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Wednesday, 11 April 1973
Page: 1349

Mr CORBETT (Maranoa) - Tonight 1 refer to a water conservation project in southern Queensland known at Pike's Creek dam which is part of the proposed larger Border Rivers scheme in southern Queensland. After a long period of negotiation which was undertaken by the Border Rivers Association, agreement was reached between the State Governments of New South Wales and Queensland and the Commonwealth Government to go on with the construction of this dam. The announcement was made prior to the last Parliament rising by the then Minister for National Development, Sir Reginald Swartz. But before the House rose, no legislation had been introduced to enable this agreement to be implemented. As 1 understand it, Queensland and New South Wales are prepared to go ahead with the building of this dam but the new Commonwealth Government has not, at this stage, agreed to proceed with it and has not in fact, up to now, honoured the undertaking given by the previous Government. I do not say that it will not go ahead with it but at the moment the project is being delayed.

I understand that an environmental study was being undertaken, that it was completed this week, and that the Commonwealth Government was awaiting the result of that study. 1 understand that this should be in the hands of the Commonwealth Government now. So, I hope, that to save any further delay the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) will agree to the proposal made by the Queensland Government for the letting of a contract - a proposal which has been accepted by the New South Wales Government and is simply waiting for the consent of the Federal Government.

This project is not something that has happened overnight. A lot of study has gone into this matter over a period of years. Indeed, the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) and I have been associated with it in the Federal sphere for a number of years. It is a project which will not be really costly to any government when regard is had to the value that it will have for that area. The dam will provide water for the area bordering the river which forms the border of New South Wales and Queensland. It is an area which has proved its worth in agricultural production. The water which will become available will benefit a large section of country which needs this provision against the unpredictable seasonal conditions which occur. The water will supply not merely a small area; the area represented by the honourable member for Darling (Mr Fitzpatrick) will also benefit.

This is a widespread project which is estimated to cost more than $14m. This cost will be divided between 3 governments, so it will be quite an economic proposition for each government concerned. The people in the area involved are gravely concerned about what seems to be the delay and the procrastination of the Federal Government in relation to this project. During the course of the election campaign I did not hear it said that the incoming Government would subject the project to scrutiny. I am sure that the candidates for the area were fully confident that the new Government would proceed with the project. The other candidates and I did not suggest for a moment that a change of government would jeopardise the project. We were sure that the new government would honour the undertaking of the previous Government. That has been time honoured practice down the years, unless an agreement is involved which cuts right across the policy of the incoming government. In very few cases would an undertaking not have been honoured.

Mr Mathews - What about the Burdekin dam, which was approved in 1949.

Mr CORBETT - 1 suppose the Commonwealth Government has done nothing about that project but I do not have details of it. If that is correct, it is the exception which proves the rule. I would like to have a look at the agreement to see whether that is right. It may be easy to point to one or two instances. Does the honourable member believe that the present Government should dishonour a promise made by the previous Government? Does he think that 2 wrongs make a right? If he does, I am sorry for the people he represents. What the honourable member for Casey has said quite possibly could have happened in the distant past, but I am referring to the need for a dam, construction of which has been approved. Two State governments have agreed on it. In that area the harnessing of water is at a very low stage of development compared with the work done in the southern part of the Commonwealth. If we have a truly national government it will take an interest in providing this dam, just as it did in the Dartmouth Dam or in any other similarly worthy water conservation project.

The Minister for Northern Development (Dr Patterson) is in the chamber. He is one Government supporter who has recognised the great value of water conservation in spite of criticisms. I hope that the Government will take some notice of the Ministers experience in this field. I am sure that he would be prepared to recommend proceeding with the project. It is causing a great deal of concern to the people in the area. I am not sure of the exact amount, but I understand that a great deal of money has already been spent on the project. A sum of almost Sim has been mentioned, but I could not guarantee that. I can say that very substantial progress has been made, to the stage where a contract for a tunnel to enable the project to proceed 5s ready. It is being held up by the Commonwealth Government. I urge the Government to give urgent consideration to the project.

Mr Hunt - Surely out of justice it will proceed.

Mr CORBETT - It is not only out of justice. lt is out of sound common sense and good business practice that the undertaking should be honoured. I am sure that the Government will accept that as a general principle. If the project cut across the principles of the Government I could understand its procrastination and hesitancy to get on with the job. I appeal to the Government not to delay the project any longer. Work has been done and years of study have been given to it. The previous Government gave it very close scrutiny. I took deputations to the Minister for National Development at that time. There was no rushing into it. It was carefully considered as a project in an area where the conservation of water is vitally important in the interests of decentralisation and the production of beef and coarse grains. Both those products are readily saleable and can produce a large amount of export income. If the project is proceeded with, the drier areas to the west will be able to provide fodder. Water will be provided to towns like Goondiwindi. Other advantages will accrue. A cost benefit analysis greatly favours construction of the dam. It is an area where water conservation is badly needed. I trust that the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) and the Government will give very earnest consideration to having the project approved so that the contract may proceed in order to provide work and benefits for the people of the area.

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