Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 17 November 1964

Senator DITTMER (Queensland) . - As you, Mr. Acting Deputy President, would realise more than most honorable senators who are now present in the chamber, this is a particularly/, important Bill. Of the continents of the world Australia is the most "arid. The way in which this Bill has been introduced is a further example of the approach of this Government to legislation. Is it any wonder, Sir, that the people of Australia hold the Parliament in relative contempt? They speak of parliamentarians in derogatory terms and begrudge them the recent rise in salaries. The manner in which the Bill has been introduced at this late stage means that it cannot be approached analytically. We are now within a fortnight of the forthcoming Senate election. It has been suggested that the late Ben Chifley was hard in arranging his legislative programme. But I have heard supporters of the Government say that he never dreamt of being so irresponsible in his attitude to the rights of the representatives of the people to analyse legislation as this Government has been. I repeat what 1 said: Never was he so irresponsible in his attitude to the Parliament and never did he pay such small regard to the rights of parliamentarians as have successive Menzies Governments. We are now witnessing legislation, not by exhaustion, but by annihilation and frustration.

Over the last week we have witnessed so many scenes in the Parliament that one is almost ashamed to admit that he is a member of the Federal Parliament. Last week there were unfortunate episodes in the other place, and we have had unfortunate episodes in this chamber. Members are not responsible enough to acknowledge the seriousness of the discussions and to engage in them dispassionately. Whether they let their emotions sway them or whether they arc swayed by the desire to achieve electoral victory I do not know. Only this week we have seen the Senate humiliated. Why we should cop it I just do not know. Last week the other place rose relatively early. That is why I now propose to deal with this Bill in no small measure of detail. That is not a threat.

Senator Henty - - It is not a promise cither, is it?

Senator DITTMER - If the Minister is not interested, he may go out of the chamber. What happened on Wednesday night of last week? The other place rose relatively early. The Senate ran out of business on Thursday night. The other place was so contemptuous of the rights of members of the Parliament that honorable members went home on Friday and came back on Monday. I repeat the question that was posed this afternoon: What right has the other place to monopolise the broadcasting facilities of this institution? I had intended to raise this matter, but I pay a tribute to Senator Marriott for having anticipated what I wanted to say. He must have read my thoughts. I am so frank that they are easy to read; they are open for all to see. The members of the other place came back on Monday. They took the broadcasting facilities unto themselves on Monday, and they monopolised them on Tuesday. It is time that those who control the business of the Senate saw fit to determine whether this House should continue to exist or not. Quite frankly, if it is to continue to exist as it has in the past, I am in favour of its abolition. I am wedded to the abolition of the Senate, admittedly. If the Government is going to whittle away our rights, then the Senate should be abolished, and the sooner the better.

Senator Henty - Now deal with the States Grants (Water Resources) Bill.

Senator DITTMER - I am pointing out the perfunctory way in which the measure has been brought before the Senate. I am not being discourteous when I say that, because I know it is not the responsibility of the Minister and I know it is not his desire to be discourteous. I am just indicating how shabbily Ministers are treated, more particularly in the Cabinet, and how they fail to recognise their responsibility to this chamber. If the Government wants to survive in this place for any length of time and if it wants to ensure the survival of this House - I take it that members of the Government are wedded to the survival of the Senate - then it should ensure that its prestige is at least preserved if not enhanced. The Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Henty) must admit that over the last week not only has the prestige of the Senate not been enhanced but that this House has been treated shabbily by the Government. That is why I asked earlier: Is it any wonder that the people of Australia are contemptuous of the Parliament, that they speak in derogatory terms of parliamentarians and deny them the right to a reasonable salary?

Now, just about a fortnight before the Senate election, we are dealing with the States Grants (Water Resources) Bill. I am reminded of what has been said by Sir

Harold Raggatt, a distinguished man and an able administrator. I do not always agree with him, and I do not agree with him on this occasion. When delivering a public address on a certain occasion he said that much nonsense had been written and spoken about the co-ordination of water resources on a national basis. I know that much nonsense has been written and spoken about this subject, but a lot of sense also has been written and spoken. It does not become the man to say what he said. Ours is the driest continent in the world. Incidentally, the more riverless half of the continent is the southern half; the greatest water supply is in the northern half.

This legislation is characteristic of the functioning of the Menzies Government. It provides too little too late. It is proposed to provide approximately £767,000 over the next three years for stream gauging and £610,000 for the investigation of underground waters. Under the threat of electoral defeat in 1961 a promise was made to establish the Australian. Water Resources Council. That promise was honoured. The Council consists of representatives of the Commonwealth Government, including the Minister for Territories, and State Ministers who are associated with water resources or irrigation. Under them, departmental officials form various committees. All that the Government proposes to do now is to provide for the determination of stream flows. Surely the Minister for Civil Aviation, who is in charge of the Bill in this place, realises there is much more than that to the utilisation of water resources, particularly with an increasing population and increasing development. The measurement of water heights and stream flow is important. We have the poorest record of the modern nations of the world in regard to these forms of investigation. There is no reason why we should be proud. The Government has been in office for almost IS years during boom times and an unprecedented period of good seasons. Water is of paramount importance to our primary industries and to the urban population, but all that the Government proposes to do on this occasion is to provide money to gauge stream flow and to investigate in a small way the underground water resources of this country. The Government has failed to accept its real responsibility in relation to this national problem.

