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Wednesday, 9 November 1983
Page: 2490

Mr CONNOLLY —by leave-This report, 'Water 2000: A Perspective on Australia's water resources to the year 2000', considers one of the most pressing long term issues which this country and the Government must face. Water is indeed Australia's most vital resource and many fear that by the year 2050 our water resources will be fully committed. For this reason, I am surprised that the report is being tabled some six months after its completion. I hope that this delay does not demonstrate the Government's lack of concern about the issues raised and recommendations contained within it. It is important because the report was commissioned by the Fraser Government to ensure that it had in place proposals for consideration by the government before the present national water resources program ended at the end of this financial year. Because of the delay, the Hawke Government is unlikely to be in a position to introduce new projects, nor will it have time to develop a consolidated program with the State governments prior to the next Budget.

The report is an excellent document and a credit to those who compiled it. It is also a credit to the Minister at the time, Senator Sir John Carrick, who regarded this matter as being of such importance to Australia. Its tabling coincides with the ending of the worst drought this century. Consequently, it is a matter of major importance that the report's recommendations be treated with more urgency than we have seen to date so that the Parliament can consider the Government's recommendations in the context at least of the 1984-85 Budget, if not before. Timing in the development of water programs is obviously essential. The States must agree and funds and resources must be allocated.

The suggested priority areas in the report include: The completion of irrigation projects already under construction; improving the security of existing irrigation water supplies; new projects where users can pay; improved water quality in rural communities; action plan development to combat water borne diseases; the investigation of particular surface water characteristics; and the investigation of ground-water resources in arid regions; in addition, adequate and reliable supplies for country areas, cities and towns; comprehensive salinity management program; a comprehensive wetlands management program; a comprehensive flood plain management program; and increased community involvement.

I must draw the attention of the House to the report's comments in support of the work of the National Water Research Council which was established with the full co-operation of the States and on the recommendation of the Australian Water Resources Council, which is also commended in the report for its work. I make this observation because the Government is considering the establishment of an Institute of Freshwater Studies and has already established an interim council to examine the case for such an institute. It should be noted that the Australian Water Resources Council considered and recommended against the establishment of such an institution. The response of the present Government has been to suspend the work of the Council, and since its election there have been no initiatives except to scrap the Fraser Government's bicentennial water resources program which would have included improvements in existing water supplies; the Kalgoorlie pipeline; the Wimmera pipeline; a new filtration plant for South Australia; the construction of projects such as the Glenbawn Dam; and improvements relevant to the River Murray.

This report underpins the farsightedness of the Fraser Government in deciding to proceed with these projects and the shortsightedness and loss of valuable time caused by the Hawke Government's decision not to proceed with the program. It is imperative that the Government think ahead on subjects such as water management. Australia has probably lost up to four years because of the unnecessary delays caused by the Government's unwillingness to proceed with the Fraser Government's water programs beyond this year and its inexplicable failure in not publishing this excellent report at least six months ago when it would have been available to the Government.

Australia has much to contribute to the world in the area of water management. Consequently, we should be able to develop techniques for a co-ordinated approach to water resources management and water conservation. This is the approach the Opposition favours in relation to the River Murray and its catchment areas in particular. It is pleasing to see that the report supports this approach. Early consideration of the 59 recommendations contained within the report is required to ensure that next year's Budget includes appropriations which carry on from and take full advantage of the water resources program introduced by the Fraser Government.