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Wednesday, 27 March 1968

Mr BOSMAN (St George) - We commenced this debate tonight at 8.30 and we were going along very nicely. We had a lovely little audience here and we were discussing flood mitigation. But then the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) rose and introduced politics into the debate. My mind went back to 1964 and the acrimonious debate that took place then. That debate almost developed into a memorial service for the former member for Cowper. If I remember correctly the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam), who was then the Deputy Leader, spoke for threequarters of an hour on the performance of the former honourable member for Cowper and did not bother to talk about flood mitigation throughout the whole of his speech. Some remarkable statements were made about the establishment of an Army base at Grafton and these covered about four pages of Hansard. The Reverend Jones from Newcastle followed and took part in the memorial service with great gusto. I believe he did on occasions mention flood mitigation, but it was left to the honourable member for Shorthland (Mr Griffiths) to give us a run down on flood mitigation in his area. My distinguished colleague, the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Jeff Bate), the honourable member for Cowper (Mr Robinson) and the honourable member for Evans (Dr Mackay) discussed the subject at length. But the debate in 1964, when the original amount of $5. 5m was allocated, was marked by acrimony and political references.

If I had been given the call at 9.15 when 1 tried to get it I would have said that tonight's debate was marked by a splendid appreciation of the needs of the people of the northern rivers and the Hunter Valley. Those of us who are not directly concerned with flood mitigation did get an appreciation in the 1964 debate and in the debate that took place earlier tonight of the amount of work that is involved. The work started originally in 1939, 1940 and 1941 with some local groups, particularly on the northern rivers and to a lesser degree in the Hunter Valley, undertaking the basic work, for which they carried the financial burden themselves, ft was not until 1944 or 1945, when substantial floods occurred in the Hunter Valley and in some other parts of the north coast, that a determined effort was made by the New South Wales Government.

Mr Griffiths - lt is still only a patchwork scheme.

Mr BOSMAN - That is certainly so. I remind the honourable member for Shortland that in 1947 the Huddleston report recommended that work, estimated to cost $17m, be undertaken. The Labor Party cannot take credit for doing any substantial work. Labor dominated the benches in the New South Wales Parliament for 24 years and did not lose office until 3 years ago. But the scheme proposed in 1947 has still not been fully implemented. The Huddleston report in 1947 was really the start of planning for the control of floods. Following that, a body known as the Hunter Valley Interim Conservation Advisory Committee was formed. As a result of its recommendations, the Hunter Valley Conservation Trust Act of 1950 w"as introduced into the Parliament of New South Wales. The Rivers and Foreshores Improvement Act was introduced in 1948 and was substantially amended in 1955. The Hunter Valley Committee of Advice in 1955 submitted a lengthy plan. It was in almost identical terms with the Hunter Valley Flood Mitigation Act of 1956. It would appear that on the New South Wales scene there had begun some sort of crystallisation of ideas about what was required for flood mitigation works in that State, particularly in the Hunter Valley, the area in all Australia that is most prone to extensive flooding, and also the northern rivers of the State. However, it is highly questionable whether any thrust was given to the plans at that stage. Although attempts to get action were made in the intervening period, it was not until 1964 that any worthwhile momentum was injected into flood mitigation schemes in New South Wales.

For your information, Sir, 1 want to say that I understand that at this stage the New South Wales authorities rely on the Hunter Valley Conservation Trust to coordinate work in that Valley and to advise the State Government on what is required. I have referred to various New South Wales Acts. You will recall, Sir, that under the terms of the New South Wales Grant (Flood Mitigation) Act 1964 the Commonwealth's assistance was limited to $5.5m. In 1966, there was a minor, routine amending measure related solely to decimal currency. That is why the long title of the Bill refers to the New South Wales Grant (Flood Mitigation) Act 1964-1966. The present measure will raise the limit on the Commonwealth's financial assistance to $8m. We were told earlier in the debate that the Commonwealth matches dollar for dollar funds contributed by the State Government In relation to works on the Hunter River, the State contributes S3 for every $1 spent by the local authority. So, of the total sum spent on works on that river, three-sevenths is contributed by the Commonwealth, three-sevenths by the State and one-seventh by the local authorities. For works on the other streams mentioned - the Macleay, Richmond, Clarence, Tweed and Shoalhaven riven - the contributions are respectively two-fifths, two-fifths and onefifth. lt is known, though, remarkably enough, it has hardly been mentioned tonight, that we can hardly hope to eliminate flooding completely. Basically, flood mitigation work is designed to restrain the impact of floodwaters, to prevent damage to stream banks and surrounding areas, to reduce to the minimum the areas inundated and, after the peak of flooding has passed, to expedite drainage. The most important facet of all, of course, is the protection by levee banks of urban areas. This protection is provided nowadays by a very advanced engineering science. The honourable member for

Mitchell (Mr Irwin) paid a tribute to the engineering and other staffs of the various New South Wales Government authorities and the expert advisers who are concerned with flood mitigation works. The engineers have calculated that temporary storage in dams is useful but not very practical in Australia where, overall, there is such a dire shortage of water. I understand that some storage is provided between the levee banks at riversides and others farther back. In Australia, as yet, not a great deal of storage is provided in this manner. 1 understand that much more is provided by this means in the United States of America. Other engineering work is undertaken to de-snag streams and to remove as many obstacles as possible in order that more water may be contained within river systems without overflowing the banks. As I have mentioned, a most important feature of flood mitigation work is the expediting of drainage of flooded areas after the peak of flooding has passed. This is done by means of a series of flood gates and canals. Life and work in the urban communities must go on as far as practicable, and much effort has been directed to the protection of urban areas so that normal activity shall be interfered with as little as possible. A system of priorities has been developed, with selected areas graded according to population.

