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Wednesday, 27 March 1968

Mr ROBINSON (Cowper) - This Bill is for the purpose of raising to $8m the amount of Commonwealth assistance to New South Wales for flood mitigation works on the Clarence, Richmond, Macleay, Tweed, Shoalhaven and Hunter Rivers. As I am sure honourable members know, flood mitigation is a work of national importance and is of great significance to the areas I have mentioned. The works programme to which this Bill refers commenced in 1963. The funds required originally were estimated to total in excess of $llm. It was found, however, that cost rises took this figure for the completion of the works to a total of about one-third more than the amount I have mentioned. I think this fact warrants some brief explanation.

Th; original surveys carried out by the New South Wales Government were some years old when the programme of works was agreed upon in 1963. In the light of construction work carried out it was found that these estimates were outdated. I want to make it clear that this was not the fault of the New South Wales Government authorities or of the local government authorities in whose areas the works programme is being carried out. 1 will now quote the figures involved in this programme. The cost of the works on the Clarence River will now be $4.452m, an increase of $1.2 14m. On the Richmond River the cost will be $3.26m, an increase of $1.49m. On the Macleay River the anticipated cost is now $6. 18m, an increase of $2.34m. On the Tweed River the estimated cost is now $ 1.271m, an increase of $334,000. On the Shoalhaven River the works are to cost $1.298m, an increase of 5673,000. On the Hunter River the cost is now estimated at $7.683m, an increase of $283,000.

The works in those areas are carried out as part of a joint scheme. Finance for them is flowing at the. rate of $4 from the Commonwealth, $4 from the State Government and $2 from local government authorities. That is the ratio of contributions to all works on these rivers except the Hunter River where the proportions are as follows: $6 from the Commonwealth, $6 from the State Government and $2 from the local government authorities. The work is mainly within the tidal limits of the rivers and there have been results of tremendous significance in the engineering field so far as flood mitigation is concerned. Individual schemes on each of the rivers have been developed as a result of local engineering design and research; work that has been carried out on the spot by men engaged at local level to deal with what have been regarded for very many years as very complex engineering works. These people are aided of course by engineers of the New South Wales Department of Public Works. I want' to pay a tribute to what has been accomplished by the engineers at local government and at State Government level.

The Commonwealth does not play a part in the administration of these projects, it was made clear in 1964, at the time of the original Bill granting financial assistance, that the Commonwealth would make funds available to the State on condition that the State would be the authority responsible for supervision and control of the construction works. It is proper that this basis should be maintained. 1 feel it is equally proper that honourable members should be given some information as to the details of the works and their benefits. In order to do this I want briefly to give some figures which I believe spell out the magnitude of the work being undertaken. The total area involved in the local government districts to which I referred is no less than 5,600,600 acres - a tremendous area of land. Within that total area there is an area of 3,750,000 acres which is, or which was, directly affected by floods. This area is receiving the benefit of the mitigation works being carried out. There are about 6,700 farm holdings in this area and of that number about 3,600 were badly affected by flood.

Of course, the cities and towns in these areas have a very direct interest in what is being done. There has been flooding of homes, shops and property of all descriptions in cities and towns such as Grafton, Lismore, Kempsey, Murwillumbah, Maitland and many others. Those places will benefit directly from this vital and important work. The area has a population of about 125,000 people. Of that number some 15,000 constitute the farming sector which is a very substantial population interest when we think of the total cost of the project and the contribution by the Government, and relate it to some of the major public works undertakings in Australia. I make this point because it is obvious from early calculations that the cost benefit ratio for the expenditure from Government funds is very high indeed. The benefits to productivity in the field of rural industries and the benefits to the community as a whole run into a calculation that gives a return for the investment which I am sure will be found to equal, if not exceed, the returns that can be assessed from the construction of major dams, such as those in the Snowy Mountains scheme, the Ord scheme and the Nogoa scheme in Queensland. We can include for the purpose of comparison any of the great schemes in Australia which have been the subject of wide debate, extensive consideration by governments and, in particular, consideration by this Parliament.

The industries concerned in the fields of dairying, grazing and crop production, including sugar cane and maize growing, are a very substantial factor in the economy of northern New South Wales. This programme of flood mitigation will greatly aid the development of these industries on a basis that will overcome a problem that has impeded their standard for the last 100 years. 1 speak on this matter as one who is a third generation farmer on the flood plains of the Richmond. In my own experience I can recall the ravages of flood and the losses that have been sustained. It is very interesting to note that in the present year the winner of the New South Wales dairy farm competition was none other than a farmer named John Ensley who farms on the Clarence River in the very heart of the flood devastated districts. His success illustrates very clearly the beneficial results of flood mitigation work because emphasis was placed on the utilisation of farm lands that had been drained as a result of flood mitigation work. There was the creation of a planned programme of pasture production to sustain his herd and to put it into the field of reliable production of a standard that would accord with the best practices of dairying in New South Wales.

