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Wednesday, 4 June 1969

Senator MCCLELLAND (New South Wales) - The three Bills before the Senate, which are being taken collectively, relate to grants to the States of New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria for water development purposes. As Senator Drury has said, we of the Opposition do not oppose the measures. However, the Bill to which I wish to address my remarks is the New South Wales Grant (Gwydir River Dam) Bill which makes available to New South Wales a sum of $20m for the purpose of the construction of a dam on the Gwydir River at a place called Copeton. This Bill is of the utmost importance to New South Wales and particularly to people who reside in the north western part of New South Wales.

Senator O'Byrne - Did the Government change the name from the Copeton Dam to the Gwydir River Dam?

Senator MCCLELLAND - This development has commonly been referred to as the Copeton Dam project.' The grant for this project was announced on 13th April and suddenly the proposed project became known as the 'Gwydir River Dam'.

Senator O'Byrne - Was that because there is to be a by-election?

Senator MCCLELLAND - Of course, as Senator O'Byrne has just said, in 3 days time a by-election will take place in the Gwydir area. But I suggest that this Bill has been introduced after a great deal of pressure which has been applied on the Federal Government by the New South Wales LiberalCountry Party Government and also pressure that has been applied by the local residents within the Gwydir electorate.

Senator Wright - Do you oppose it?

Senator MCCLELLAND - I do not oppose the Bill at all. However, I wish to mention something about the delay that has been involved in the introduction of the Bill.

Senator Wright - You are adding to the pressure.

Senator MCCLELLAND - Yes, and 1 welcome the fact that this Government has seen the light of day to bring down this measure. The Minister for Works (Senator Wright) spoke for some 22} minutes this afternoon on the Judiciary Bill and said very little. I intend to speak only for about 10 minutes and to say a great deal on behalf of the people of New South Wales.

As I have said, this Bill has been brought in after a great deal of pressure had been applied to the Federal Government by the New South Wales Premier and the New South Wales Minister for Conservation. Pressure has also been applied to the Federal Government by a great number of residents from the Gwydir electorate of New South Wales. As a result of this pressure at long last the Government has seen the light of day and has introduced this measure. The Opposition welcomes the introduction of this legislation although, as Senator O'Byrne inferred by way of interjection, perhaps there is some significance in the fact that the Bill1 is being dealt with at a time when a Federal by-election will be held in the electorate of Gwydir - next Saturday.

Honourable senators will recall that on 26th March this year I presented a petition to the Senate on behal'f of 611 citizens of the State of New South Wales, most of whom were resident in the Inverell and Moree districts. The petition urged the Commonwealth Government to make sufficient funds available for the construction and early completion of the dam. On 27th March 1 placed a question concerning this project on the notice paper. Whilst the announcement of the construction of the dam was made on 17th April, the fact is that 1 did not receive an answer to the question 1 placed on the notice paper until yesterday. It is rather significant to note from the reply to my question from the Minister for National Development (Mr Fairbairn) that the New South Wales Government presented its first comprehensive report on the proposed construction of the Copeton Dam which is now known as the Gwydir River Dam on 11th October 1967. So, the New South Wales Government has been requesting the Commonwealth Government to give consideration to making money available for the purpose of the construction of a dam on this very important waterway for some 20 months.

Indeed, the New South Wales Government, to some extent, has already made a start on the project. This has been done in connection with expenditure on site preparation and the development of construction facil'ities. I think that, to date, some $2m has been spent by the New South Wales Government for these purposes. It is interesting to note from the memorandum annexed to the Bill that preliminary investigations of the Gwydir Valley for the selection of a site for a storage dam were first entered into as far back as 1936. Bearing in mind that the year now is 1969, we can see that this project has been bandied around for about 30 years. This Bill, therefore, is the culmination of a great struggle that has been going on for many years.

Firstly, it has been a struggle as far as the State of New South Wales is concerned and secondly a struggle has taken place between the Commonwealth Government and the New South Wales Government.

