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Wednesday, 21 August 1985
Page: 111


Senator VIGOR(5.17) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

We as parliamentarians must understand that water, and its careful management, are of paramount importance in Australia. Rainfall in this country is both uneven and low, and there are few natural streams. Droughts are ever-present. The report by the Institute of Freshwater Studies deals with an area that is of the utmost importance to Australia, namely, management and handling of freshwaters. Water is used in all aspects of agriculture. Without water the dairying, livestock, citrus and wine growing industries in my State would quickly fold. In urban areas we need quality water. Water is extremely important in tourism, and is also an essential part of health and welfare. We need to manage pollution in water. We need to manage planning for drought and environmental degradation, to the areas surrounding our rivers and streams. We need to manage our underground water resources.

The Murray-Darling basin covers four States. South Australia depends on water from the River Murray. Some 80 per cent of this is surface water and 50 per cent of the total use of water in South Australia comes from the Murray. The town of Whyalla and the northern towns are wholly dependent upon the River Murray for their water. The income from irrigation in the basin is estimated at $350m per annum. The cost of salinity control currently is around $60m. The total estimated cost of the Institute to handle research for this area was estimated at only $5m per annum, and yet the Interim Council decided to recommend against such a proposal. A vast number of bodies, authorities and research organisations handle the subject of water. As such we need a focus. The operation proposed by the Government is to institute an Australian Water Research Advisory Council and a National Water Resources, Assessment program whose functions are purely advisory and for funding distribution. This is apparently going to cost an amount of $0.7m and these bodies will not carry out any research in their own right. There is also the proposal that $0.8m should be provided for the Till laboratory at Albury-Wodonga and $2.5m for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and other research organisations.

It is pleasing to note that $8m may be distributed to sundry other laboratories through the water research assistance fund. If the Minister for Resources and Energy approves! However, I believe that both the co-ordination through this administrative body and the various activities that are being carried on within the CSIRO and the universities are quite insufficient and I recommend to the Government that it consider a centre of excellence which deals with the whole area of water research. There are so many areas and strands to be brought together. We have to compare our situation with that of Canada, Holland, the United Kingdom, South Africa, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Spain, which all have national organisations to co-ordinate their water resources. Water is Australia's scarcest resource. Surely it deserves research, management and information services of world class and excellence. A centre for this could be the Institute of Freshwater Studies. The Interim Council and now the Government recommended against it, and I deplore their decision.

Debate (on motion by Senator Collard) adjourned.