In this country there are many great rivers. Unfortunately, in Queensland the Dividing Range is so close to the coast that there are no rivers of great magnitude flowing east for long periods. Great volumes of water pour down for a short time. On the western side of the Range, the rivers flow in great volume but dry up when the rains have passed. In Western Australia is the Ord River which has, I understand pouring down it five times the volume of water that flows down the Murray system. The Fitzroy River has three times the volume of the Murray system. But little is being done to survey these areas to assess the possibility of the utilisation of the water for irrigation, for hydro electric purposes and so on.

The Bill before us has two objects. If the Government had been seized with a sense of national responsibility it would have faced up to this problem in a much bigger way. The Fitzroy Basin, the watershed of the Fitzroy River, consists of 58,700 square miles of excellent soil, and has eminently suitable sites for four dams. This area could provide an annual income in the vicinity of £20 million, but nothing is being done in that area. The Burdekin River presents difficulties associated with silting, but other countries have faced this problem and found a solution.

I pay a tribute to the Commonwealth Government for its contribution towards the development of the Ord River scheme, even though it was an election gesture. An area of 30,000 acres has been cultivated because of the construction of the Bandicoot Bar diversion dam at a cost of over £5 million. The best fibre cotton in Australia is grown there. Although the crop has not been as large as was anticipated, ultimately it will be improved. Two crops are obtained annually. This does not occur anywhere else in Australia. Now the Western Australian Government is saying - justifiably I think - that the Federal Government is not prepared to face up to the cost of the utilisation in full of the water supply of the Ord River. The State Government refers particularly to the major scheme which embraces the Diamond Gorge, at an estimated cost of another £30 million. The Federal Government has not denied the charges of the Western Australian Government but has said that it will examine the matter. The Western Australian Government is impatient. I have read a Press report - I do not know whether it is true - that Mr. Court, the Western Australian Minister for Northern Development, has claimed that private money is available from overseas for the utilisation of the remaining 120,000 to 170,000 acres of black soil available for cultivation. Surely the Federal Government should be in a position to tell the Western Australian Government whether it is prepared to go on with the proposition. The issue should not be postponed, because a work force has been assembled and an excellent job is being done. If finance is not available the work force will be disbanded and may not easily be assembled again.

We realise how petty minded is this Government when it faces national problems. It attempts to pacify everyone by a small gesture, but never will it face up to a major issue in a big way. We have witnessed that. Even though the Government is wedded to conscription, in a year it wishes to obtain only 6,900 men for the Services. If the Government wishes to introduce conscription, it should face up to it in a big way and show a sense of national responsibility. It is foolish to try to pacify everybody.

Australia is a continent of about 2i million square miles. It is the most arid continent in the world. It is settled largely on the fringe and the land is utilised in the outback by the pastoral industries. A survey is urgently needed of our water resources, but the Government at this time says: " We will provide £767,000 by way of assistance to the States over the next three years for stream gauging ". If honorable senators knew how the number of gauges in this country compares with those in the United States, they would be ashamed of our efforts, regardless of the extreme wealth and the natural endowment of the United States.

The Government talks in terms of expenditure of £610,000 over the next three years for the investigation of artesian and sub artesian bores. The pastoral industries depend a great deal upon artesian waters. Professor Lilley of the United States of America is a distinguished scientist who has a great interest in artesian waters. I wonder how often the Government has invited him to come to Australia. There are artesian basins all over Australia. Queensland has probably the largest artesian basin in Australia. These underground water supplies are vital to the. industries of the inland. In some places the supplies are replenished. In other places they are locked in by non-porous rocks so that wells are formed. Water that is taken from them is not replaced except by surface water seeping down. The extent of these resources must be determined. Only in that way can we estimate the future economy of our inland.

I appreciate that honorable senators on this side are anxious to get to the country to tell the story of the ineptitude of the Menzies Government and of its inefficient actions. It is the responsibility of the Opposition to make known to the Australian people the complete and utter incompetence of this Government. The people should be told of the political trickery in which the Government has indulged. The Bill before us is a measure of the Government's disregard of the rights of this nation Although the Opposition supports the Bill, we do so with real reluctance because we say that it does not go far enough. It is not a due recognition of the legitimate rights of this country. Sir Harold Raggatt, a distinguished man and an able administrator, said that a lot of nonsense has been written and spoken about the co-ordination of the water resources of this country on a national basis. I think that a lot of sense has been written and spoken on the subject. The National Government has a real responsibility to co-ordinate these resources, although it may use the administration set up by the States. The Opposition recognises that a little bit is being given by this Bill, but it says that that little bit is being given too late.

Suggest corrections