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Thursday, 9 May 1968

Mr FAIRBAIRN (Farrer) (Minister for National Development) - in reply - I thank honourable members sincerely for the unanimity they have shown in their support df the great work that is proposed. It might not be great in the sense of total cost, yet if it successfully reduces salinity it will be of an enormous importance to the people who live- along, the River Murray in three States. Interesting and thoughtful contributions have been made to the debate by the honourable member for Riverina (Mr Armstrong) and- the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Turnbull); both of whom have been tireless workers for their electorates. Unlike the honourable member for Mallee, I represent some of the areas on the Murray River - from Jingellic to Mulwala. Perhaps these form the most important part of the Murray, for this is where the big storage at the Hume Weir occurs. As I said, both honourable members are tireless workers for the people in the Murray district. Indeed, the honourable member for Mallee has taken me round and shown me over some of. his area. I was particularly interested in seeing the rejuvenation of some of the areas around Kerang which had been completely ruined by salt but which are now being brought - back - into production. I believe that the honourable member for Riverina is one of the most tireless writers in this Parliament, and I am perfectly certain that, if I were. to add up the number of letters I send out to members of this House, he would get the No. 1 position. Perhaps that is because we have had such a dry season.

As the honourable member for Mallee said, the River Murray Commission has authority over the water only while it is in the Murray. Indeed, there have been some doubts concerning the legality of the Commission's employing a salinity . consultant.. However, everyone agreed that one should' be employed, and we have gone ahead. There have been no complaints. I am- sure that this sort of investigation is essential. The honourable member for Macquarie (Mr Luchetti) claimed that an exhaustive inquiry on salinity was needed, but I assure him that this will bc an exhaustive inquiry.- After calling world-wide tenders, we have two firms that we believe are best equipped to carry out this task. They are working hard and are taking evidence from a great many people and organisations; they are looking at Mr Pels' proposal.

The Chairman of the New South Wales Water Conservation and Irrigation Com- mission has said to me about the Pels' plan: If you gave me a small part of the money that Mr Pels' programme would- need, I would overcome the - salinity problems in the River Murray'. -Nevertheless, this work is being done. I think we have excellent consultants. The firm 'of Hunting Technical Services Ltd has undertaken work in West Pakistan and has had much to do with the salinity problems in the Tigris,. Ephrates and the Upper Nile rivers. I assure the honourable member for Macquarie that an exhaustive inquiry is being carried out, and a report is to be prepared by the end of June next year. We have already had some preliminary reports. I am just not certain whether these are available. If they are available, I will see that the honourable member for Mallee receives one. However these may be reports which are confidential to the Commission itself.

I really rose to comment on a matter which the honourable member for Macquarie raised. There does not seem to be a really clear understanding on this question of the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority. The honourable member said that the Authority has done a great job. I agree. Had it not been for the rapid way in which the Authority has developed the Snowy Mountains Scheme we would have been in real trouble this year. It will be of interest to the House to know that two-thirds of the water that went down the Mumimbidgee this year was water diverted from the Snowy River. A quarter of the water that went into Lake Hume itself was Snowy water. Without the water restrictions and the flow from the Snowy we would have been in a much worse position. The honourable member for Macquarie is one of those people who believe that the work of the Authority is to be discontinued. He mentioned this by referring to the death of a giant, as he called it. The Authority is being kept on. Somehow I just cannot get this fact over. The Government has made the decision that the Authority will remain as a permanent body able to undertake work for outside organisations. The Authority has on hand at the present moment approximately 400 man-years of work for outside organisations. This is building up at the rate of a new major project at least, and more often more than, once a month.

However, it has been stated quite clearly that the Authority will not be retained as a constructing authority once it finishes its work in the Snowy Mountains area. The reason is that adequate construction ability and authorities both from the Commonwealth and State spheres as well as from local government are available without the Snowy Mountains Authority. What the Authority does in the Snowy is supervise construction. The contractors are the ones who do the actual construction. When they have finished their work on the Snowy, those contractors will be available to go elsewhere to undertake work. But we are keeping the Authority on. I do not know what is wrong with my public relations. I just cannot seem to get a breakthrough in Australia in establishing the fact that the Government has made this decision and that in due time legislation will be brought before the Parliament in order to alter the law so that the Authority is entitled to undertake work for outside organisations both in Australia and overseas.

At the present moment, the Authority is undertaking work in Thailand, Sabah, Western Samoa and Nepal. There is a tremendous number of areas where its consulting, investigation, research and design team is being used to the benefit of water construction. The honourable member for Macquarie said that the amount of S3. 6m to be provided under this Bill is a matching grant from the Commonwealth. It is not a matching grant. It is a straight-out grant of $3.6m.

Mr Luchetti - Victoria is obliged to carry out certain works, though.

Mr FAIRBAIRN - It is carrying out the work with money provided by the Commonwealth. Victoria does not have to put in additional money on its own behalf to carry out the work.

I conclude with a reference to the remarks of those honourable members who have said that we need more money for the Murray River. Everyone realises this fact. ' That is why we are working as fast as we can to try to get to a position where we will be able to make a decision as between the various sites that are being investigated as a possible future major storage on the Murray. We believe from what has eventuated so far that it is possible to get better quality water and a greater quantity of it at less cost by an upriver storage rather than a down-river storage. Having said this, all I add is that we will do nothing in the Commisson until the figures are available. The two sites which are being selected will be compared and a decision will then be made on where the storage should be located. I thank the House for its support of this Bill.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.

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