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Tuesday, 9 March 1971
Page: 725

Mr GRASSBY (Riverina) - I rise in this debate to fulfil 3 major tasks, the first of which is to support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) on behalf of the Opposition. I want to refer particularly to some difficulties in the interpretation of history which seem to have occurred in the course of this debate. I want to deal with the role of the former member for Cowper, Mr Frank McGuren. Before I do that it would be as well if I reminded the House that the Minister for National Development (Mr Swartz) in his second reading speech said very bluntly and simply - I am grateful for his brevity on this occasion - that the Bill is concerned to meet a request from the State of New South Wales for a grant under the Water Resources Development Programme of up to $9m for assistance with flood mitigation works on 11 New South Wales coastal rivers. A little later he said - and this is a point to which I want to draw the attention of the House because it is concerned with the history of this matter and perhaps what we should be thinking about for the future:

A fundamental feature of the arrangements is that the level of assistance to be provided to the local government authorities who are, of course, representative of the land owners and other people who are most intimately affected by floodings, will depend upon the amounts provided by the authorities themselves from their own resources towards the cost of flood mitigation works.

The Stale is to subsidise local authority expenditure at the rate of $3 for Si in the case of the Hunter River and $2 for $1 in other cases. The Commonwealth assistance will match the State contribution.

The beginning of this great effort to arrive at this measure was perhaps on 8th September 1962. I refer to that date because it is not a date which relates only to a Labor Party or Opposition move but also - I say this with charity - to a Country Party move in this matter. On that date the Grafton Branch of the Australian Country Party wrote a letter and I want to read an extract from that letter which is already recorded in Hansard. It reads:

Now that flood mitigation councils ure operating on several of the north coast rivers the value of the jobs they are doing is becoming more clear. The nation stands to gain much from the money invested in such works and this Branch resolves to approach the Federal Government with a request that they contribute on a £1 for £1 basis with the State Government to give the councils sufficient finance to expedite their programmes. We therefore ask your assistance in placing this request before the Federal Government.

That letter of 8lh September 1962 was addressed to the then honourable member for Cowper, Mr Frank McGuren. On 4th October 1962 he moved that the Government, as a matter of urgency, do something along the lines suggested by the Australian Country Party's Grafton Branch. That motion was defeated by one vote. It was defeated after .the whole of the Opposition supported it - after many organs and members of the Country Party in thai region had supported it and had in fact asked the honourable member for Cowper at that lime to raise it and work for it.

The important aspect in this matter is the principles which were enunciated by the present Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Country Party. In relation to efforts made by Mr Frank McGuren at that time. Mr Anthony - I use his name to establish clearly that the Deputy Prime Minister and the present Leader of the Country Party is Mr Anthony - said on 4th October 1962:

Yet this member for Cowper comes here and has the audacity to say that the Commonwealth Government should give money for flood control works.

He was horrified. The Deputy Prime Minister went on to say:

I am very sensitive about this mutter, because the county councils are being hoodwinked into thinking they should press the Commonwealth Government for money, . . 1 think that is clear enough. In fact the present Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Country Party was at that time opposed to this entire concept. He would have opposed every single tenet contained in the Bill now before the House and also the terms of its introduction by the Minister for National Development. In fact at that time he was talking about the sort of thing contained in this Bill and its concept when he said:

This would create a precedent for all time and the Commonwealth would be. obliged to enter the field of water conservation and of flood mitigation.

In other words at that time there was a complete opposition by the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Country Party to this sort of measure and indeed to all similar measures. The honourable member for Cowper at that time, Mr Frank McGuren, and members of the Opposition stood firm and they pressed the case for legislation such as this. I suppose I would be lacking in charity if I did not congratulate the Minister for National Development, for defying all these things in history anld coming forward with this measure which we support.

Mr Hansen - He has seen the light.

Mr GRASSBY - As my distinguished colleague says, the Minister has seen the light. Having put the historical record straight, I move on to what is happening at the present time. There are some things that would be better to have cleared up in relation to this measure. The honourable member for Dawson referred specifically to the need for flood mitigation works on the Nambucca River. The present honourable member for Cowper (Mr Robinson) dealt with this suggestion. 1 do not want to do him any injustice and if I misquote him I hope that he will correct me. 1 understood him to say that the New South Wales Government has made an investigation of flood mitigation possibilities on the Nambucca River. 1 understood him to say that that Government had made this investigation of the flood mitigation prospects for the Nambucca and that the Nambucca Shire Council had considered the report. 1 think that the honourable member said further that the Shire Council had decided against adopting that report and the indication was that nothing was needed or desired at the present time on the Nambucca River in terms of this legislation. I do not want to argue with the honourable member but I want to clarify this matter because I think it is a very important point. I ask the Minister for National Development to apply himself to this point when he replies in this debate.

Because of my natural interest in all these problems and because it is part of the national problem of flood mitigation, flood control and water conservation generally I visited the Nambucca area and I asked the Nambucca Shire Council to indicate to me precisely the present position. On 5th March 1971 the Nambucca Shire Clerk Mr J. Mattick wrote to me and said:

I enclose a copy of a letter which has been forwarded to the Department of Public Works.

