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Tuesday, 27 October 1970

Mr GRASSBY (Riverina) - 1 support this measure to facilitate work on water measurement in our country. This is a small but vital part of the nation's development of its water resources. No doubt exists at all in my mind or in the minds of most other people concerned with national development that water is the limiting factor in the overall development of the nation. Sixty-nine years after Federation we are still without a national water programme. Sixty-nine years after Federation we are still without a national water conservation authority. I mention in passing that, as far as the Opposition is concerned, it is quite clear what we will do in this regard, that is, create a national water conservation authority from the ruins of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority and develop a much overdue national water programme.

Surely it is this building of skills at the national level which would have obviated one of the most disgraceful incidents in this Federal Parliament which occurred when we came to debate the water resources of the River Murray. There we had a situation of conflicting technical reports, of various reports, of differing input data and a situation in which words did not mean what they originally were intended to mean - by the dictionary, at any rate. Here we had the example which honourable members may remember of 'in perpetuity' and 'indefinitely' becoming one and the same thing. It was important that all 125 members of the House of Representatives had the technical data clearly and definitely set out in a way that they could follow and understand so that they could be satisfied in their own minds as to what was being done and what was being proposed and that it would be in the best interests of everyone concerned. I felt on that occasion that it was an insult to the Parliament that we did not have all the necessary technical data. I do not think that we have it at the present time. We had limited data that enabled us to make one decision alone when there was a number of decisions that were required - and a number of interlocking decisions at that.

I hope that we are gradually moving further towards a rational and proper programme of water conservation. This project of stream measurement is a basic project. It must be encouraged and I am delighted to see that this measure does just that. I was delighted to hear the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn) pledge his support for continuing water conservation. This is a vital thing not only for agriculture but also for all the integrated development that we must undertake if the inland of Australia is to be utilised properly. The critics of irrigation - and they have come in for a mention - have reached a new height of intensity - and they include, as my colleague, the honourable member for Dawson (Dr Patterson) mentioned, Sir William Gunn. Fresh from bis triumphs as leader of the Australian wool industry, Sir William Gunn turned his attention to irrigation the other day when he said in a flight of incredible fancy that farmers should march on Canberra every time a dam was to be built. He said that every product of irrigation was overproduced and that the nation should not use tax funds to facilitate irrigation.

So, here we have the man who, with his colleagues, has led the wool industry into disaster telling us what we should do about irrigation, telling us in effect that whole communities should not have come into being. What he was saying is this: We should not have come and now we are here perhaps we ought to go. I reject that suggestion on behalf of the people whom I represent. I am sure that all people along the major streams of the nation who have been so rubbished will reject it because they will know just how absurd it is.

Let us be quite clear about this matter. The great irrigation schemes that have been developed in the past have been developed as an integrated part of the economy and have been designed to keep the food supplies flowing to the cities. Let us be clear that, in relation to Sydney, half of all the food supplies moving into that city originate in irrigation. Is it suggested seriously that we should play Russian roulette with the nation's food supplies by relying strictly on the climate and strictly on the chance of weather. After all, drought is endemic in our continent. There is always somewhere in Australia drought all the time. So, should not we-

Mr Holten - No one is suggesting that we ought not to have a water conservation programme.

Mr GRASSBY - Well, the Minister has said that no one is suggesting that we should not have water conservation and that we should not have irrigation.

Mr Holten - No one in the Government.

Mr GRASSBY - Well, I have just quoted one of the major servants of the Government.

Mr Holten - I said no one in the Government.

Mr GRASSBY - Well, we have had the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly) and the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) standing in their places and saying that all irrigation has done is-

Mr Holten - They are not in the Government.

Mr GRASSBY - They are distinguished members of the Government - one a former Minister-

Mr Holten - They are not.

Mr GRASSBY - They have said here time and again that they questioned the value of irrigation to the nation. They questioned its value to the agricultural sector. I have debated with them. What I am suggesting at the present time is that the critics are becoming even more - what shall 1 say - damning, and the most recent one, as I say, just the other day was Sir William Gunn-

Mr Holten - What has he to do with the Government?