This has all happened in the space of 3 years. In 1964 when the original Bill was debated it will be recalled that a 6 year programme was agreed upon for the carrying out of flood mitigation works on the rivers to which I have referred. The approach to construction by the local government authorities has been so successful that the construction time was cut down by about one-third. In fact, in some areas work which was expected to take 6 years has been completed in 3 years. This is a tribute to the leadership in the field of local government given by such men as Counsellor G. McCartney of the Clarence River, Counsellor C. N. Yabsley of the Richmond River and Counsellor D. O'Dell of the Macleay River who has been succeeded more recently by Counsellor C. Cavanagh. These four men have been real leaders in the cause of bringing to reality proposals for flood mitigation which had been talked about, thought about and worked upon for many years - perhaps it would be no exaggeration to say 25 years.

All of this has been an approach to a vital field of development that is worthy, not only of the interests of this Parliament, but also of those who are concerned with national development and who see the need to assess, as I said earlier, the value of looking at things on a cost benefit basis. I believe that wherever funds can be spent in a manner that will produce useful results - useful, not only in terms of a purely academic approach but from the point of view of a positive calculation - those are the areas into which national, State and local government funds should be directed.

I spoke earlier of my own experiences in this problem of floods. One can recall the sorry plight of farmers seeing their stock drowned in floods. I have had that experience myself. I have seen a crop which one had planted inundated with water and stay under water until it rotted or was beyond value from the point of view of any chance to harvest even a portion of it. I have seen damage to farm improvements, buildings, fences and this sort of thing. One can relate this directly to personal hardship on the part of those who live in these areas. I have seen them lose their source of income for months - perhaps 6 months. I have seen families unable to carry on a normal life because of the effect of the devastation of flood.

There are the disabilities experienced during flood time through the loss of communications - the inundation of the roads which has made it impossible for transport to flow in the normal way. People have been isolated for up to 3 months because of flood. All of these things happened in earlier days before relief measures were instituted in the post-war period. All these disabilities are being very quickly moderated by flood mitigation measures. Although flooding is not prevented, these measures reduce it and its effect is so minimised that very little loss is sustained. There has been a great reduction in the extent of damage caused by a flood and a complete absence of the type of interruption to life and community living that was experienced in earlier years.

This is quite a remarkable story - a remarkable aspect of Australia's progress. It has not happened because of some grandiose scheme designed by a great body of people. Reference has been made to the great work of the Snowy Mountains Authority and to those engaged in it. This flood mitigation work is of equal importance. But it has not required the enormous background of drum beating to get it going that was so evident in some other fields. These other fields are no more important than this field of flood mitigation. Certainly, on a cost benefit basis, they could not be sustained as being of greater value to the nation than the flood mitigation works to which I have referred. I do not say this in criticism of those who work on the great Snowy Mountains scheme or on similar schemes, in other countries, such as the Tennessee Valley scheme in the United States of America.

It is time for us in this country to realise that we are doing a job for the nation that is worth talking about. This Government, in co-operation with the New South Wales Government and local government, has achieved a success in this field of flood mitigation that is very notable indeed. Of course, what I have referred to is the first stage of this great work on the coastal rivers of New South Wales. Ultimately, 1 am sure it will be a realistic approach to consider not merely flood mitigation but also the possibilities of water storage in order further to control flooding. It will be possible to find a new direction for work of this kind based on the possibility of the diversion of water into the inland for irrigation purposes and the possibility of a greater use of hydro-electrification as a result of water storage.

I think an honourable member said in this House this afternoon that these are great things and that we should get on and do them. Certainly we should do them, but the first step is to make a positive approach through effective engineering planning. We do not want to approach this question merely because someone talks about it or because it is a proposition that makes good reading if someone quickly runs his eye through some story or statement that has been produced for publication. We want to see something on the drawing board and to see it stand up to the test of an economic assessment and a real feasibility study. These are important matters. The northern rivers of New South Wales will in the immediate future play a significant part in our national development. The flood mitigation programme to which we are directing our attention in this legislation provides an opportunity for the northern rivers of Australia to become an area of positive development. They have a potential greater than that of the Snowy Mountains area. This is because the total water resources of the northern rivers exceed the total resources of the Snowy. More water is available and we now have the prospect of seeing it used.

Water resources anywhere in Australia should be used for the benefit of the nation. This is a dry continent and its future is directly related to the utilisation of the available water, whether it be for agriculture, secondary industry or domestic supply. We will not in the future be able to afford to waste the water by allowing it merely to run into the ocean. Learning to use it and to take advantage of the great potential that is within our grasp is vital. I am pleased that we in this Parliament have the chance to show the nation that our schemes are practical and that we do not rush in with ill conceived and badly planned propositions. I support the current moves to extend the Ord scheme in the north-west of Australia and to encourage development in Queensland. I hope we will see a further extension of the schemes in New South Wales, Victoria and the other States on precisely the same lines as those adopted in the Bill that is now before us.

