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Wednesday, 27 March 1968

Mr GRIFFITHS (SHORTLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That was done in he depression days when there were. I think, 8.5 million unemployed in America. I could understand the views of the honourable member for Cowper better if there were only one side to the disaster of floods. But there are two sides to such catastrophes. The honourable member spoke of the situation of farmers and of the need for flood mitigation works along the rivers, but he said nothing about the problems of home owners in the towns. If he examines the records, he will find that in 1949-50 two severe floods ravaged the Macleay Valley within 10 months, literally submerging thousands of homes. What was the cost to tha individual home owners of restoring their dwellings? What was done to help them? The honourable member for Cowper made great play of saying that only the present Commonwealth Government had done anything to help those who suffered. I remind him that this Government came into the picture only in 1964, 14 years after heavy floods ravaged and scoured the Hunter Valley, the Macleay Valley and all the river valleys to the north within New South Wales. The honourable member talked much about the northern rivers of that State. I remind him that it was a government of his own political views that in earlier days, by bad engineering methods, caused the northern rivers of New South Wales to be closed to steamships, thereby eliminating all the river borne traffic that had been used for the transport of a large volume of goods. I agree with him that planned engineering is needed if we are to do anything effective in the long term in relation to flood mitigation.

The purpose of this Bill is to continue and increase the financial assistance that the Commonwealth Government began to provide in 1964, when, in accordance with an agreement entered into with the State Government, the sum of $5. 5m was appropriated under the terms of the New South Wales Grant (Flood Mitigation) Act for flood mitigation works in New South Wales. The present measure will increase the amount of this assistance to $8m and the period over which it is to be given may be extended beyond 1969. However, much more money will have to be appropriated for flood mitigation works if the projects at present being carried out are to yield the best results. At the outset, Mr Deputy Speaker, may 1 say that although the Commonwealth's present contribution to flood mitigation works generally has in my view been belated, paltry and miserly, it has nevertheless been greatly appreciated by all who have benefited or are likely to benefit from it, and especially by all the authorities, local government and otherwise, that have had the responsibility for undertaking flood mitigation measures.

Flooding plagues countries throughout the whole world, Sir. Fortunately for Australia, flooding is less severe and less devastating here than in many other countries. The annual cost and the loss to the world in life and property are inestimable. According to what I have read, in other parts of the world - especially in the United States, which was mentioned by the honourable member for Cowper - central governments have thrown in their entire resources to help overcome the suffering and distress of flood victims. In Australia, the situation is somewhat different, for the financial assistance in which a victim of the ravages of floods shares often depends on who he is or what he represents. Farmers on the Williams and Paterson Rivers have had their farms covered by flood waters several times over the past 2 or 3 years, have repeatedly lost their crops, but they never seem to qualify for flood relief. I often wonder why, Mr Deputy Speaker. The last major flood in the Hunter River occurred 13 years ago, in February 1955. Since then, only nuisance flooding has been experienced in various parts of the Hunter Valley. However, much major flooding has taken place on several occasions in nearly all the northern rivers of New South Wales. After the 1955 floods, the State Government was virtually compelled to establish a committee to advise on flood mitigation and control.

Mr Robinson - That was a Labor Government.

Mr GRIFFITHS - That is right.

Mr Robinson - The honourable member said that it was compelled to appoint a committee.

Mr GRIFFITHS - It was virtually compelled to do so because of the public outburst in support of demands for action to prevent further flooding if possible. The committee that was appointed was an excellent one. On it were represented the major water and land authorities in New South Wales. It was a well balanced committee and the only thing that it lacked in trying to do its job was, of course, finance. The Hunter Valley Conservation Trust was later reconstituted and, with the Hunter Valley Research Foundation has made a remarkable contribution to flood mitigation and water and land conservation in the Hunter Valley, and to the port of Newcastle generally. However, one aspect of the Conservation Trust's work on flood mitigation that I strenuously oppose is the recent decision to impose a special tax on the ratepayers of the region to help meet the cost. la ray view, flood mitigation work is a responsibility of the Commonwealth, and the Federal Government' should meet its cost. In addition to an increase in the general rate imposed by the Newcastle City Council this year, I find that I have to pay an extra $1.81 which is levied at the rate of 0.0625c in the dollar. It is not merely the payment of the levy that bothers me. It is the principle involved about which I am concerned.

