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Address on the occasion of Rotary Club of Murrumburrah-Harden: Harden Country Club: 19 July 2004. \n

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19 JULY 2004

Mr Jim Ryan, President of Murrumburrah-Harden Rotary Club and Mrs Jan Ryan Ms Katrina Hodgkinson Member for Burrinjuck and her partner Jack Saeck Mr Chris Manchester, Mayor of Harden Shire and Mrs Cathy Manchester Mrs Chris Lobb, Rotary Assistant Governor and Mr Trevor Lobb Rotarians and their guests Ladies and Gentlemen

Thank you for your warm welcome and invitation to address the Rotary Club of Murrumburrah-Harden.

Our trip here today enabled us to see the effects of the worst drought in living memory.

The hardship it has brought to your region and indeed much of southern Australia is of great concern to me, as I have always felt a special affection for those who live on and work the land.

The recent closure of the Harden Abattoirs, due to a severe shortage of stock, and the subsequent loss of 70 jobs was a devastating blow to the district.

Marlena and I extend our sympathy and best wishes to those families struggling with economic hardship and enduring the constant stress the drought has brought.

However I note that the council and the government are working together to ensure effected workers receive adequate help and retraining.

The drought once again reminds us that water - not just here, but Australia wide - is our most valuable resource - a resource that demands our immediate attention.

Its ownership, distribution and relative scarcity in Australia places constraints on our growth while our increasing demand for water is already placing huge demands on existing resources.

Those living in our capital cities are already familiar with water restrictions.

While those on the land should be concerned by the recent national audit of water resources which found that more than one quarter of our river systems are already over-allocated and most of these are in southern Australia.

CSIRO climate change predictions for drier winters and wetter summers also raise the prospect that predicted higher

temperatures will increase evaporation with potentially adverse impacts on water resources.

Agriculture consumes up to 80 per cent of all water extracted in Australia and, of this, most is used in irrigation, particularly along the Murray/Darling rivers.

Our existing water usage patterns have major implications for our environment through the impact of salinity, drying wetlands and deteriorating water quality.

We need to be creative and more efficient in the way we use water.

Based on continued economic growth of 3 per cent, it is estimated consumption will increase to 33,000 GL by 2021, with irrigated agriculture accounting for most of this increase.

This increase is considered unsustainable without major redistribution of water consumption away from already over-allocated southern irrigation districts.

However, the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering’s study Water and the Australian Economy suggests that appropriate policy decisions (water pricing and tradeable water rights) could reduce consumption to 27,400 GL in 2021 without compromising economic growth.

We have heard of suggestions such as turning the coastal rivers inland, piping irrigation channels, reducing water allocations from the Murray River, desalination, pumping water from the Kimberley to Perth and relocating irrigated agricultural production from the south to the plentiful water resources of northern Australia.

Although these various schemes agree on some (but not all) key assumptions and outcomes, they propose fundamentally different approaches.

Because water is such a precious commodity, I would suggest it should be treated as the vital national resource requiring continuing and bipartisan attention.

Australians must aim for a nationally agreed strategic framework to ensure we optimize the contribution of our total water resource asset to the future sustainable prosperity of Australia.

Linked with the water issue is our nation’s susceptibility to salinity.

Our lack of early understanding of the effects northern hemisphere farming techniques on Australia’s ancient landscape has landed us in a somewhat invidious position.

The National Land and Water Audit revealed some alarming conclusions about salinity:

● About 5.7 million hectares are within regions mapped to be at risk or already affected by dryland salinity. In

50 years it is estimated that this could increase to over 17 million hectares unless action is carried out to change the dynamics; ● 20,000km of major roads and 1600km of railways are already at risk and this could increase to 52,000km and

3600km respectively by 2050; and ● Many towns are already affected and, by 2050, more than 200 could be salt affected.

Such figures have profound economic, social and ecological implications that are being felt - and will be felt - by many communities across this country.

We face significant challenges in repairing past damage to land and water resources that will take decades to rectify.

For example, based on current research, land degradation through salinisation, erosion, waterlogging, acidification, soil structure decline, poor water quality and nutrient loss is costing this country around $2 billion per year - and if nothing is done, that figure could rise to more than $6 billion a year.

But something is being done.

We have had the recent COAG agreements on a National Water Initiative which aims to develop a nationally-compatible, market, regulatory and planning based system to manage surface and groundwater resources for rural and urban use.

Attaining this objective will take some time, and the National Water Initiative will be implemented in a number of stages, with the final reforms being put in place by the end of 2014.

Initially it will provide $500 million to find ways to get more water into the Murray Darling Basin by purchasing water rights from farmers.

Earlier this month (July 5) Australia's fight against salinity received a boost thanks to the release of a world-first 'toolkit', Managing Dryland Salinity in Australia.

Comprising three manuals and an interactive CD-ROM, it is the result of 10 years extensive research by the National Dryland Salinity Program, and is the most comprehensive package of dryland salinity information ever compiled.

It brings together the key findings of 50 major National Dryland Salinity Program research projects, worth more than $50 million in an easy to understand format that can be applied to individual circumstances: A good start.

The Australian Government has announced funding of $159.5 million for the National Landcare Program (NLP) from 2004 to 2008 to encourage on ground action that will result in integrated and sustainable natural resource management at the farm, catchment and regional level.