As I said a little earlier, sound development depends on a sound engineering approach. I pay a tribute to the New South Wales Government for the action it is taking now to implement a scheme that will provide for models of river valleys to be built. The models will enable a thorough examination to be made of the systems of drainage and water behaviour in the valleys of our important coastal rivers. A model of the Clarence River is now being constructed at a cost of about $70,000. The construction of a model of the Richmond River will commence within the next few months. A model of the Tweed River has been completed. Similar action will be taken in respect of the Macleay River, which is in the electorate of my colleague, the honourable member for Lyne (Mr Lucock). All this work is fundamental to future planning. This is the way to ensure that we have a sound approach to the development that all of us are so keen to see in this country. The Government's policy in relation to the Snowy Mountains Authority and its employees is correct. To restate it briefly, the Government has said that it will retain the specialist section of the Authority to assist in an advisory capacity. It will not superimpose an authority on the States, which already have very fine instrumentalities engaged in public works and water conservation. The

States have done good work in the field of flood mitigation. But co-operation between each of these instrumentalities will ensure that important national schemes receive expert attention.

It was said a little earlier in this debate that a visit to the north coast of New South Wales by a group of honourable members from this House had produced good results. But we are now seeing the results of fundamental work that goes back very many years. There was a period in New South Wales when no progress was made. Every time a proposition was put up, successive Labor governments - first the McKell Government, then the Cahill Government and subsequently the Heffron Government - said they would not support a scheme of flood mitigation. The Chifley Government gave a consistent 'No' to every approach that was made in this Parliament for assistance for flood mitigation. I pay a tribute to the work done by the present Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Anthony) and the honourable member for Lyne, who is the Deputy Speaker and who is now in the Chair. Their agitation and their representations were primarily responsible for the joint venture that was ultimately undertaken by the State, the Commonwealth and the local government authorities.

The scope of this debate does not allow me to mention other aspects. However, 1 would like to state my own interest in flood mitigation. For 10 years I was Secretary of the Flood Mitigation Committee on the Richmond River and worked in the State Parliament for the introduction of a feasible scheme which would stand the test of a proper assessment at government level and which would be so attractive that funds would he allocated to enable the work to be carried out. In more recent times the first stages of the work have become a reality. I want to thank some of the senior members of the Government for their personal interest in the work. The Minister for Trade and Industry (Mr McEwen) visited the northern rivers on two occasions. He looked in detail at the work that was under way and gave encouraging advice to the local authorities. He urged them to go further and he played his part in seeing that the additional finance provided by this legislation became available. My colleague, the honourable member for Fisher (Mr Adermann), visited the area when he was Minister for Primary Industry and made an assessment of the work that was being done. His assessment related to the important aspects of programmed farm development, based on the use of the most modern scientific methods and upon the practical down to earth approach of a farmer. He saw an area that needed a lift, an area that had been beset by problems for many years.

It is a paradox that in Australia, as in many other countries, the fertile soils are alongside the rivers and on the flood plains. For years the normal flow of rivers and the flooding of rivers have resulted in the best soils being deposited in these areas. The paradox is that in the same locations floods cause devastation. In the United States and in Europe the biggest task in rural development has always been to find the means of overcoming the effects of flood devastation, lt is easy to say that we need merely provide the money and let people get on with the job. Anyone who thinks the problem is as simple as that should, I suggest, look at the Tennessee Valley Authority scheme in the United States of America, lt was my privilege to visit it a couple of years ago and to see the great project that was begun by the Roosevelt Administration in the 1930s. That was a very great undertaking indeed, but it has not provided the solution to the problems of the great Tennessee Valley riveT system.

The solutions to these problems are simply a matter of trial and error and of engineering and research in order to determine how what can be done can be translated into benefits for a rural community on a basis that produces not merely bricks and mortar, so to speak, or banks of soil or dams, whether they he earth fill, rock fill or concrete, lt is not merely a matter of providing these things. In reality, it is a matter of measuring the benefits that can be gained from the construction work that has to be undertaken. It is a matter of determining what a project will do for the community that it is designed to serve. History has shown what can happen in some of the oldest known parts of the world. Take the Nile River system, for instance. The loss of one crop a year brought ruin to those who lived and farmed along that great river system. Today the experts are devising means not merely of undertaking the necessary engineering works there but also of utilising lands that can be made to benefit from those works. We in Australia have a parallel problem. Whether we undertake works to conserve water or to drain it away under a flood mitigation scheme, whether we build a dam, a drain, a weir or a channel for irrigation purposes, the whole value of what we do must be related in the main to what will be produced in terms of productivity and the use to which the community can put that productivity in terms of gaining real value from it. Great progress has been made in flood mitigation on the coastal rivers of New South Wales. The financial assistance to be provided under the terms of this measure represents a first step. I commend the Bill to honourable members and 1 thank the Government for its support in flood mitigation work. I hope that at all levels there will be satisfaction at what is being accomplished.

Mr GRIFFITHS(Shortland) [9.2J- Mr Deputy Speaker, it appears to me that the honourable member for Cowper (Mr Robinson) has been kite flying in relation to the tragedy of Hoods and the need for flood mitigation works. He has told us of the high cost of the work that is being done. He blames the Chifley Federal Labor Government and the New South Wales Labor Government for inactivity in this field. But he then contradicted his argument by pointing out that what the Roosevelt Administration had done at the Federal level in the United States of America had not solved the problems of the Tennessee Valley.

Mr McIVOR (GELLIBRAND, VICTORIA) - That was done in the depression days.

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