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Friday, 6 December 1985
Page: 3174

Senator FOREMAN —My question is directed to the Minister for Resources and Energy. What initiatives has the Commonwealth undertaken to address the problem of water supply, particularly the water South Australia uses from the River Murray?

Senator GARETH EVANS —Under the Hawke Government the Commonwealth has provided significant financial assistance to the water filtration plants which the South Australian Government is installing to improve the quality of South Australia's water supply. These include the Morgan filtration plant, which will be commissioned ahead of schedule in July 1986, to provide filtered water to the northern provincial cities of Whyalla, Port Augusta and Port Pirie. A further water filtration plant with a capacity to serve 40 per cent of Adelaide's population is being constructed at Happy Valley in order to substantially complete the provision of filtered water to the people of Adelaide. For most South Australians, particularly during poor seasons, the River Murray is an essential source of water and it is therefore of very great concern to them that water from the Murray-Darling basin system has been slowly deteriorating in quality. That is a long term problem which cannot be rectified quickly nor by simple engineering works alone. It does require a new, comprehensive approach to integrated land use and water management.

That is why I was delighted to be able to chair the Murray-Darling Basin management ministerial meeting in Adelaide last month, which was called on the initiative of the South Australian Premier, Mr John Bannon, together with the Victorian Premier, Mr John Cain. That meeting of agriculture, environment and water Ministers from four Labor governments agreed to establish the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council, a revolutionary step, to develop effective strategies for addressing the problems of the basin from an integrated basin-wide perspective. As an immediate response, the governments agreed that a $500,000 investigation and design program to be undertaken by the River Murray Commission to reduce salinity in the River Murray should proceed urgently this year. The Commonwealth also announced that it will provide $1m in the next financial year for an upgraded and co-ordinated program of water and water related research for the Murray-Darling basin in accordance with the recommendations of the Australian Water Research Advisory Council. Following that ministerial meeting, fully five working groups have been established to undertake a benchmark environmental study of the Murray-Darling basin.

Senator Chaney —I rise on a point of order. I thought I would give the Minister a chance to catch his breath. Not even the Minister is taking this answer seriously. I suggest that he either answer the question, sit down, shut up or incorporate it. He has those choices.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! There is no point of order. It is not a requirement of the Standing Orders that a question and answer be taken seriously, but I would give the Minister some advice. There is an old proverb-it is a good answer which knows when to stop.

Senator GARETH EVANS —The second of the five working groups is to examine proposals for salt interception works with the value of up to $55m in relation to alternative options for salinity reduction. The third one will examine potential for approved on-farm use of irrigation water. The fourth will examine the scope for improvements in the delivery of irrigation water to farms and the final one will review appropriate structures and processes for community participation in the work of the Council. Over the next year that body will also be examining possible changes to the future role of the River Murray Commission. There is a great deal more that we have been doing in the water area, which I am only too delighted to inform the Senate about, but perhaps under the circumstances a little of the flavour of our initiatives here will have been communicated.

Senator FOREMAN —I have a supplementary question. Can the Minister tell us how much Whyalla will benefit from these initiatives?

Senator GARETH EVANS —It all depends on what happens to Mr Blevins tomorrow. It is proposed that the Morgan filtration plant will be commissioned ahead of schedule in July 1986 to provided filtered water to the northern provincial cities of Whyalla, Port Augusta and Port Pirie. Provided this plan goes ahead under the joint dynamic leadership and teamwork that we have established between ourselves and the South Australian Government, the people of Whyalla can expect to have newly filtered water by about that time.