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Thursday, 9 May 1968

Mr LUCHETTI (Macquarie) - The future of Australia is linked with the availability of an adequate water supply. Australia's future might well be restricted by the lack of water in quantity to meet the needs of the rapid growth of this nation. Water free from impurities is needed for domistic use, whilst rural and secondary industries require water free from excessive chemical and mineral properties. It is ironical that the River Murray water should be affected by increasing salinity. Salt is a killer of crops and this measure seeks, in a small way at least, to deal with the question.

The purpose of the Bill is to make a grant of $3.6m to the State of Victoria to reduce the salinity in a section of the River Murray. It shows the earnest intention of the Government to deal with a major problem which certainly affects both New South Wales and Victoria. The whole question is linked with New South Wales, Victoria and the River Murray itself. As this grant indicates, this measure is for the express purpose of dealing with only one area of a major question. I believe that from time to time further consideration must be given to the overall question of the importance of the River Murray. Will this great Australian stream merely be a drain to take away water which is unfit for gardens and orchards or will it continue to make a contribution to the development of a most important part of Australia?

The financial assistance to be provided is a matching grant to those contributed by Victoria. The works proposed to be carried out are set out in a schedule to the Bill. They include work on Lake Hawthorn at a cost of $1.6m, and work on Barr Creek at a cost of $2, making the Commonwealth contribution $3. 6m. Safeguards are being provided. Victoria shall furnish information to the Federal Government on these aspects of the work. The Opposition' supports the measure. It accepts the legislation as a commencement in dealing with a serious problem of threatening proportions. Honourable members would know that over recent times, particularly since the drought, statements have been in this place, and the Press has published a considerable number of articles dealing with the problems of salinity in the River Murray and its serious effect upon the Murray Valley and upon those people who depend upon this river and its waters for the development of their industries.

I have a publication from the 2nd Australasian Conference on Hydraulics and Fluid Mechanics which deals with the salinity of surface waters in Victoria. The conference was held in November 1965. It is a most valuable publication and I commend it to all honourable members. On page 9 it refers to the description of water solids in parts per million. It sets out that slightly saline water is 1,000 to 3,000 parts per million; moderately saline water is 3,000 to 10,000 parts per million; very saline water is 10,000 to 35,000 parts per million, and brine is more than 35,000 parts per million, which is approximately the salinity of seawater. The publication deals in a most interesting way with the conditions in Victoria and also refers to conditions overseas, particularly in the United States of America. It states:

Water containing as much as 3,000 ppm has generally been considered by the US Geological Service as suitable for irrigation depending on other factors relating to the soil and to crop growth.

In Victoria, however, 2,000 ppm is often regarded as the upper limit for water for irrigation, although in many areas of poor drainage and high evaporation, a lower limit is desirable. In a few cases, water of 3,000 ppm is used to irrigate pastures and vegetables, but this is quite exceptional and success appears to depend on very good drainage and skill in application.

It is regrettable that this great river system with its excellent land should, in a sense, be plagued with a problem of this kind. It is a problem which to some extent is man made, because of the' use that has been made of our soils and because of the devastation of our trees. There is good reason why we, who to some extent have been responsible for this condition, should try to restore the river and play our part in giving justice to those settlers along the river who need this water for orchards, for berry production, and for the production of vegetables and other commodities. The table headed 'Water Resources of South Western Victoria' in the booklet entitled The Salinity of Surface Waters in Victoria, Australia*, produced by R. G. Webster, contains interesting facts relating to salinity. With the concurrence of honourable members I incorporate the table in Hansard.


I suggest to the House that more must be done. The proposal contained in the Bill has laudable objectives. It seeks to deal with a problem which affects in particular an area of Victoria. It deals with the overall problem, because the greater the quantity of salt that can be kept out of the river quite obviously the better the river must be. I have looked through some statements made by the Minister for National Development and I have noted that in his statement of December last he said that two projects that were being considered at that time would when completed prevent 54,000 tons of salt from entering the River Murray each year. He said that those projects would be completed by this summer. I do not know whether that progress is being made.