I note also that the Australian, State and Territory Governments have all agreed to a $1.4 billion National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality to support communities and land managers in priority regions across Australia to manage salinity and improve water quality through comprehensive natural resource management plans and investment strategies.

In essence, achieving national objectives through regional solutions to regional problems.

The CSIRO is also actively involved in improving soil conditions through large, formalised partnerships with organisations and programs and a strong informal network with state agencies and universities.

Combined with pragmatic measures such as alley farming, limited till sowing, contour ploughing and damming, drip irrigation, tree planting and proper property management, we can get on top of our water and salinity problems.

Turning to other matters, as Australians we have much of which to be proud. We live in a land blessed with space and resources - with creative and hard-working people.

Our institutions are strong - with checks and balances in place to keep them that way.

We're genuinely multicultured - and much the wiser and better country for it.

We believe in enterprise - in "having a go" and we believe in justice for all - meaning "a fair go".

Of course, we face challenges - an ageing population, global terrorism, environmental issues, and Aboriginal education and health, for example.

But there isn't a challenge facing this country that can't be overcome with our usual understanding and ingenuity.

In short, we have the chance to develop as a nation of excellence - to become the global example.

To be the best in everything we undertake - whether we're homemakers, artisans, engineers or farmers.

And to be a nation respected and admired for what we believe in and what we are.

An important part of achieving our potential relates to how we continue to engage the three billion people in what I call the India-China "arc" to our north.

Our future success and long-term security will obviously involve the countries of that region, and therefore, greatly depend on building mutual respect for each other's cultures, institutions and values.

Social cohesion - quite apart from its intrinsic value to us - is critical to our image worldwide. And cohesion starts with stable and caring families.

Families where parents - no matter what the individual circumstances - put the interests and well-being of their children first.

Families that nurture and inspire children and youth to do their very best.

I would like to see Australians as a community working harder at ways to prevent marriage and relationship breakdown, where as a result almost one million children are now living with a single parent, mostly women.

Let's encourage and help our youth to achieve their full potential - because their involvement will be critical in our becoming a nation of excellence.

It would be good to see more children in the nine to sixteen age group belonging to some sort of youth club; cadets, scouts, surf life saving, sporting and so on.

The benefits in juvenile crime and drug useage reduction are great. Not to mention the improvement in youth self esteem.

Education is another area vital to our future. If children can't read properly by age six or seven, there's every chance they'll fail to achieve in later years. Extended families and mentors can help solve this problem.

Recent world events make clear that the security environment is now more complex and unpredictable.

From September 11 to the bombings in Bali - from Iraq to the recent Solomon Islands and Bouganville experience - we've successfully met many new strategic challenges.

Continuing international co-operation - particularly in intelligence gathering - will remain essential in dealing with the immediate problem of global terrorism.

But, long-term, the best defence is to strive to make the world - and our region in particular - a better place in which to live.

Institution-building, health and education initiatives, and in particular, the practise of cultural and religious tolerance are the key requirements.

But in the end, our ability to become a nation of excellence will depend on the values, attitudes and actions of individual Australians.

Rotary is a beacon of excellence in each of these areas. For 100 years Rotary has promoted service above self and I commend the Murrumburrah-Harden Club for your outstanding effort in promoting Rotary's ideals throughout your community.

Since 1948 the Rotary Club of Murrumburrah-Harden has united skilled, committed community leaders - people who provide humanitarian service, encourage high ethical standards, and build peace and goodwill.

Indeed your Mayor Chris Manchester was only recently made a Paul Harris Fellow. I have the honour of being one too.

Your club has carried out much useful work locally including a continuing involvement in the development of youth in the district and the provision of medical facilities.

Rotary established the first ambulance in Harden and the initial volunteer operators were Rotarians.

It has also provided a considerable amount of equipment to the local hospital and supported the local nursing home.

Assistance to youth in the area has also been an important activity. A number of local children have been sponsored on Youth Exchange overseas visits and the Club has hosted youth from other countries.

Rotary also established a "Learn to Drive" program at the high school and has been actively involved in supporting agricultural studies at the high school.

This training has achieved a high level of success including the breeding of livestock and showing of livestock at both local shows and the Sydney Royal Easter Show.

The club also sponsors students to introductory sessions at universities.

Other activities have included the planting of the tree lines on the eastern approach to the town, support for the Light Horse Memorial and improvements to the Mechanics Institute, tonight's dinner venue.

Projects planned for your Centennial Year include the construction of a sheltered area with seating near a children's playground area in Coddington Park in Murrumburrah and another sheltered area with seating in a vehicle pull-off area with vistas over the twin towns.

Globally, Rotarians are working selflessly in their communities - planning and carrying out a remarkable variety of humanitarian, educational, and cultural exchange programs.

Each year The Rotary Foundation provides some US$90 million for international scholarships, cultural exchanges, and humanitarian projects, large and small that improve the quality of life for millions of people.

For example, Rotary’s PolioPlus campaign aims to eradicate polio by the year 2005, Rotary’s 100th anniversary.

More than one billion children in developing nations have been immunised against polio through PolioPlus grants, an outstanding achievement by any measure.

Ladies and gentlemen.

I have covered a fairly broad canvas tonight, all on matters which I believe are important.

It has been a pleasure being with you this evening and I congratulate each of you on your consistently good work for the benefit of the local community.

"Service above self". You certainly practise your motto.

Thank you.