He was kind enough to say that my interest was appreciated. The interesting point about the letter of 5th March 1971 sent to the New South Wales Department of Public Works is the contents. I think that the Minister should clear up the confusion which appears to exist because the Shire Clerk, on behalf of the Nambucca Shire Council in the letter to the Department of Public Works, said: Dear Sir.

Re: Flood Mitigation Scheme for the Nambucca River.

Council understands that Commonwealth legislation is being introduced to provide funds for flood mitigation programmes on coastal rivers and the Nambucca River has been excluded at this stage, lt is understood that investigation or the valley is to be undertaken this year. Council seeks clarification on whether it will be eligible for capital works if the investigation reveals that this is desirable, and of course, if the works as suggested are within Council's capacity to meet by way of its share of contribution.

Your advices in Ibis regard will be appreciated.

We have here a clear interest of a council in flood mitigation, works on the Nambucca River. We have here a clear desire to enlist the aid of State and Federal authorities on a matter which every honourable member in this chamber has agreed is vital to

The appropriate department approaches the the survival of the prosperity of that region. I ask the Minister to direct his attention to this inquiry. There are two aspects in this matter. Firstly, the council has made an approach to the New South Wales Government. lt obviously expects that Government to approach the Commonwealth Government for the matter to go to the responsible Minister. If the Minister has not received this request I think we should know about it. I think the Minister should indicate what the answer is to this clear-cut query from the people in the Nambucca area. I hope that I read the letter slowly and precisely so that the Minister was able to get the import of their message.

The third task I have to undertake tonight is to support specifically the amendment moved by my colleague the honourable member for Dawson. That amendment ment states that flood control is only one part of the overall approach that we should be making to national disasters in Australia. Let us be quite clear on this. We have national disasters somewhere in this nation all the time. Sometimes they occur in this Parliament, but I do not think they are covered by this legislation or that they can be covered by any other legislation. In a time of drought, flood or fire at some time there is involvement by someone in this continent. We say as a matter of policy that there should be a national disaster organisation. It has been said by those on the Government side that all is well and there is no need to concern ourselves with any more than what is being done. We say that this is just not the case. In fact the long chain of bureaucracy which has to be followed, which has to be abided by under the present ad hoc system, is such that it creates hardships.

Let me indicate what happens when there is a national disaster. I will leave aside the fact that civil defence can come to the aid of the people. I am talking about the rehabilitation of areas. What happens in the normal course of events? In the normal course of events there is a fire, flood or bush fire. It is beyond the capacity of a hard pressed State to meet the demands placed upon it. So what does the State do? Premier of the State and says, 'Mr Premier, this is the situation. We will need these funds.' The Premier then says: 'We had better seek them because we have not got them because of the financial stringencies which have gone on for so many years. We must seek them from the Commonwealth.' So a letter is addressed from the Premier to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister receives it and refers it to the appropriate Minister of State who refers it to his department which examines it and makes a recommendation. If it is favourable it goes back to the Prime Minister who refers it to the Treasury which then makes a determination and it goes back to the Prime Minister. This is the long bureaucratic chain. Of course, the departments could come back with the wrong recommendation and so work in the disaster area, wherever it may be, is suspended.

We propose that instead of this ad hoc approach there should be proper organisation, a proper drill. We have said that we are pledged to do just this. We have made the pledge and it is associated with our amendment. We say that we should set up a national crop and stock insurance corporation which would take so much of the hardship out of industries such as the dried fruits industry and the canned fruits industry which, with great regularity, find themselves in trouble. We have said that these are the things that we want to do. So we have said to the Parliament as a whole, I thought in an atmosphere of reasonableness, that these are our policies. We invite the Government to support them and indeed to do more than that. We ask the Government perhaps to suspend its judgment on these matters while we explore the detail of their possible operation. So by this amendment we have sought the interest in the Parliament - the interest of all sides and all sections of the Parliament - in order to make our proposals, which we will implement sooner or later, better for the combined consideration that we hope will be given by the members of this Parliament and by all of the specialist agencies upon which a select committee would be able to call.

I think that the amendment is a supremely reasonable one. It is not just a case of rescuing somebody from the rooftop of a flooded house. It is not just a case of providing these matching grants to some authorities in some river valleys. What we say is: Let us take this opportunity in the national Parliament to look at the nation as a whole and to say that as disaster is endemic in our continent, let us provide for it, let us have a drill. We have 2 policies which we will implement. We say to the Government: 'Let us have your help and assistance in approaching them.' I think that is a supremely reasonable approach. Therefore, I commend the amendment to the House, but I would also ask specifically that the Minister for National Development address himself to the expressed concern of the people of Nambucca, Macksville and the area generally. I ask the Minister to deal with this matter specifically and clearly in his reply to this debate.

I would say that the absence and silence of the Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Australian Country Party this evening perhaps indicates his support for our amendment. Therefore, we may be grateful that he has accepted the case which was put forward so eloquently many years ago by Mr Frank McGuren, which was supported by the Opposition and which is now embraced in our amendment.

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