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Monday, 10 September 1984
Page: 944


Mr COWAN(9.20) —I would like to say a few words concerning the need for greater water resources in Australia. The matter has been touched upon tonight by the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey). It disturbs me that, as the years go by, all the governments of the continent are not paying greater attention to the overall need for water resources within Australia. I accept the fact that basically water resources are the responsibility of the States. However, I do not know why the Commonwealth could not adopt a scheme such as the bicentennial road funding program for water resources generally throughout Australia. I think that if a lead were to come from the Commonwealth it would receive the strong support of the State governments concerned. We have to appreciate the fact that Australia has very varied conditions of weather. We are a dry continent and, in certain areas, a wet continent. We are a particularly large continent with very little snow water indeed. If we are to encourage primary production, we must ensure that we have a well set-down program for water resources.

I believe that, as the years go on, the people of the world who need food will look to Australia to produce it. There is a responsibility for us to buckle down , to appreciate the weather conditions throughout Australia and to do something practical to tackle the problem. I do not see it as being the total responsibility of government. I believe that we have a responsibility to encourage the land owner to conserve the water on his farm by way of taxation measures or even by making a State subsidy available. We have to encourage the private enterprise plan. If one looks at the United States of America one finds that quite a number of the major water resource programs there have been built by private enterprise simply because the United States Congress could not afford to undertake the expenditure.

We are an up and coming nation and I believe that if we are to grow in the way we want to grow there must be a different attitude. It concerns me that in the Budget we are debating at the moment our attention is focused on the expenditure on education, on Medicare and on other fields. I do not condemn that in any way. However, we are not looking at the real things that will develop Australia. Employment, particularly in the rural parts of Australia, can be created by undertaking water storage schemes. As our costs upon the farm rise we will find that the only way we are able to compete on the markets of the world for primary production will be to assist our farmers to produce at a lower cost than they are doing at the moment. If one looks at the grain, beef, fruit and dairy industries of Australia one finds that most of those products come from dry farming areas. If we are to stabilise these industries, keep people in them and supply the food, which we are out to do, we must focus attention and expenditure on our water resources. I am sure that we as a government and as a Parliament-I am not condemning the Government at all, as the honourable member for O'Connor did-have been to blame for not focusing attention and expenditure on and exerting ourselves to build the water resources of Australia.

When one travels around the coastline, no matter where one is, but particularly on the eastern coast of Australia, one sees millions of tonnes of lovely water every day going off to sea that could be used not only for the irrigation of farm lands but also for domestic and other purposes. We should be looking to solutions much more than we are. I appeal to the Government to lead the way because I am sure that it would get much credit indeed so far as the people of Australia are concerned.