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Wednesday, 17 April 1985
Page: 1316


Mr COWAN(7.06) —I was very pleased to hear the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Lindsay) emphasise the importance of our soil to the nation. I know he is most genuine in his approach. I was also pleased to listen to the address of the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Tim Fischer). I recall the honourable member for Farrer, when he was in the New South Wales Parliament, taking me on a tour of his electorate when I was the Minister responsible for agriculture and water resources. We went to the Wakool area, which is an irrigation district along the Murray. We saw people reclaiming land that was affected by salinity, pumping water one and a half times saltier than the sea into the drains as an experiment, and actually reclaiming the land. That makes one appreciate just how important it is that we care for the soil we have. I know that the honourable member for Riverina-Darling (Mr Hicks) has often spoken in this chamber of his concern for this area because it is a part of Australia that is very seriously affected by salinity.

Soil is very precious to a nation. I believe that, as the years have passed, individuals have appreciated the responsibility they have in the building up and retention of the quality of our soil. I am pleased to see the Soil Conservation (Financial Assistance) Bill before the Parliament. I believe that as a Commonwealth we should be involved with soil conservation. I must say that soil conservation departments in the States-I speak principally of New South Wales-are very responsible in the work they are doing. Over the years they have reclaimed quite an amount of land that certainly by today would have been washed away to sea or blown away, with their contour drains, or damaged by some of the other things that are taking place on the land. The departments have given encouragement to land owners generally to undertake soil conservation works on their properties. I would be very pleased to know that the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) has in mind-he mentioned this in the second reading speech on the Bill-spending some of the money on the promotion of better means of soil conservation on the farm. Every person who owns land in Australia has a great responsibility to ensure that the crops he is planting and the way he is working his property combine with an overall plan to retain the soil and the soil quality we have.

I mention the New South Wales Soil Conservation Service principally because I know of the work it has done, even in the Captains Flat area near Queanbeyan on the Molonglo River. Certain works were carried out there in 1975-76 that have had a lasting result in that part of the State. But emphasis must be placed on the fact that, as well as soil conservation departments, in conjunction with the Commonwealth, carrying out their work, encouragement should be given to individual land owners in order that they can adopt the necessary means to improve their soil. I refer to taxation measures and the general subsidies that at one time-I am not sure whether they are provided today by the States-were provided in New South Wales for land owners to undertake their own work under the supervision of the conservation department. More will be achieved by that individual approach to conservation throughout Australia than by all the work that either State or Commonwealth governments can do. That is why I emphasise the fact that no matter what we do as governments, State or Commonwealth, the important things are to encourage the farmer to know more about the prospects of improving and saving the soil and to present to him incentives to enable him to do the things that are necessary for his own good and for the good of the nation.

It concerns me greatly when looking at the Budgets of the Commonwealth and States to see that greater emphasis is not placed upon water and soil conservation. The emphasis appears to have drifted away from these important things which are the life-blood of a nation. Today, most of our financial resources appear to go to other fields, such as social security and Medicare. I do not condemn those very necessary things, but what this country will prosper from in the years to come will be the retention of the soil, which will enable the farmer to produce more upon his land. Even though we now have problems with the dairy industry, the sugar industry and so on, in five years time things may be different. The situation can change overnight. This country will have a great responsibility to export food, whether it is butter, grain, sugar or some other income earner, to feed a world that wants food. That is the important thing. If our soil is good we will be able to do that. We should encourage the farmer to stay on his farm, by offering taxation deductions, a small subsidy of some kind, by letting him see that everybody wants to help him. He will learn from his neighbour or from the fellow further down the stream what measures he should adopt. These are the practical things we should do as a nation. That is why I emphasise once again the importance of the farmer.

As for the person in the street, why can he not plant more trees? The sesquicentenary is approaching and the bicentenary is coming up. Why cannot planting trees be undertaken as a project? I know that many people are thinking of this. Is it not important to encourage everyone to plant more trees, whether one has a block of land in a metropolitan area, out west or on the coast, and no matter what one is producing? I can remember seeing on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation television channel about a year ago satellite pictures showing how, over the years, we have denuded Australia of trees, how our desert area has encroached on the agricultural lands of Australia. I do not know where those early pictures came from, but they record what has happened. I do not question them. All I want to say is that this is something that is happening within Australia. The best way we can avert a situation such as I have described and change the system is by encouraging people who own land to plant trees and undertake the conservation works that are so important. One can help to conserve the soil by planting certain types of grasses. Up and down the coast I have seen what the soil conservationer has been able to achieve with the sand dunes, yet I see our coastal streams silting up because dirt is washing down from the mountains. One should appreciate the work the forestry commissions are doing. They are the greatest conservationists one could find anywhere.

I certainly support the Bill, which I believe is a move forward. I was sorry to see the Commonwealth at one time ceasing the provision of assistance to the States for soil conservation. I trust that the Minister will appoint to the advisory body people with a knowledge of agriculture. That is very important. People with the knowledge of agriculture also have a knowledge of soil conservation. I hope that the emphasis in this area does not go to the way-out conservationists but ends up in the practical field where it ought to be. If it does not, the assistance the Commonwealth gives might as well go down the drain. I hope that the advisory body will not be a bureaucratic--

Debate interrupted.