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Thursday, 13 April 1972
Page: 1638

Dr PATTERSON (Dawson) - It is almost 2 years now since any positive decision has been taken by the Government in the allocation of further funds under the national water resources programme. These funds are required for urgent water conservation projects - multi-purpose projects - in the States. It cannot be argued by the Government that lack of finance is one of the factors which is causing the delay because the House will recall that about 2 years ago the Commonwealth provided $150m to be allocated to the States for water conservation projects. Of the $150m promised by the Government to the States for water conservation projects, only $89m has been allocated up to this point of time. Of that $89m, only approximately $50m has been spent.

It seems fairly obvious that in the last 2 years there have been reasonably good seasons in the most important agricultural districts of Australia which are affected by recurring droughts and these good seasons or better seasons have lulled the Government into a sense of false complacency. The Queensland Government has submitted to the Commonwealth several soundly based water conservation projects. They principally are multi-purpose projects located in the giant Burdekin basin. The principle involved here would be to develop progressively this basin for the benefit of Townsville, which is the major beneficiary, and for heavy industrial processing. Ancillary to that, of course, water would be provided for agriculture and livestock.

Despite the fact that promises have been made year after year with respect to the development of the Burdekin project, nothing has been done. I can remember when the then Minister for National Development, Mr Fairbairn - that will give honourable members an idea of how many years ago it was - informed the Parliament that a feasibility study of this project would be made and the results would be given to the Parliament. That was over 3 years ago and we are still waiting. In addition to the water which is required for agricultural and pastoral pursuits, there is an urgent need for water for industrial use in the northern parts of Queensland. Honourable members will know that the coastal areas of central and northern Queensad contain the ports and facilities for the hinterland and for the great deposits of natural resources such as coal and other minerals and this is where the importance of water conservation lies.

The other point I wish to make is that a veil of secrecy seems to surround the Government particularly with respect to plans and decisions relating to water conservation projects. I think it is essential that progressive evaluation be made and that the results of such evaluation be made available to the Parliament at regular intervals for close examination. Whereas 2 years ago the Government showed some evidence of accepting its national responsibility in the field of water conservation, it now appears that its policies have been reversed. The Government is going back to its policy of the old days of opposing water conservation projects. Why has the Government not made one single decision in the last 2 years with respect to the national water resources programme in terms of a minor or major water conservation project? The further development of Townsville and the coastal areas of Queensland is closely linked with the harnessing of water resources.

The 2 principal projects that will serve established and proven areas - I stress this point - are the Eton irrigation scheme and the Burdekin water conservation scheme. The Eton irrigation scheme meets the criteria laid down by the Government. It is the development of an export commodity. More importantly, in terms of economic justification, it is located in a soundly established agricultural area in which there is proven evidence of the loss of production each time there is a drought. The project is straightforward and no-one can tell me that those responsible for the evaluation of this project have not reached some conclusion. It is the same old story: Unless they are pressed, we will have the notorious interdepartmental committees meeting every couple of weeks and the Treasury drawing red herrings across the trail and each week going back to work out some more answers until the Government is ready to make a decision on an irrigation or a water conservation project. This is one of the most frustrating aspects of Commonwealth decisions and causes a great waste of time. When the Government is not ready to make a decision, the favourite approach is to establish an interdepartmental committee.

The point I wish to make is that I believe a decision should be made with respect to these projects because although there have been 2 good seasons, particularly in the established agricultural areas, there is absolutely no reason to believe that there will not be another drought in areas which have proved that they are highly susceptible to drought. When there is a loss of national export income and when this loss is costed at whatever the import parity price might be and related to the actual revenue and operating and capital costs of a project, it is not a difficult proposition at least to get a best estimate of the economic justification of that project. It should not take years to make decisions with respect to conservation projects. So, I urge the Government to do something positive.

I am interested to note that the honourable member for Herbert (Mr Bonnett) has suddenly realised that he had better do something about the Burdekin project, because the decisions in relation to the Burdekin development are of vital importance to the city of Townsville and to the electors of Townsville. While discussing the honourable member for Herbert, I should like to refer to an article which appeared in today's 'Courier Mail'. The article stated that Mr Bonnett was one of the most worried of the Liberal members because of the Governments lack of decision on the Institute of Marine Science at Townsville. This institute is badly needed in the northern part of Queensland. I am glad to see that the honourable member is now in the House. Well might he be worried, because if there is any delay in the provision of Commonwealth funds for the construction of this laboratory, the responsibility will rest to a great degree on the shoulders of the honourable member for Herbert because it is his Government that introduced into the Parliament the Territorial Sea and Continental Shelf Bill and the Government has sat on it. The honourable member for Herbert well knows that he was one of those who supported the previous Prime Minister, the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton), with respect to this Bill. My advise to him would be not to take too much notice of the present Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) in this matter because, as he well knows, this is a question of self survival for him. What the honourable member wants to do is to go into his party room, get stuck into the Prime Minister and tell him straight: Get this territorial sea and continental shelf legislation cleaned up and cleaned up fast', because there can be no delay in setting up the marine science institute which is needed in North Queensland, and the honourable member knows that.

That is the warning which I give to the honourable member for Herbert, because he well knows that the game of politics is a pretty ruthless one, and it is and will be a pretty ruthless game in the electorate of Herbert. Although he supports the setting up of the marine institute, just as the Labor Party has supported it for IS years - since the time when Senator Dittmer was the first person to put the suggestion forward - the stage has now been reached at which the committee has made a decision, the Government has made a decision, and the Government was to bring the Australian Institute of Marine Science Bill forward for debate quickly. I now see that it has been demoted from Order of the Day No. 6 yesterday to Order of the Day No. 14 today. It is of paramount importance that this research institute should be constructed in Australia, and it is of paramount importance that the honourable member for Herbert should use his influence in his party room to get the territorial sea and continental shelf legislation before this Parliament, so that the Australian Institute of Marine Science Bill can be passed by the Parliament, the research centre constructed and this valuable research carried out.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drury)Imust point out to the honourable member that he is anticipating debate on Bills that are yet to be debated in the House.

Dr PATTERSON - I fully recognise the Government's great worry in this matter, and I fully realise that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, will do everything possible to gag me and prevent me from mentioning the Territorial Seas Continental Shelf legislation.

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