Mr GRASSBY - Well, he was not appointed by us. We have not been in power for 20 years. He has had many high offices. I am sure that he would not have received any of his appointments from our point of view-

Mr Holten - He is still not in the Government.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Cope)Order!.

Mr GRASSBY - Well, I accept the assurance of the Minister for Repatriation that Sir William Gunn is not in the Gov- eminent. I have always assumed that he was a distinguished servant of the Government. If he is not, the Minister may disown him at his leisure. I wanted to make this point: The criticism that has been made is this: It has been suggested that there have been very large expenditures on irrigation. Well, I think it should be known that, as far as irrigation alone is concerned, in the 69 years of Federation we have spent less as a nation on irrigation as such than we have spent in importing whisky every year. So, we have not made a great national investment in irrigation at all.

It is certainly important to realise that irrigation is only part of what is done with the storage. Water must always be regarded as a multi-purpose commodity. This is what it is. That is why the suggestions that have been made from time to time that irrigation farmers and irrigation industries - that is, industries limited to the land - should be loaded with the total cost of dams are completely unreal. As a matter of fact, this is a matter that was dealt with a generation ago by a most distinguished royal commission presided over by Mr Justice Pike. He explored all of these aspects and, in his findings, which were unanimously accepted by the parliaments - State and Federal - at the time, said that it could not be sustained either as a practice of government or of good economics that irrgation farmers should be made to pay for the public works. This was clear. It was settled. It was done a generation ago. But we are still getting this kind of criticism thrown up in a most casual way.

Let us see what this criticism means in practical terms. It means that Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra - a very fine multimillion dollar facility which is pleasant to see - does not need a cost benefit analysis because it is a facility, a park, or recreational area. I have no objection to it, but the absurdity of the critics is shown by the fact that if some resident of Canberra decided that he wanted to grow an acre of tomatoes and if he pumped water out of Lake Burley Griffin those critics would say that he should be loaded with a portion of the capital cost of the Lake. It is absurd. Water is a multi-purpose commodity. It has to be regarded as such. The basic works are public works, the cost of which ought to be borne by taxation revenue. Let us be clear when we examine every major : conservation structure in our nation. All of - them sustain more than just irrigation and farmers; they are sustaining secondary industry, factories and householders who turn on taps. They are multi-purpose structures and they should be regarded as such. I think this point should be made in the debate because this Bill is connected with water supplies and their further measurement for their future utilisation.

Reference has been made to the structures that have been built and to their benefits to the nation. I think the benefits to the nation should be clearly and definitely spelt out. - Sometimes the critics claim that all they are asking- for is a proper analysis. By all means let us have a proper analysis. There is no reason why this should not be done. . For past, structures in New South Wales - the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area and the development of plans for the utilisation of Blowering water - most precise studies were made. The results were published. They were examined by Federal and State agencies. A variety of skills were brought together to see that the right and proper thing was done and to see that the plans for the utilisation of the water were sound and would return the best to the community. Of course we should have a proper cost benefit analysis. Why should we not? 1 think it is very desirable that studies be carried out and that results be published. There will have to be several of them. As the former Minister for National Development knows, the answers depend on the inputs. Let us try the various ranges of input and publish the results. There is nothing wrong with that. The decision will have to be made by the Government. There is nothing wrong with that either. That is democratic responsibility.

Tn summation I say that the economists are a very useful tool and that economics, as a subject, is a most useful skill. The economists should be used and utilised. But they cannot make the decision. The decision is based on many imprecise factors touching on the future of the nation and on many things that perhaps are beyond the measurement of economists. I sum up in this way in supporting the Bill: I hope that in future debates in the House of Representatives we will look at water con servation as a basic need for the future of the nation; that we will recognise that water is a limiting factor in our development generally; that we will regard water as such as a multi-purpose commodity and water conservation works as multi-purpose projects; and that we will reject the kind of criticism that we have heard in the last few days from Sir William Gunn, fresh from his triumphs in the wool industry. After many years in control, he turns his attention to irrigation and decides that it is superfluous, that it should be ended, wiped out or phased out and that never more should we have development of this kind. That statement should be rejected completely as an irresponsible criticism by ' a discredited industry leader.' I say that most sincerely.

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