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Wednesday, 11 December 1974
Page: 3387

Senator CARRICK (New South Wales) -The States Grants (Soil Conservation) Bill is an interim measure to provide for 2 interim programs. One is to be financed by a grant to the State of $500,000 for the year 1974-75, the other by a grant to the State of $2.5m for the year 1975-76. These grants are to be made conditional on the States concerned agreeing to collaborate in a joint nation-wide study in land management. If the States do not agree to that participation, they do not get the money. I will come back to that point in a moment.

The origin of the Bill itself is that in February 1971 the Australian Agricultural Council received a report, a copy of which Ihave in my hand, from the Standing Committee on Soil Conservation. The report, which consists of some 111 pages is called: 'Study of Community Benefits of, and Finance for Soil Conservation'. I commend it to honourable senators. My remarks will be mercifully brief because of the pressure of business of the Senate. This standing committee, consisting of chief officers of each State who are concerned with soil erosion, plus representatives from the then Commonwealth Department of Primary Industry and the Commonwealth Department of the Interior, was formed in 1946. It has done very good and continuous work.

I want to place on record some of the important matters that are contained in the report of the Committee. It said that the non-arid regions of Australia- about 230,000 square miles or 30 per cent- are affected to some degree by soil erosion. Of this 30 per cent about 10 per cent is affected by major soil erosion and 20 per cent by minor soil erosion. It went on to say that, at the present rate of progress of rehabilitation work against soil erosion, it would take 100 years to complete the program. The report recommends that the program be completed in 30 years. It went on to say that at 1 970 prices the overall cost would be some $350m or a sum of about $ 12m a year. My calculation is that at present prices it would cost some $530m or about $18m a year. The report makes the vital point that one should not simply be looking towards rehabilitation of existing erosion, whether it is caused by wind, water, gullying, over grazing, over cropping, burning, the loss of humus or the denuding of trees. It says that what we need for Australia is to develop nationwide systems of land use that will be prophylactic in their sense of soil conservation. I believe that this is of enormous importance. The report of the Committee was received by the Agricultural Council and referred to an interdepartmental committee, which brought it ultimately to the Government.

It is said that the New South Wales Government has not as yet agreed to join in the cooperation on the overall study. The New South Wales Government has been a pioneer in Australia and indeed in the world in soil conservation. One can only think, for example, of the name of E. S. Clayton as one of the great pioneers in this regard. Not only has the New South Wales Government been a pioneer from well into the 1 930s -so has South Australia- but also it has set aside in its budget large sums of money. For example, in 1972-73 it provided $6. 17m, in 1973-74 $6.8m, in 1974-75 $7.4m, in 1975-76 $8.5m, and in 1976-77 $9.3m. It has a well developed and a progressive system of soil conservation and of course, as are all the other States, it is concerned that there might be a duplication of work from the Commonwealth, or that there might be a pressure or a directionalism from the Commonwealth when they are already doing a good job. The New South Wales Government, I think quite rightly, asks why, if in 1974-75 it spends $7.4m, it should have to spell out the whole of the history of what it is doing in order to get $1 10,000, which would be its share of the grant from the Federal Government. I think it is unreasonable. I make one other comment and that is that the State of South Australia, which has done much in soil conservation, has something to growl aboutsomething to complain about- in this legislation. With 9.3 per cent of the population of Australia, South Australia is to receive by way of interim grant in the first year 5 per cent and in the second year 4.4 per cent of the total interim grants. I believe this in itself is a cause for criticism.

I conclude on this basis: Had we time, the Senate might well have debated this Bill in some depth. Civilisation and the survival of man in this world depends on some 9 inches of topsoil and the tilth or quality of the humus of that topsoil. If man is to survive- to overcome hunger- and if Australia is to carry on its job of not only feeding its people but also feeding the world, then it is part of its sacred trust that it should carry out prophylactic soil conservation and land management and use to the fullest degree possible. I therefore commend the Bill.

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