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Wednesday, 9 November 1983
Page: 2491

Mr JACOBI —by leave-With due deference to my colleague opposite, the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly) ought to have studied the report in greater depth than he did. The 'Water 2000' study had the task of presenting a perspective on Australia's water resources to the end of the century and identifying those water-related issues to be considered in planning for national development. In my view, the major importance of this study is that it commissioned 18 consultants' reports which have compiled an enormous amount of information on many different aspects of water resource use in this country. The range of these studies is shown by the various consultants engaged, which include the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation, the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, the Bureau of Mineral Resources, Geology and Geophysics, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, various government departments, the Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, university bodies and private consulting engineers. I congratulate all those involved for a lengthy and detailed report. In spite of the work of the consultants the report observes:

A common conclusion emerging from virtually all the investigations undertaken for this study is the inadequacy of data quality and quantity, as well as the inadequacy of data analysis and interpretation. This applied equally to the assessment of water resources, water use, water quality and hydrological data for catchment and flood studies.

Increased effort on data collection and analysis is essential for a full understanding of Australia's water problems and the development of policies and plans for the future.

The report also comments on the need for research into aquatic ecosystems, research into desalination of ground and surface waters, comprehensive socio- economic and agronomic studies on water pricing and allocation issues and detailed research on salinity control. Clearly, the development of water policies which will serve this country well for the next two decades will require a much greater effort in research across a wide range of disciplines as well as improve data acquisition and dissemination. Precisely for this reason I introduced 2 1/2 years ago a Bill to set up an Institute of Freshwater Studies. The recommendations contained in the 'Water 2000' report are not likely to stir much controversy among public interest groups and authorities interested in water management issues. Most of the recommendations and conclusions in the report have been heard time after time and can largely be regarded as basic common sense. In relation to the Murray-Darling, for example, the report states:

A stream network and its catchment constitute a unified system; its use and management should be considered as a whole and options for the use of water and land resources should be determined in relation to the perceived present and future needs of the community in a manner that will maintain their long term capability.

Integrated land and water management embraces such issues as: Erosion of catchments and sedimentation of reservoirs and streams; land and water salinity; water pollution and water quality; water quantity and distribution; water- related health issues; protection of aquatic ecosystems; and floodplain management.

Further, the report states:

Assistance to the States for salinity control projects in the Murray Valley should preferably be an integral component of a comprehensive strategy for dealing with salinity problems on a valley-wide basis, including river regulation procedures and incentives to irrigators to improve irrigation practices and hence reduce the buildup of salinity.

The previous Government's schemes in no way applied to that problem. The problem with the report is that it does not address the constitutional limitations and the institutional barriers in the way of such important recommendations. Many of the problems in water resource management arise because of the fragmentation of water management both within and between the States. There is the additional limitation in that the Australian Government, the only government capable of protecting national rather than State interests, has less constitutional control over water resource development management than any other national government in the world. At a time when other national governments have been forced to take a greater involvement in water resource management issues, this presents a serious limitation for Australia and places responsible water management in jeopardy. This has been the case for the last 80 years.

There is simply no point in defining national water issues and recommending corrective national action in sweeping terms if those actions can never be put into effect within the current water management regimes. Unfortunately, the ' Water 2000' report takes the existing regimes for granted. In spite of this failure, the comprehensive information compiled by the report and its consultants will ensure the importance of the report in water policy decisions. I accept that. The report also raises many important issues which, hopefully, will raise public debate on water issues. For example, advocates of smaller government and tax cuts should note an important observation in the report. Members of the National Party should also note it. It states:

. . . future increases in water supplies will be achieved in many instances only at a significant increase in cost. At the same time many authorities are faced with the need to undertake expensive rehabilitation of aging infrastructure, in an environment of decreasing government subsidisation and increased competition for public funds. The combined effects of these factors can be expected to lead to significant increases in the real cost of water in some cities and towns.

I thank the House for the opportunity to make these brief, pertinent and, I believe, constructive observations on a very voluminous, detailed and lengthy report.