Mr Fairbairn - Yes. They wm be completed by August.

Mr LUCHETTI - I thank the Minister for his helpful comment. It is good to know that the work is well advanced. But whilst this work is being done and whilst action of this character is being taken, I believe that every member of the Parliament would like to think that not only will this work go on apace but also that action will be taken to remove the problems created by salt in water that is used for irrigation. In the schedule to the Bill it is made clear that there is to be constructed at Lake Hawthorne near Mildura a pumping station with a capacity to pump water at the rate of approximately 20 cubic feet per second. This will have the effect of taking saline waters away from the river and dispatching them to an area where the water can evaporate, leaving the salt free of the river system. The schedule refers also to the construction near Kerang of two diversion weirs and the construction at Barr Creek near. Kerang of a pumping station with a capacity to pump water at the rate of approximately 60 cubic feet per second.

I should like to think that in dealing with a highly technical matter like this the Minister has had the best possible advice and help. I know that many organisations have been deeply interested in this topic. The growers have established their own salinity committees. Considerable thought has been given to the problem by experts and people who are dedicated to the building of this country in this way. But I cannot help thinking that in recent times we have had a reversal of policy in respect of the Chowilla project. A firm decision to build a massive water supply has apparently been revised. That water would have been available to flush out the Murray. If the Chowilla scheme has been abandoned it would appear that additional water supplies elsewhere will be required. There is the other disturbing consideration that further work on the upper Snowy will not be continued. All these matters are of importance and I should think that the Minister would give consideration to them.

A first requirement for the Murray River is an additional water supply. More and more water is required in the Murray to deal with the problem of salinity. In this time of drought when water is in lower supply than it has been for some time, the problem of salinity is grave; it is acute; it is a threat. Salinity certainly already is causing havoc in some areas. I have no doubt that honourable members who represent these areas will speak with some authority on the regions which have been vitally affected. An exhaustive inquiry into all aspects of salinity is required: This should not be left to chance, because salt has destroyed farms and orchards and is an immediate threat to the economy of many people in the area. Accordingly, whilst this measure makes a contribution to overcoming the problem of salinity, I believe that wider and more searching consideration should be given to the matter. As we have often said on this side of the House, it is necessary for the Commonwealth Government to accept a more purposeful responsibility in relation to our national water supply. The Commonwealth is identified with water supply. It is concerned with the effect of river erosion. It is concerned with flood. mitigation. It has provided funds for the Nogoa Dam and for the Ord River scheme. But all this work ought to be co-ordinated in a national plan and policy. Again I cannot help but refer with some sadness and regret to the fact that the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority is not being retained and that the men who have played a purposeful and excellent role in the development of this country are not being kept on to undertake the great jobs of water conservation.

On previous occasions the Minister has referred to an alternative water supply to the Chowilla Dam and has mentioned the Hume Weir. All these matters are very important and pressing, but I should like to think that the Minister and the Government will accept responsibility in these matters and will not leave them to the States but will go forward with a complete investigation to provide additional water supplies. 1 hope they will look into the propositions that have been advanced. A gentleman named Mr Pels has suggested the construction of some channels along the river bank. I am not particularly attracted to his proposals. But positive proposals-' have been advanced to provide, if I may use a general term, pure water which is acceptable for orchards and, farms, indeed for all our rural pursuits. If any of these propositions are acceptable, then I believe that the Minister is duty bound to consider them. The Minister should give attention to the construction of channels and the use of pipes to prevent water from running over the land, leaching it, and bringing the salt through to the surface to be washed into the Murray River every time it rains. It is necessary also for us to concern ourselves with wider questions affecting the development of the area - for example, the scientific and more complete use of water so that it can be used to the best possible advantage. Are we now doing the best we can with the water that is available to us? Are we adopting the most efficient methods to deal with the problem of producing crops in naturally saltyland? What has been done in Israel might well be considered appropriate in Australia. What is being done in the United States of America might be done with good effect in Australia.