Indeed, the former member for Gwydir, Mr Ian Allan, suggested on 24th March in a letter to the 'Sydney Morning Herald' that the matter was too serious for disagreement between the two governments concerned. On 24th March 1966, over 3 years ago, Mr Ian Allan moved in another place Cor the establishment of a national water planning construction authority which, in association with the States, would regulate the control and use of rivers on the eastern coast of New South Wales. The proposed authority also would have been concerned with the Darling River and its tributaries in Queensland and New South Wales.

At that time the Opposition supported the motion and moved an amendment that the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority be merged into the proposed body. At that time the Government did not allow the debate to conclude or a vole to be taken on the matter in another place, lt is interesting to note that whilst the Opposition at that time moved an amendment suggesting that the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority be merged wilh the national water planning construction authority, which had been proposed by Mr Ian Allan, according to page 13 of: the memorandum annexed to the Bill we see that it was at the request of the Commonwealth Government that the Snowy Mountains Authority examined the design of the proposed Copeton Dam that was submitted by the State. The Authority concluded that the proposal for an earth and rock fill dam was sound and that the project was well conceived.

In 1966 the Federal Government also stated that it would make available some $50ni for a national water resources development programme. For some time past the New South Wales Government has been fighting the Commonwealth to obtain a fair share of this amount On 29th January last Mr Beale, the New South Wales Minister for Conservation wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald' about this project. He referred to the Commonwealth's delay in making up its mind as to whether this project was, in its opinion, a feasible one or otherwise. Mr Beale made some caustic comments about the delay that was involved. In his letter to the 'Sydney Morning Herald' Mr Beale said, among other things:

No-one would deny the right of the Commonwealth Government to investigate carefully any projects which it contemplates assisting financially. What concerns New South Wales, however, is Mr Holt's promise that all projects submitted under the $50m scheme would be selected on their national merits. Even though New South Wales submitted more comprehensive and detailed economic and engineering evaluation for Copeton Dam than other States did for their projects, sixteen months have gone by and the Commonwealth has still not reached a decision. Notwithstanding this, Queensland and Victoria have already received grants on less evidence, with the result, as Mr Fairbairn admits, that already about half of the available money has been committed.

But now, of course, the Commonwealth has seen the light of day on this development. The Opposition welcomes the Commonwealth coming to the aid of New South Wales in order to ensure the construction and the development of this project. Irrigation has brought substantial benefits to the Namoi Valley which is adjacent to the Gwydir Valley. It is rather interesting to note that between 1961 and 1968, in the period when the Namoi River Valley has enjoyed irrigation, the township of Narrabri has increased in population by some 25% and the township of Wee Waa has increased by some 50% .

Senator O'Byrne - The Namoi and the Gwydir are al the headwaters of the Darling River.

Senator MCCLELLAND - That is so. 1 feel sure tha', as the development has taken place in Narrabri since irrigation came to that town, likewise, when the Gwydir River Valley is dammed and irrigated, will substantial development and expansion come to the town of Moree. It is rather interesting to note also that of the total value of agricultural production in the Namoi River Valley last year, which was some $56m, cotton was the largest agricultural industry in that Valley. This has come about in the last 7 years. I emphasise that. Cotton, being the largest agricultural industry in that Valley, produced a crop worth $25m out of a total production valued at $56m.

Senator Dittmer - Does that include the subsidy?

Senator MCCLELLAND - Yes, it includes the subsidy. What I am suggesting - and this is borne out by the memorandum that is attached to the Bill - is that the Gwydir Valley will expand and eventually will rely on irrigation crops as does the nearby Namoi River Valley and so indeed does the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area in the south wes; portion of New South Wales. As I say, the Opposition is pleased to see this legislation come before the Senate. We welcome the decision of the Government even at this belated stage. In general, the Labor movement supports the development of a national water resources authority in order to take the whole concept of water development out of the realm of party politics. We believe that there is some significance in the fact that this Bill is being introduced at this stage and that a byelection is taking place in the Federal electorate of Gwydir next Saturday. There can be no doubt that water is the lifeblood of our great nation. As far as the Gwydir River Valley is concerned, this dam and the water which will flow from it will be of great benefit to the people of the north west of New South Wales, to the people of the State of New South Wales, to Australia and to Australians generally.

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