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Wednesday, 4 June 1969

Senator WEBSTER (Victoria) - 1 wish to confine my remarks to the Victoria Grant (King River Dam) Bill. I congratulate the Commonwealth Government on making money available for this scheme. But I am concerned about the method which the Commonwealth uses to decide which scheme should have priority. The explanatory memorandum to the Bill sets out the details of two dams which were originally proposed in Victoria. They were the King River Dam and the Mitchell River Dam. On viewing these two areas one must agree it is indeed a wonderful thing that in the near future the Victorian Government will have these two dams at either end of the State. From previous discussions in the Senate I am led to believe that the Commonwealth instructs either the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority or some other body to assess the costbenefit of various sites before a conscious decision is made as to which is the best site in the national interest. I would be very pleased if the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Scott) could tell me whether the Government adopted this proposition in relation to the Victorian submission. In his second reading speech, the Minister said that because the Victorian Government gave priority in its planning to the King River Dam, and as funds available under the programme were limited, it was considered appropriate to select the King River Dam for inclusion in the programme. A few moments ago a senator from Queensland asked whether the State or the Commonwealth makes the decision as to which scheme is selected.

I know from speaking to people who live in the areas referred to in the explanatory memorandum which has been circulated that citizens and councils are involved in enormous expense in endeavouring to promote the areas adequately. That comment applies to both the Mitchell River area and the King River area, but I wonder whether the Commonwealth decision in this matter has been influenced to any great extent by considerations of feasibility. We in this Senate have argued on occasion as to whether a project should be undertaken and whether the money that is to be spent on it will be correctly spent. I say at the outset that the King River dam which it is proposed to build will bring wonderful benefits. But let us endeavour to review quickly the propositions put forward by the Minister for National Development (Mr Fairbairn) in setting out the advantages of both sites. The King River dam will cost approximately $4.2m. The Mitchell River dam, which is to be deferred and not given priority at the moment, will cost $4.8m. It is estimated that the King River dam will contain 10,000 acre feet of water. If I am correct in my reading of the explanatory memorandum, the Mitchell River dam will contain 20,000 acre feet, so that it will have double the storage of the King River dam. If the figures provided in the explanatory memorandum are correct, the King River storage will service 6,600 acres. The explanatory memorandum states, at page 6:

The construction of the King River dam would permit the expansion of irrigation to 6,600 acres.

The Mitchell River dam, on the other hand, will provide for 9,600 acres of irrigation and the water will be reticulated to landholders by private pumping from the river. I note that no additional distributory works are to be included. The cost per acre foot of water for the King River dam will be SI 9. The explanatory memorandum states:

The full public cost of providing this water, including the servicing of the capital cost of the dam, is probably about $19 per acre foot.

The King River dam is the project which has been selected by the Government. In respect of the Mitchell River dam the full public cost of providing the water, including the servicing of the capital cost of the dam, is stated in the explanatory memorandum to be probably about $13 per acre foot. I could spend a great deal of time in discussing this matter, but in order to limit my remarks I seek leave of the Senate to incorporate in Hansard the sections of the explanatory memorandum headed 'Project Area' and Project - Main Features and Costs'.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bull) - Is leave granted?

Senator Cant - No.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT - Leave is not granted.

Senator WEBSTER - Then I shall have to read those sections to the Senate.

Senator Cant - The honourable senator obtained leave this afternoon and then was abusive about it.

Senator WEBSTER - I know that some honourable senators interest themselves more in certain matters than in matters that are of importance to the Senate.

Senator Wright - And then they get narked about leave.

Senator WEBSTER - Yes. I understand that Senator Cant is anxious to get home. This is legislation which some honourable senators on the Government side of the chamber want to discuss. They are more interested in dealing with the business of the country than in getting away from this place. The core of the matter is really contained in the sections of the explanatory memorandum that I wished to have incorporated in Hansard. Perhaps the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Scott), who represents the Minister for National Development in this chamber, will be prepared to discuss them.

The land use to which the King Valley water is to be put is referred to in the explanatory memorandum. This dam will be a wonderful expansionary project, but if we compare it with the Mitchell River dam and consider the work that can be done and the type of production that can be promoted in the Gippsland area, we see that there is really no comparison between the two schemes. I have already referred to the costs of both schemes. I have referred also to the number of acre feet of water to be stored. I have mentioned the acreage to be irrigated. I suggest that in none of those respects does the King River dam compare favourably with the Mitchell River dam. 1 was alerted to this position because people in the Gippsland area were somewhat incensed. They had been put to a great deal of work. The State authority had said to them: 'Hurry along and send in your arguments to the Federal Government. If you hurry you may get in on the scheme*.

Senator Greenwood - What type of production would the Mitchell River scheme promote?

Senator WEBSTER - The main rural enterprises on the river flats are concerned with vegetable production, dairying and cattle fattening, and the production of veal and prime lamb. Most of the landholders combine their holdings on the flats with larger areas on the higher country bordering the valley. The vegetable production consists mainly of French beans for the frozen foods trade, while the canners are interested in the area as the source of a variety of vegetables for baby foods. This indicates to me that there is room for expansion of production which may be in the national interest. lt has been stated that the Common-, wealth has made a conscious decision concerning the project that has been selected, which is only one of eight submitted by the Victorian Government All the projects submitted were important. Our excellent State Rivers and Water Supply Commission has looked into a variety of schemes. We are most anxious to take full advantage of the $50m that the Commonwealth has offered as assistance to the States. While I support the King River project with all the energy that I can muster, I put it to the Minister that it was demonstrated that great benefit could be derived from the Mitchell River dam and that in the national interest that project should perhaps have received prior consideration. The answer may be that the Victorian Government said: 'Whichever dam the Commonwealth selects, we will provide the finance to go ahead with the other as soon as possible*. However, I ask: Why was the King River dam chosen on the facts that have been made available to us?

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