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Thursday, 31 August 1972
Page: 610


Senator COTTON (New South WalesMinister for Civil Aviation) - In this debate we are dealing with a report of the Standing Committee on Social Environment, dealing specifically with the problem of Canberra sewage effluent. In the process of discussing that subject we have had a most interesting contribution by Senator Davidson, who is Chairman of the Committee, and by Senator Mulvihill who was one of the members of the Senate Select Committee on Water Pollution. I think all honourable senators would agree that the Water Pollution Committee was a most distinguished body and that its report was quite a bench mark on water pollution in Australia. We are all indebted to members of the Committee for the work they did and for the significant impact that they have had on thinking on this whole problem in the Commonwealth, in the States and outside this country. But for the purpose of this debate I do not think it would be appropriate for me on behalf of the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts (Mr Howson) to refer to that aspect in detail. I believe that I should confine my remarks to the specific matter which is under reference. Therefore I shall be quite brief.

The inquiry to which we are referring was undertaken following expressions of concern, particularly by local government officials, about the quality of effluent being discharged from Canberra into New South Wales waterways. The Committee on Social Environment made inspections of the waterways and treatment facilities and took evidence about the quality of effluent and the treatment operation. The National Capital Development Commission supplied material for this purpose through the Minister for the Interior (Mr Hunt). Important submissions concerning the current treatment operation and proposals for the future drew attention to Canberra's rapid growth rate, the need for high quality effluent and the particular difficulties associated with the operation of a major inland city like Canberra. The Committee reported favourably on the current operations and indicated that proposals for future development should be pursued.

The Committee concluded that Canberra sewage effluent does marginally raise the level of the bacterial population of the Mumimbidgee River, but the level remains acceptable at the point of entry into New South Wales, bearing in mind the normal uses of the water downstream and in the Burrinjuck Dam. The Dam: is not being used to treat Canberra effluent. The water testing programme initiated in 1969 is being continued. In addition the Government is formulating and will continue a basin wide study of the Murrumbidgee River in the region of the Australian Capital Territory. The standards being adopted in the control of water here are those recommended by the United States Environment Protection Agency and supported by recent recommendations of the technical committee on water quality of. the Australian Water Resources . Council. The National Capital Development Commission will construct the lower Molongolo River quality control centre, which has been devised in association with, a' leading international firm of consulting' engineers. The proposals for this centre are how being developed in detail and designs will be completed next year. The new plan adopts the most modern technology, including the removal of ' nutrients. The'' quality of effluent will be the highest by world standards. Construction is expected to begin next year and to be completed in 1976-77. The Weston Creek sewage treatment works will then be phased out. Meanwhile the extensions and improvements at the Weston Creek plant are almost complete and will maintain a satisfactory standard of effluent, notwithstanding additional demands arising from a population growth. The use of solvex will ' be 'discontinued when the augmentation work has been completed.

In order to assist the Senate my colleague the Minister for Works (Senator Wright) has provided me with additional information which has come from the Department of Works. I seek 'leave to use this information as it may be useful to the Committee and to the Senate. In connection with these recommendations made by the Standing Committee on Social Environment concerning the ; report of the Canberra Sewage Effluent .Committee of December 1971 the position as at today's date is as I shall now describe.

First, a joint testing programme has been arranged by Commonwealth and State Governments and detailed sampling points have been established along the River. The Commonwealth is carrying out testing within the Australian Capital Territory and its programme is operating and substantial test results have been collected. The State has agreed to co-operate but is finding some difficulty in maintaining a testing programme over the Murrumbindgee Basin. It is expected that this represents delay rather than inability to meet the arrangements which have been made.

Secondly, Government representatives have met to establish a committee to attend to the joint management to control water quality and the initial meeting has taken place. The Commonwealth is finalising its own departmental committee to work with State representation to ensure the objectives of joint management.

Thirdly, it is intended at the earliest possible date to fix the standards of suitable water quality and waste disposal and a monitoring programme referred to under the first item will ensure oversight of the operation to ensure adherence to the standard set down.

Fourthly, with regard to the long term effects of solvex on aquatic life we have endeavoured to comply with the implied long term effects that could happen by cutting back in the near future doses of solvex and utilising greater chlorine dosing which has no long term adverse effect. With reference to the phasing out of nonbiodegradable detergents, our design programme indicates that the voluntary switch to biodegradable detergents taken by the manufacturers following discussion with the health authorities is taking place and there is a noticeable falling off in the detergent levels in the river.

Fifthly, the Department has already initiated on behalf of the Commission a programme costing in the order of $200,000 to improve the quality of the effluent in Weston Creek, pending the construction of the lower Molonglo water quality control centre.

Sixthly, the new water control centre is being treated with urgency to a programme which should ensure its being commissioned during the year 1976. The design, which is very modern and advanced, is currently producing to meet target dates which are in accordance with the dates advised to the Committee. I offer the personal observation that, having listened to the debate and the observations of both Senator Davidson and Senator Mulvihill, I am extremely impressed, when I have to deal with material given to me by the Department of Works and the Minister on whose behalf I speak, by the interest taken by the Senate and the effective execution of the work that it has set out to do in the public interest.







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