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Thursday, 31 August 1972
Page: 611

Senator LAUCKE (South Australia) - Again I say how very pleased I am to hear a ministerial announcement in respect of a report - this being the second report to be debated this afternoon - indicating that action is being taken on recommendations made by a Senate committee. I am grateful to Senator Cotton for obtaining and giving to us the information that he has given in respect of this report. Senator Davidson mentioned the overriding reference to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Environment; that is, the continuing oversight of the problems of pollution which includes pollution of water and air and noise pollution - whatever type of pollution it may be. It is a very wide reference. Acting within that reference, the Committee decided to exercise its discretion in this matter to inquire into and report upon the alleged pollution of the Mumimbidgee River downstream to the Burrinjuck Dam.

Problems arise in many places in Australia from the discharge of wastes into inland streams. Canberra, as Australia's largest inland city and one having a very rapid rate of growth, offered an excellent opportunity to study these problems. Further, the source of the alleged pollution was within the Australian Capital Territory, for which the Commonwealth has administrative and legislative responsibility. It was a clear cut case involving Commonwealth responsibility within its own area and allegations which emanated from areas outside the Territory and which needed prompt investigation and report to ascertain whether in fact they were properly based. We had noticed the public expressions of concern and we thought that we would very quickly make an inquiry into this matter. We received excellent cooperation from the Commonwealth and

State Ministers concerned and their departments and also from the Goodradigbee Shire Council and its officers. I would like to record the appreciation of the Committee of this co-operation and assistance.

The major concern expressed to the Committee was in respect of health hazards. Although I do not want to repeat what has been said this afternoon, I would like to place on record the situation as I saw it, in virtually the same terms as I reported to the Senate in December 1971. The Committee found that the allegations that Canberra sewage effluent was responsible for harmful pollution of the Murrumbidgee River and the Burrinjuck Dam were not supported by factual evidence. Moreover, they were based - inappropriately, in the Committee's view - on the assumption that drinking water standards should be maintained at all times in the river and the dam. On the evidence presented, the Committee has no doubt that the discharge of Canberra's sewage effluent contributes, though only marginally, to pollution of the Murrumbidgee River downstream from the Australian Capital Territory. The normal use of the waters in question being for pastoral and agricultural purposes and for recreational activities such as boating, fishing and swimming, the Committee considers that the marginal increase in the pollution load is not currently a health danger. In our view, the evidence did not establish any present threat to aquatic life in the river and the dam directly attributable to the discharge of Canberra's sewage effluent. Nevertheless, we believe that as a precautionary measure detergent and 'Solvex' residues ought to be constantly monitored and their effects continually watched. Fears were expressed about leaching from the Coppins sludge lagoons and the danger of pollution of the Murrumbidgee River by a proposed new tip at the northern edge of the current Canberra development. However, the evidence did not substantiate these fears.

That, in a nutshell, covers the report. As I have said, we have had a very gratifying response by the Government to the conclusions and recommendations in the report. That has been indicated by the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Cotton). I have pleasure now in supporting the motion for the noting of this report.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Motion (By Senator Cotton) agreed to:

That the Senate now proceed to consideration of Government Business.

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