Year by year rates increase and this adds to the burden of the cost of living. This applies especially in the case of the low wage earner who is struggling desperately to live in the light of increases in the cost of living, which is constantly rising. This added tax rightly belongs to the Commonwealth Government which, as the custodian of the public purse, controls the movement of finance just as it controls the revenues it secures by way of taxation in every form. The people of the Hunter Valley should not be called upon to subscribe to a new tax for something from which the majority of them will derive no benefit. Should another flood similar to the 1955 flood occur and the homes and furniture of people who live in the path of the raging torrents be destroyed - as were homes and property in Devonshire Street, Maitland in 1955 - will the residents and owners be fully compensated for their losses? I. know already that they will not be. On the other hand, there is every possibility that farmers will be afforded help, just as they are now assisted by government subsidies.

I have in my possession two newspapers, the 'Macleay Argus' of 24th July 1950 and the 'Macleay Argus-Chronicle' of 22nd October 1949. They contain photographs revealing the devastation that occurred in Maitland and north coast towns twice within 10 months. Those honourable members who doubt the value of flood mitigation work should look at these pictures. It is hard to imagine that anything like this could have occurred. It is impossible to gauge the extent of the devastation that took place. Homes in Kempsey were laid waste as a result of these floods. Many businessmen who were bankrupted have not been able to recover. One picture shows a second river channel. The picture was taken by Archie Miller of the

Newcastle Morning Herald' from the air and the caption to it reads:

In its height the water topped the railway bridge, and, forming a second river, tore through with unexpected violence and ferocity, wrecking and destroying homes and other buildings. The course of the new river was part of the town shopping and residential area. Now, after two great floods, it is only wrecked shambles. From that area in the centre 70 business houses and homes have been washed away. The whole of the land, and every building in the picture was immersed at the height of the flood, some portions up to a height of 20 feet or more.

This is the type of waste and destruction that occurred in only one city, but several towns were besieged by the flood during the period to which I have referred. Since its inception 13 years ago the committee and its constituent bodies have struggled hard to do a job on the restricted amount of finance available to them, finance provided mainly by the State Government from appropriations it has received from the Commonwealth in tax reimbursements. State grants, aid for roads and similar grants. Funds were provided by the Commonwealth under the New South Wales Grant (Flood Mitigation) Act of 1964, which we are now amending. I very much doubt whether, in the absence of annual permanent grants to the States for flood mitigation and conservation work, in the long term the spending of a paltry $8m by the Commonwealth Government to subsidise State appropriations will be permanently effective. If what is being done today cannot bc supplemented regularly each year then this will bc a waste of public money, as another flood like those that occurred in 1949 and 1955 will prove.

My view is that there should be established a Commonwealth-States commission with almost unlimited power and authority to deal with the mammoth task of water conservation and soil conservation, flood mitigation, afforestation and reafforestation, land reclamation, dredging, harbour and river restoration works and a host of other undertakings related to water and land control and development. What better start could there be to such an ideal than for the Commonwealth Government to constitute the present Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority as its segment of such a commission? Imagine the wealth of machinery and organisation that would become available almost automatically in the initial stages. The administrative headquarters could be where the Authority is presently situated at Cooma. Such an arrangement would be good as a two-year start. I know that the question of State rights, and parochial and traditional issues, will be raised by immature and ignorant people in opposition to the proposal, but every State has its problems of water and land conservation. This is apparent in Victoria which at present is suffering from water shortages. All over the world similar problems are developing as population increases and as advances occur in science, technical education, engineering, research, medicine and surgery, coupled with the ability of industries to discover new and large deposits of minerals, oil and natural gases, lt leads one to the conclusion that so long as there is a surplus production of goods and services available to mankind, and so long as men and women offer their services to industry, the money component of the nation should not be allowed to hinder, halt or interfere in any way with the nation's expansion and progress. In this regard I make one significant appraisal of how the Australian Government could make available sufficient finance to enable a Commonwealth-State commission to work indefinitely on the project I have suggested. I quote a statement made by the Treasurer (Mr McMahon) on 14th September 1966 when he was speaking to the second reading of the National Debt Sinking Fund Bill 1966. Of course, I do not advocate the use of Loan Fund finances exclusively, but only to the extent necessary to supplement general revenue in the Consolidated Revenue Fund over a period of 20 years. The Consolidated Revenue Fund has regularly found millions of dollars for the Snowy Mountains Authority and in my view it can continue to find an equal amount, or more, to allow the type of work I refer to to be developed in the interests of Australia as a whole. The Treasurer said:

War service homes advances were financed out of Loan Fund up to 1930-31.

