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Thursday, 6 September 1928

Mr STEWART (Wimmera) .- I am sure that we all welcome the information given by the Treasurer, and we all deplore the continued increase in the cost of this great national work. The Treasurer's statement makes it clear that there has been a slowing down of the works, due, he states, to the difficulties in obtaining loan money. As one representing a constituency bordering on the River Murray, and as an ex-Minister for Works, I have followed with interest the development of this huge undertaking, and I view with great concern any slowing down, whatever the cause may be. I am not, at this juncture, condemning the Government altogether, but I do regret the slowing down of construction work, particularly on the Hume reservoir.

Mr Gregory - As much money has been placed on the Estimates this year as for any previous year.

Mr STEWART - But the Treasurer did not clear up the point raised by the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) as to whether part of this money was to be devoted to purposes other than constructional work on the reservoir. Provision has been made for the payment of some hundreds of thousands of pounds by way of compensation to land-owners whose rich river lands will be inundated by the backing up of the river. As the honorable member for Hume pointed out, although £1,000,000 has been placed on the Estimates for the Hume reservoir, it will be possible to spend only £500,000 on constructional work, and' to devote the other £500,000 towards compensating land-holders. I think that the Minister should make a plain statement on that aspect of the matter. The Hume reservoir may be described as the king pin of the whole river Murray conservation scheme. It is on the conservation of water at this point in good seasons that we rely to give us a steady flow in the river during the bad seasons. At- Mildura they are now unloading the wool barges, and transporting the wool by rail because there is not sufficient water in the river to fl*at the barges. In August and September the river is usually at it3 highest, and is trafficable up to November and December, and sometimes right through to February. The present position is serious, not so much because of its effect on navigation, but because of the effect it may have on the irrigation settlements along the river. Returned soldiers are settled on irrigation lands for hundreds of miles along the Murray, and the water required for these settlements makes a great demand upon the river. It would be a terrible thing to jeopardize the existence of these settlements by a shortage of water. We may yet have a good river through the melting of the snow, or through a timely fall of rain; but if we do not, the situation threatens to become alarming.

I should like to say a word in regard to the establishment of a port at the mouth of the river Murray. I have always considered that the cardinal weakness of the river Murray agreement lay in its failure to make any provision for the building of a port at the mouth of the river. At the present time, sand banks make navigation from the river to the sea impossible. Dredging is useless,, because the channels will fill up again. Various proposals have been put forward, but I do not propose to go into them now. In spite of the sneers at navigation in Australian waters, and in spite of the competition from railways and roads running parallel with the river, I have always held the opinion that navigation on the river Murray is a practical proposition. I believe that water transport will beat land transport, whether the latter be by road or by rail; and a great deal of the possible benefit of the Murray water conservation scheme will be lost unless we can get the wool and wheat barges right down the river into the sea, and lay them alongside the overseas steamers.

Mr C RILEY (COOK, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Did Sir George Buchanan report on a harbour at the mouth of the Murray?

Mr STEWART - No; but the Development and Migration Commission has been instructed to inquire into this matter. I believe that it is a practical proposition. The cost of the works along the Murray has been increased over what it would otherwise need to have been because provision has been made all along for navigation. It is hopeless, however, to expect any saving from water transport, if the wool is loaded on to barges, say at Euston, and has to be unloaded at Mildura or Morgan on to the railway. The high cost of handling will- kill the navigation scheme altogether. I think that the Minister might well explain the point raised by the honorable member for Hume, and state whether any of this year's vote is to be diverted to other than constructional work, and, if so, how much. The high post of the work is to be deplored. We have spent a great deal of money there, and we shall get little return from it unless we push on and complete the job. I believe that we should lose no time in finishing the Hume reservoir, and in making a harbour at the mouth of the Murray. These two most important works should engage the earnest attention of the Government.

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