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Tuesday, 28 August 1973
Page: 406

Mr FISHER (MALLEE, VICTORIA) - My question is directed to the Prime Minister. In view of the concern of all the people along the River Murray system in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia for an adequate supply of quality water, could the Prime Minister state his Government's position and attitude to the completion of the Dartmouth Dam in the light of conflicting statements in the weekend Press to the effect that the Prime Minister said there should be a delay in the project whereas the Minister for Immigration said that there should not be?

Mr WHITLAM (WERRIWA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Prime Minister) - Honourable gentlemen will remember that the Coombs task force raised the possibility of deferring the letting of any further contracts to build the Dartmouth Dam - not the cancellation. I do not have to repeat what it said. In considering the Coombs task force comments the Cabinet decided that the agreement of the governments of South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales should be sought to the deferment of the letting of any further contracts pending the outcome of the review of River Murray salinity control needs and measurements and the water requirements of the Albury-Wodonga growth centre with the aim of seeing whether by the use of presently unused storages in Blowering Dam construction of the main dam could be slowed. Last Wednesday I wrote to the 3 Premiers concerned seeking a meeting on this matter. No replies have yet been received from any of the Premiers.

The Budget provides an allocation for the Dartmouth Dam. There have, however, been two particular features since the original plans and original timetable were drawn up for the Dartmouth Dam. The first is that the Blowering Dam will hold water which will not be required for the original purposes envisaged when it was undertaken. The other reason is that pursuant to the initiative of the Premier of South Australia and myself, and the meeting held between us and the Premiers of New South Wales and Victoria on 2 March last - the first time that heads of the 4 governments concerned had met for nearly 60 years to consider the River Murray waters - it was decided that there should be a survey of the salinity situation in the Valley. One of the reasons for embarking upon the Dartmouth project was to see that the salinity in the Murray was reduced. It may be that the problem is now so grave that it cannot wait for the Dartmouth Dam to be built. As the Minister for the Environment and Conservation told the House last Thursday the report of the committee inquiring into the salinity problems of the Murray will be received within the next few days and is due to be considered by the Ministers of the 4 governments concerned.

In view of these 2 facts - first, that other measures may need to be taken to counter salinity in the Murray, and secondly, that for some years ahead there is surplus water in the Blowering Dam - there is a case for the 4 governments concerned to defer or to reduce the rate of expenditure in the next couple of years. But there can be no question that the present Government is determined to see that there is water in greater quantity and better quality for Adelaide than is possible under any existing arrangements. The other city where the same provision is being made is Townsville. There can be no question that more and better water will be provided for all the people who use the waters of the Murray River. The question is, however, how best the 4 governments concerned can spend their money. There is a case, we believe, for saying that to spend money at the proposed rate on the Dartmouth Dam will not have the best effects in the next few years. I shall be happy to discuss this with the 3 Premiers concerned. I await their replies.

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