They were again in 1 950-5 1 . The Treasurer continued:

The total amount of the advances financed out of Loan Fund was $90m, but repayments to the Sinking Fund have already totalled $307m. The Sinking Fund thus has received $21 7m over the years for which no equivalent amount of debt was created in the first place.

They were the important words. He continued:

The Government now proposes to channel war service homes repayments into the Consolidated Revenue Fund.

It will therefore be seen that from an advance of $90m of Loan Fund money from the Government between 1930-31 and 1950-51, upwards of 9,000 homes were built or purchased for ex-servicemen. On today's values they would be worth at least S75m. The Government has received back its original advance of $90m plus a profit of 5217m and apparently there is still more to come. I remind the House, that, according to the Treasurer, all of this was created without original debt in the first instance.

Of course, we all know that the use of $90m credit in those days was to enable the resources of the nation, including its manpower resources, to become fully employed after World War I. That is why I urge that a Commonwealth-States commission be set up to tackle the important problems of water and land conservation. As a passing thought, I suggest that perhaps honourable members may like to study other facets of the real wealth that the $90m created in such things as rates and insurance payments to local government organisations. Again, I point out that there should not be any real problem of finance for this should be able to be arranged by the Government from one or more of its many reserves. For instance, the Government has the Loan Consolidation and Investment Reserve which has a surplus at present of approximately $9l5m to its credit in that regard.

Mr Deputy Speaker,I again quote the Treasurer who said in 1966:

Since the Loan Consolidation and Investment Reserve was established in 19SS, it has cancelled $l,379m of Commonwealth securities including $152m of Treasury Bills. There is also the surplus of something like $43 1m in the National Welfare Fund, at present invested at 1%, and huge amounts standing to the credit of the Statutory Reserve from which investments could be made for flood prevention and mitigation.

For some years now, the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority has been functioning in part on a commercial basis, lt is regularly making repayments of advances to the Government. I suggest that that money instead of being paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund could and should be being applied as capital for the work of flood mitigation and water conservation

Widden Creek - Work commenced to arrest bank erosion threatening a bridge on main road 208 between Muswellbrook and Rylstone.

Bowman's Creek in the vicinity of Ravensworth - Stream excavation across extensive gravel deposits of pilot channels to provide a new course for the stream.

Williams River at Munni - Stream control work consisting of clearing the channel bank alignment and installation of protective work in front of eroding banks.

General - During the year some minor works of desnagging, bank protection and river improvement generally were carried out to treat isolated sections of erosion and remove obstructions to flow, the works being mainly confined to tributaries of the Hunter River.

Forty-eight miles of stream in the Hunter Valley which were seriously affected by erosion have been brought under control and another fifty-three miles are under treatment. At 30th June, 1966, the total expenditure on this work, completed under the Hunter Valley Flood Mitigation Act, was $2,923,407.

Inspections were made, in company with members of the Hunter Valley Conservation Trust, of many sections of streams in the Hunter Valley on which work is being undertaken and of other sections which are being considered for treatment. Proposals for the control of further lengths of streams are in the course of preparation.

In addition to the above work, work on Wollombi Brook now extends over a length of thirtyfive miles and, of this, the first twenty-three miles have developed and consolidated to the stage where maintenance work of a minor nature only is required. Expenditure to 30th June, 1966, on Wollombi Brook work totalled $615,917.

It is true that much work has been done also in various parts of the north since that Committee presented its full report on the Hunter River to the Government. Work has not only been done on that stream but also, as is to be seen, a great deal of work has been carried out on the Pages River, the Patterson River, the Williams River - I am not sure about the Goulburn River - as well as many of the creeks that feed into major streams in this area. Reports show that since 1893 seven really bad floods have been recorded. In that year, the maximum height that the Hunter River reached at Belmore Bridge at Maitland was 37 ft 3 in. In 1913 the height was 37 ft. In 1930 the highest point the river reached at that bridge was 37 ft 3 in. The height in 1949 was 36 ft 7 in. In 1950 the Hunter River reached the height of 35 ft 6 in while in 1952 the height it reached was 37 ft 8 in. The biggest flood of all occurred in 1955 when the river reached a height of 40 ft 4 in with such disastrous results to the area.