As I said earlier, the incidence of flooding and its impact are most felt in the Hunter Valley, which is affected more than any other area in Australia by this sort of occurrence. I gather that in New South Wales the sort of flood mitigation work that we are discussing normally originates with local groups that want flood mitigation works to be undertaken in the areas with which they are concerned. Their representations are gathered together and from time to time submitted to the State Government by the Water Conservation and Irrigation Commission. The Department of Public Works also is involved. The Commission is responsible for the upper reaches of streams and the Department for the tidal sections in the lower reaches. Two other instrumentalities are concerned also. Tha Soil Conservation Service deals with erosion works on the banks of streams and the Department of Agriculture is concerned with flat areas of land adjacent to the higher reaches. Feasibility studies are first undertaken and after a project is approved funds are provided by the State Government and the Commonwealth in accordance with the arrangement under which the Commonwealth matches State contributions dollar for dollar. When recommendations for works are submitted to the State Government, it relies on the Committee of Advice on Flood Control and Mitigation and on the Hunter Valley Conservation Trust for advice. lt is now only about 4 years since thi original Act was passed in 1964. We have heard a lot of discussion tonight about who should receive credit for the introduction of this scheme for financial assistance. This discussion may be interesting and even enjoyable and entertaining to some honourable members. However, 1 believe that all of us agree that the important thing, and the thought that is uppermost in our minds, is that flood mitigation work is of great value and that in recent years it has gained momentum and received support at all levels of administration from the Commonwealth at the top down to local authorities. I believe that it is of interest not only to honourable members but also to the public to reflect on what the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) has said. He spoke somewhat critically about the expenditure of funds and questioned whether they are being spent on these projects in the right manner. In his terms, he questioned whether expenditure might be directed towards political rackets. I do not agree with the extreme terms that he used, but I do not believe that we ought to dismiss completely the observations that he has made. I know that in practice it may not be possible to introduce a system such as that which he proposed. However, let us not overlook the fact that already we have the Joint Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, which investigates substantial projects. During 1966 it vetted works to the value of $88m, I think. I believe that the honourable member for Bradfield has in mind a similar kind of committee to which flood mitigation proposals could be referred. The interposition of such a committee might have the effect of slowing down works a little and such a system might seem somewhat cumbersome, but I believe that it would at least have the virtue that the people of Australia would have their minds set at rest about the spending of their money and would be more sure that it had been spent properly. Such a committee would lend weight to the belief that justice was being done. It is doubtful, however, whether the proposal advanced by the honourable member for Bradfield could be fully implemented throughout the whole ambit of political activity.

J am inclined to share the views of my distinguished colleague from Mitchell, who gave us a quotation that made a considerable impact on my mind, though I cannot now recall his exact words. He said that much wisdom, much breadth of vision and much foresight were required by the younger men of Australia to put into full effect the splendid works that have been undertaken in northern areas. The honourable member for Bradfield, I suggest, must bear this in mind in putting forward the submissions that he made tonight about the manner in which funds should be expended. He made the point, and 1 appreciate it, that he was not necessarily standing in the way of this Bill, which is designed to promote flood mitigation works. I expect that he was worried most about a flood of money being taken from his electors in the form of taxes and felt that he was bound to make some reference to these matters. What we will need to do before we can achieve his objective of a Commonwealth-State financial agreement is to have another look at and think about the present system of financing capital works from revenue, lt has been considered prudent and necessary for money from revenue to be directed to capital works in order that the economy may be kept in a balance which is acceptable and suitable for the country as a whole and which ensures a desirable economic climate for the community at large.

It would be useful if honourable members could gain some appreciation of the magnitude of the works undertaken in certain areas of the Hunter Valley and in northern river areas by responsible authorities in New South Wales. I refer to the Water Conservation and Irrigation Commission's Synopsis of River Improvement Works in the Hunter Valley in which it is stated:

Apart from Wollombi Brook 47 miles of stream in the Hunter Valley which were seriously affected by erosion have been brought under control and another 93 miles are under treatment.

They are not insignificant figures, and honourable members who represent northern river areas and parts of the Hunter Valley will appreciate the value of this type of work. Another portion of the synopsis reads:

The largest single embayment of bank erosion treated has been on the Hunter River at Scott's Flat, located approximately 6 miles downstream from Singleton. Erosion of the left bank commenced in 1949, when an isolated, pocket developed, and by July 1964 there had been lost 50 acres of land, of which the last six were washed away in one flood which did not even overtop the banks . . . Although delayed by a flood which occurred soon after commencement, the necessary work was completed by the 30th September 1964 and the expenditure to 3Isi December 1966 was $98,466.

I am pleased lo note the interest of honourable members in the corner opposite.

Mr Charles Jones (NEWCASTLE, VICTORIA) - Country Party members are not interested in this matter. They never have been. If you want proof of that, look at Hansard.

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