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Tuesday, 9 March 1971
Page: 733

Mr SWARTZ (Darling Downs) (Minister for National Development) - in reply - In the second reading speech I indicated to the House the importance of this measure. It was pleasing to see during the debate that, apart from one exception, all the speakers have indicated strong support for the Bill and the basic proposals. In relation to the amendment proposed by the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) this, as he would really understand, is not acceptable to the Government and I am sure it will not be acceptable to the House. There are a number of special reasons why it would be completely unacceptable. The first important reason is that it would mean considerable delay if we were to withdraw the Bill or what flowed from the Bill. It would mean a delay of some considerable time - perhaps years - while a joint select committee of the Parliament took the time to investigate the matter and make certain recommendations.

This is a measure which is of vital importance and on which we have already given undertakings to the Government of New South Wales and to the local authorities concerned. We could not accept any delay, as would be implicit in acceptance of the proposed amendment. The second thing is that it is basically not applicable to this measure, because the question of setting up of a disaster fund or setting up a committee to investigate the establishment of such an organisation has no real direct relationship to the measure that is before the House. It is something that could be brought up in some other context, but certainly it has no direct relationship to the measure before the House. I know that the honourable member for Dawson really understands that position. So for those 2 basic reasons the amendment is not acceptable.

During his comments the honourable member for Dawson asked for information regarding benefits, or whether any benefit study had been made, of the previous programme of flood mitigation in the coastal rivers area of New South Wales. The information which we have and which has been provided in the memorandum refers mainly to the area of responsibilities and the overall benefits that have accrued as far as the area is concerned. I think that during the debate it has been brought out very clearly that there is strong support for the measures that have been undertaken and a desire to see that they are continued, as proposed in this Bill. Even if it were possible to indicate a cost benefit analysis in relation to the rural areas, this could not have been done in the time. Perhaps at some time in the future it may be possible for such a cost benefit study to be undertaken. If it is possible 1 will certainly see that something is done about it. But sufficient time has not elapsed since the initial work was undertaken and the proportion of work that has been undertaken in relation to rural areas is such that we could not provide sufficient information at this point of time.

The honourable member for Dawson also asked in relation to this and other matters associated with water conservation or flood mitigation that regular progress statements be made to Parliament. I did interject and say that I would certainly see that this was done. It is my intention this year to introduce for the first time an annual report to the Parliament from my Department. Up to the present time there have been annual reports from the various authorities associated with the Department but there has not been a special report by the Department itself. I feel that the stage has been reached when there are sufficient matters of great moment and importance to report regularly to this Parliament and that we should have an annual report of the Department of National Development presented. For the first occasion I will be presenting an annual report this year. It will contain reference to expenditure on flood mitigation, water conservation and matters of that nature. This will give the opportunity for discussion to flow from it in the Parliament. This, being an annual report, means that at regular intervals each year these matters will be covered.

The honourable member for Dawson also indicated that he had in mind an extension of this flood mitigation scheme beyond the rivers of New South Wales to other areas in Australia. It has been made clear under the national water resources development programme, the fund which has been established by the Government for the second 5-year period, that it will cover flood mitigation works. The expenditure in the Bill will come out of that fund. If there are proposals by other States in other areas and they are given priority by the States concerned the matter will receive consideration for expenditure under the fund that has already been established. I thank the honourable member for Dawson for .his reference to the explanatory memorandum which has been attached to this measure. It is an innovation which, as he has indicated, is a fairly recent one. 1 can assure him that it will be continued in the future. We have introduced it in relation to water conservation and flood mitigation matters which come, by way of legislation, before the Parliament. I will be examining the possibility of extending this system to other matters. However, I can give the honourable member an assurance that this type of information system will continue.

The honourable member for Macquarie (Mr Luchetti) and the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Grassby) referred to a proposal for the extension of the flood mitigation scheme to cover the Nambucca River. I understand that at the Committee stage an amendment will be moved by the honourable member for Dawson in relation to this matter. As it has been mentioned during this debate I think I should draw attention to the basic fact that these proposals are not initiated by the Commonwealth. They go to the State through the local authorities concerned and the organisations set up by those local authorities, and are submitted on a basis of priority by the State for consideration for Commonwealth assistance. This was done in the previous scheme. It has been done in the new scheme which is covered by the measure before the House. The honourable member for Riverina referred to some correspondence relating to the Nambucca proposal. I have not seen the correspondence in relation to it. However, if any proposals are submitted by the New South Wales Government in relation to this proposal supported by local authorities for consideration under the national water resources development fund in the future, and if they are given the appropriate priority by the New South Wales Government, they will be considered under the fund. But at the moment it is not part of the present scheme which now covers, with the additional 5 rivers, the 11 major rivers in New South Wales.

Finally I would like to touch on the question raised by the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones). He emphasised that there had been some delay in this matter being dealt with by the Commonwealth. I can assure him that there has been no delay because, as the Bill clearly states, it is dated back to cover a 7-year period commencing 1st July 1969, and funds will be appropriated to cover that particular period, as required and requested by the State. Following the usual procedure, after the submission has been made by the State to the Commonwealth we must go through the procedure of examining the situation. A formula of investigation is followed. It was done in this case in exactly the same way as in all other cases under the national water resources development scheme. When the investigations were completed and all the information had been provided by the local authorities and by the New South Wales Government last year I had the opportunity of announcing publicly that the Commonwealth would approve the proposal and it would be ratified by legislation at the first opportunity. The legislation was prepared last year and we have had the opportunity now early this year of introducing it into Parliament. In other words, the scheme is continuing on from the previous scheme and there will be no delay in the work continuing beyond that. What funds are required to cover the period back to July 1969 will be authorised when this measure passes through both Houses. I do again commend the Bill to the House and for the reasons I have stated the Government cannot accept the proposed amendment.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be omitted (Dr Patterson's amendment) stand part of the question.

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