This report also discloses that in 1893 the backwater at Louth Park, which is the nerve centre of the rural activities of Maitland, reached 35 ft 11 in, whereas in 1955 it reached a height of 37 ft 5 in. In the years between those two floods, the greatest depth of backwater at Louth Park was 32 ft 2 in. This occurred in 1949. Considerable argument has always taken place after each flood as to the merits of what preventative action had been taken in the meantime to prevent further flooding. Levee banks had been made stronger and higher, and other action had always been taken. But as is to be seen, Mr Deputy Speaker, the levee banks hold in one place and break away in other places. Levee banks cannot be made higher at Maitland at the present time for fear of eventual disaster should bigger floods occur. In my view, more and bigger floods will occur and should that be so I shudder to think of the consequences.

There is an old adage, Mr Deputy Speaker, which is to this effect: Water cannot run uphill. Having experienced the flooding of the Hunter River over more than 50 years, and having worked in and seen the great floods of the north coast over a period almost as long - for I was in Kempsey in the 1949 flood and elsewhere on the coast during other floods - I am sure that a number of our engineers and others seem to think that water will run uphill. The Hunter River before reaching the sea at Newcastle meanders along a course twisting and turning like a snake for approximately 150 miles or more. It is fed by several major rivers and hundreds of tributaries and its flood plain which extends almost from Singleton to Newcastle is possibly the greatest and most important of any flood plain in this country.

Its source is the western side of the Great Dividing Range and other mountains. It is thought that the Glenbawn Dam will act as a buffer against future heavy flooding - which I doubt, and which I think is wishful thinking. The statistics of the Railways Department show that Newcastle is 4 feet above sea level; Maitland, 21 miles from Newcastle, is 19 feet above sea level; and Singleton which is 50 miles from Newcastle, is 137 feet above sea level. So, in 50 rail miles the flow of the river falls only 133 feet. Muswellbrook, which is 82 miles from Newcastle, is 477 feet above sea level and Ardglen at the top of the New England range, and 130 miles from Newcastle, is 4,073 feet above sea level. So, taking a line from the top of the range, the water that flows from all sources into the Hunter River falls about 4,070 feet in about 150 miles.

In a time of excessive flooding and, in particular, in a flood in which all the elements that cause flooding have been turned loose at the one time - I refer to such things as wind, tides and rain - is it any wonder that bad flooding occurs on the Hunter River in particular seeing that it is clogged up with silt and rubbish of all kinds? It has a fall of only 17 feet in its last 15 miles run. In earlier years ships such as the Newcastle', 'Namoi' and 'Gwydir' could sail as far as Morpeth which is mors than 20 miles up the Hunter River. Today you cannot pull a boat half the distance, (n fact, excursions by ferries went as far as Paterson at one time, for I was on the S.S. Guthrie' in or about 1912 when it grounded in the Paterson River with about 300 people on board. The trouble, I believe, is due to many factors, among them being lack of harbour supervision and bad engineering in the building of the harbour, the ferry ramp and the vehicular ferry approaches which have been a source of siltation. In the past the fault also has extended to harbour authorities which have allowed disused hulks of vessels to rust and rot along the foreshore. This has played a major role in harbour siltation. In addition to derelict craft lying around Stockton, mangrove trees have grown extensively along the foreshores of the river and other hazards can be seen.

My fear is that in future major floodings of the Hunter River and to a lesser degree other large rivers of northern New South Wales, there will be much greater loss of life and property than hitherto. My reasoning is based on the fact that for some years now, the great Hunter River plain between Maitland and Newcastle has been undergoing a radical change in its ponding area. The Newcastle islands industrial projects will ultimately join together Walsh Island, Dempsey Island, Moscheto Island, Goat Island and Ash Island in something like a 7,000 acre industrial complex. River silt will lift the area possibly upwards of 8 to 10 feet in places. In the Hexham and other areas, industry and roads have filled in thousands of acres of pondage. In the 1955 flood, water backed up in places previously never known to flood. For instance, water came in from the moors behind the Williamtown Air Base and joined up with the waters of Fullerton Cove. That water had come in from about Raymond Terrace. Water also flooded into Nelson Street, Wallsend, which had never previously been flooded. Some industries also had water in their establishments which previously had been free of it.

Much can be said - in fact 1 have only started to talk - of the flooding in the Hunter River valley. Until such time as something like a State-Commonwealth commission is set up - something which will take over completely the control of mitigating floods and putting all our great rivers into order - 'then I am afraid this Government must at least stand some criticism which is thrown about from time to time. This is so because under uniform taxation it is up to the Commonwealth Government to see that these rivers are made free and properly useful for the people who aic likely to live in this country in the years to come.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Clark)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

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