The matter of soil usage and soil conservation also calls for immediate consideration. All these matters are of great importance. By means of this legislation we are endeavouring to reduce salinity in the water at a particular place. But this does not deal with the overall problem of the River Murray and the salinity of the water in it. Much more needs to be done. We should undertake a comprehensive study of water use and soil conservation. Expert opinion, formed after an investigation of settled countries overseas in which the salt content of water was high indicates that much more can be done in Australia. It is being suggested that people in the areas concerned might grow crops different from those which they have grown in the past. It is suggested that lucerne, barley and other crops might be suitable for growing in these areas. But honourable members will appreciate that a farmer cannot change his system of cropping overnight. He cannot destroy his trees, for instance, for the sake of growing new crops. Consequently it is necessary first to overcome the problems posed by the composition of the water itself. Basically this is a national question. It is a national river that is involved. This river has a substantial effect on the prosperity of three States, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. It is up to the Commonwealth Government to accept a greater degree of national responsibility than it has ever done before. It. must do even more than it has been doing through the River Murray Commission. . .

It is good to know that as a result of works carried out by the Snowy Mountains Authority, this great undertaking that has been hailed throughout the world, additional water is being added to the Murray River. But more and more must be done, according to the report of the River Murray Commission for 1966-67. That report gave a table indicating the diversion of water from the Snowy River to the Murray River. At the end of the table the following figures were given:

Total for the year - 324,700 acre feet. Diverted from Tooma River- 189,700 acre feet. Net increase to the River Murray - 135,000 acre feet.

This is a very considerable contribution resulting from the works carried out by the Snowy Mountains Authority. I fondly hope that the imagination, the skill and the drive that were so much in evidence in the Snowy Mountains projects will not now disappear, and that governments of the future will do more in this direction.

The great problem, as I said at the outset, is to ensure the conservation of water that is available to us. There is everywhere a demand for more water. In Victoria 1 notice that there is a $180m plan to harness three rivers. There was a headline to this effect in the Melbourne 'Age' of 20th September last. An editorial titled The Thirsty States' appeared in the 'Age' on 17th August 1967. The 'Canberra Times' carried a tragic story, 'The Death of a Giant', on 28th March this year.

I urge the Minister to look at this problem comprehensively. It is not . good enough to consider salinity, for instance, as an individual question. We must consider the whole problem of water supply and water requirements, not for just one area but for the whole of this great river system. I again ask the Minister to conduct the most exacting examination of all proposals affecting the salinity of the Murray River and of land use in the area. We of the Opposition believe in a national conservation programme. We believe that more and more water is going to be needed urgently in Australia for the growth and development of our nation. A comprehensive investigation is long overdue. Research should be conducted with greater intensity than it has been conducted in the past. A scientific study of land and water use should be carried out. This should be one of the cardinal aims of the Department of National Development. We trust that the steps that will be taken as a result of this legislation will be beneficial. We hope they will have the effect that the Minister sincerely and earnestly believes they will. But we do not know what lies ahead. The southern parts of Australia have suffered from one of the most devastating droughts in the history of this country. Who knows that in the future more severe droughts, accompanied by greater losses, will not occur? I put it to the Minister and the Government that the National Water Resources Development Programme, under which this Bill comes before the Parliament, is inadequate to meet the needs of the nation with its outstanding development possibilities, with its great potential for agricultural, mineral, pastoral and other developments. More water is needed, and the proposal to provide $50m over 5 years, as announced in November 1966, is inadequate.

I can only hope that practical steps will be taken to put more water into the Murray River and that other steps will be taken to solve the main problem permanently. We may then follow a continuing policy of development. We may be able to reclaim land which is at present unproductive, perhaps because of the mistakes that we ourselves have made by destruction of timber and by faulty land use which has brought salts to the surface to be washed into our rivers. I hope we can ensure that these mistakes are not repeated and that the River Murray will play the dominant role that it should play in the development of one of the richest areas of our country.

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