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Tuesday, 9 March 1971
Page: 731

Mr ARMITAGE (Chifley) - Mr Deputy Speaker,I rise because I can recollect that you, the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Jeff Bate), the honourable member for Richmond (Mr Anthony) who is now the Deputy Prime Minister - I agree with the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull) on that point - the honourable member for Macquarie (Mr Luchetti), the former honourable member for Cowper and 1 were the 6 members of this Parliament who travelled as a parliamentary delegation, to the areas devastated by flood waters in 1963. As a result of that visit and subsequent report, the first legislation to assist in flood mitigation works on various rivers in the northern part of New South Wales was introduced. 1 think that any fair person - and I am afraid that the honourable member for Mallee was not noted for his impartiality in the past - would agree that the original concept of legislation to enable the Commonwealth to provide assistance for flood mitigation was put forward by Frank McGuren who, in 1963, was the member for Cowper and that subsequent flood mitigation legislation will always stand as a monument to him. The present honourable member for Cowper (Mr Robinson) was not a member of this House at that time. To my knowledge he was not even known at that time as a candidate for the electorate and he did not play any prominent part in the consideration of the legislation which came before this House. The fact is that it was Mr Frank McGuren who proposed this scheme. I state this explicitly because I have known Frank for many years. I shared an office with him in this House. 1 worked with him in his area. As an official of the Australian Labor Party in later years I knew him very well indeed.

Mr Robinson - Look out or the ALP will run him again as the Labor candidate.

Mr ARMITAGE - The honourable member should be careful. We might do that.

Mr Robinson - I wish you would.

Mr ARMITAGE - Without any doubt whatever the first person to formulate the principle that the Commonwealth should assist with flood mitigation was Frank McGuren. Because the 1963 election was in the offing - it was held some months later - and the Government had an overwhelming desire to regain the seat that because its loss was like a thorn in the side of the Country Party, the Government finally adopted the policy that Frank McGuren has espoused over the years. This was an effort to use the proposal as a political gimmick to win that electorate. I spoke on that Bill in this House at that time. [ spoke also on the various matters of public importance that were proposed for discussion when we advocated this scheme before the Government adopted what was the policy of the Australian Labor Party or Frank McGuren on it.

I state quite explicitly now as I said at that time that the legislation does not go far enough. For instance, it did not touch on the Hawkesbury River itself. 1 am pleased to see that in 1971, 8 years later, the Government has decided to give something to the Hawkesbury area.

Mr Robinson - You were not here in 1961.

Mr ARMITAGE - I was here in 1961. You see, you have a lot to learn.

Mr Robinson - There was no Bill in 1963.

Mr ARMITAGE - I am speaking from memory, and I can be checked on this. This

Bill was introduced in 1963. The honourable member for Cowper, Mr Deputy Speaker, does not even know when this legislation was first introduced to assist his electorate. That is how much he knows about when this matter first came before the Parliament. He does not even know the date. I can give from the top of my head the date when it first came before the Parliament. I am glad to see that the matter has now been brought before this Parliament and that assistance is to be given to the Hawkesbury River area to the extent of $2,060,000. I think this is important because the Hawkesbury River is admired as being one of the most beautiful rivers in Australia and indeed one of the most beautiful rivers in the world. This area is the main supplier of vegetables to Sydney. When one sees the damage that has been done to the Hawkesbury River through flood it becomes obvious that the time has come for something to be done to overcome this problem. Apparently the honourable member for Cowper does not even know when the legislation was introduced, although he accuses me of not knowing the history of the legislation. I do not think he can know much about it if he does not even know when it came into being.

It is a pity that some notice was not taken of the attitude of the Opposition ranks or of the policies of the Austraiian Labor Party in those days. Assistance was not given to the Hawkesbury area at that time. Of course, it is equally a great pity that people like the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull) cannot go back - I will not say to his electorate - to the electorate he represents and say to the people that he represents: 'Well, the Government has now at last decided to give assistance in my electorate as well. We will not touch just the rivers of New South Wales; we will look at the rivers of Queensland, Victoria and South Australia.' Evidently quite a good job has been done. Of course, this legislation basically deals only with the rivers of New South Wales. Despite the bluster of the honourable member for Mallee I think there is no doubt that he will be very pleased indeed that he can go at last to his electorate, or should I say the electorate that he represents-

Mr Turnbull - You speak of your electorate too.

Mr ARMITAGE - No. I speak of the electorate 1 represent. The honourable member for Mallee can go back to the electorate which he represents and say to his people: T have at last managed to do the right thing by you.' I can say now that the Government which of course we have to say he represents - of which he is a partner - has now decided to give assistance in the electorate which he represents.

For that reason the Australian Labor Party has moved the following amendment:

Whilst welcoming the proposal for the purpose of flood mitigation works in New South Wales, this House is of opinion that the assistance offered is inadequate and should form part of a larger scheme to deal with national disaster and that, accordingly, a joint select committee of the Parliament should be appointed to inquire into the practicability of the establishment of a national disaster organisation.

I suggest to the honourable member for Mallee that he ought to support that amendment. I think it is an admirable proposition which would assist the electorate he represents. Quite obviously, if the honourable member has a conscience, he should give the amendment his complete support. My main point is that I welcome the fact that something is at last being done for the Hawkesbury River area. I think it is a pity that this was not done 8 years ago when we asked this Parliament to do something about this area. I believe that the great damage and devastation which has been done to one of the most beautiful rivers, if not the most beautiful river, in Australia because of the floods which have occurred since that time would not have occurred if the proposals of the Australian Labor Party had been agreed to. I believe that a great loss of property and of crops which the area supplies to the Sydney metropolitan area, together with economic damage, would not have occurred had the Government taken steps 8 years ago to implement the policy advocated by the Labor Party.

I believe also that the Bill does not go far enough. I strongly agree with the amendment. The honourable member for Mallee may recollect that in 1962 and 1963 I was a strong advocate of a national disaster fund and of other proposals. I asked for an inquiry into this matter by way of question to the then Prime Minister and by question to the responsible Minister. I dealt with this matter in debates in this House and during the adjournment debates It ls obvious that sooner or later we must face up to the issue that floods, bushfires and various other national disasters must become a national responsibility. The Commonwealth Parliament must fact up to that responsibility. Finally, I would like to say again, even though I may have hurt the feelings of the honourable member for Cowper, that I shared an office with Frank McGuren who was the member for Cowper in 1963. I have known Frank McGuren for many many years. The honourable member for Macquarie (Mr Luchetti) and I sat and discussed all of the problems with him. Together with the honourable member for Lyne (Mr Lucock), who is at present in the Chair, the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Jeff Bate) and the present Deputy Prime Minister (Mt Anthony), who was then a private member. 1 went to a parliamentary delegation to the flood affected areas of that time. We landed m Grafton. The Labor Party members of that delegation had already spoken on the matter a number of times. Frank McGuren in particular had issued warnings on the issue. We were able to come back to this Parliament and enunciate a policy, from memory, in the last couple of months before the election. Because the Government had a snap election on its hands is decided that it wanted to use our policy as a political gimmick. Whether Government supporters like it or not, that was the wedge; that was when the breakthrough occurred. That was the time when the principle was adopted even though the amount was faT too small. At that time the legislation did not go far enough. As I have said, it did not touch the Hawkesbury River or other rivers. The legislation did not go beyond the State of New South Wales. However, at least the breakthrough occurred and the principle was adopted This is why I say that the principle of Commonwealth assistance for flood mitiga tion will always, whether Frank McGuren returns to this House or not, be a monument to Frank McGuren, the member for Cowper between 1961 and 1963.

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