinked into thinking that they should press die Commonwealth Government for money, although they should be addressing their requests to the State Government. This approach only causes delay. When the councils are led to believe that the Commonwealth may give assistance, they decide to press the Commonwealth instead of pressing the State Government. Of course, the State Government encourages them to do this

This was the attitude of the then honourable member for Richmond who is now Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Country Party. He was opposed to the proposal. If I had time, Mr Chairman, I would read what you riad to say on the same day in similar strain to the speech of the new Leader of your Party.

Honourable members can see that the Country Party opposed these proposals whenever they were put forward. It was only after the Labor Party made a very positive decision that action at the Federal level was proposed. We must bear in mind one fact: It was a New South Wales Labor government which initiated this scheme and put it into operation on the basis of £2 for £1 and £3 for £1 subsidies. It took a Liberal Party-Country Party Government in the Federal Parliament some 7 years to make up its mind that it would give some assistance to help the State Government with this scheme.

Honourable members on this side of the House support the measure. We believe it is in the best interests of the people of the Commonwealth. At the same time, we support the amendment which has been moved by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson). The Government should set up a parliamentary select committee to inquire into and report upon national disasters. This is something which is long overdue. This country unfortunately is subjected to extreme flooding and extreme bush fires. Year after year millions and millions of dollars have been lost as a result of these two unfortunate national catastrophes.

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