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Wednesday, 26 September 1973
Page: 1547

Mr CONNOR (Cunningham) (Minister for Minerals and Energy) - The honourable member for Wannon (Mr Malcolm Fraser) as usual has a proclivity for backing losers. He might with elementary courtesy have asked me what the facts were. He did not choose to do so for the very obvious reason, of course, that he thought he could walk in and swing a punch with devastating effect. The facts of this case are simple - they are so simple that even the honourable member for Wannon could understand them. I repeat, the facts are very simple indeed. I have never at any time been approached by any representative of the trade unions in this matter.

Mr Malcolm Fraser - Can you prove it?

Mr CONNOR - I have never been approached. Last Saturday, at a quarter past 12-

Mr Malcolm Fraser - You have secret Cabinet documents -

Mr CONNOR - I listened to the honourable member for Wannon in courtesy, but I do not think that he is capable of it. At a quarter past 12, I was telephoned by one of the engineers from the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority and told that the Blowering Dam was overflowing. I was told the facts of the case and asked what should be done. I told him that I thought he should point out the position to the trade unions concerned. He did so.

I came to Canberra on Sunday afternoon especially to meet the officers of the Authority and to establish what was the position. The position was reported to me and these are the facts: A special meeting of the Snowy Mountains Council was convened on Monday of last week to discuss the problem of the overflow from the Blowering Dam. The meeting was held this morning at which it was decided that they would go into the whole question of the future of the overflow.

Mr Malcolm Fraser - What has this to do with the power strike?

Mr CONNOR - If you listen, you will learn. If you do not want to listen, get outside. I repeat that a special meeting was held this morning which considered the question of the control of water in the lower Tumut River below the Blowering Reservoir. As I said, it was convened a week ago because the responsible officers then foresaw the situation that would arise. That situation has arisen because of the filling of the Blowering Dam by the consistently high energy demands from the Electricity Commission of New South Wales over the past several months.

The position had been reached where water was spilling from the reservoir at the rate of 1,800 cubic feet per second and flow limitations leading to flooding in the lower Tumut River were becoming a serious restraint on the flexibility of the scheme and its capacity to meet further energy demands from New South Wales. Since Saturday, approximately 11,800 acre feet of water have been spilled from Blowering Dam since it commenced to overflow. Responsible management of water at Blowering Dam has required the curtailment of energy production from the upper and lower generating stations of the Tumut power system. At an overflow rate of 3,200 cubic feet per second, flooding would occur at the poplar plantation section of the lower Tumut River. At a discharge of 3,700 cubic feet per second, the second flood prone area would commence to be inundated. These discharge rates will be reached this week if appropriate action is not taken.

At its meeting today, the Snowy Mountains Council decided to set down operation guidelines which will have the effect of curtailing power production from the Tumut stations so as to prevent flooding in the Tumut River below the Blowering Dam, except in situations where natural inflows by rainfall in the Blowering valley cannot be fully controlled by the water storages of the system. The excessive demands on electricity generation are such that in the 4i months of the planning year, which commenced last May, the New South Wales Electricity Commission has used 70 per cent of its total yearly allocation of water for purposes of power generation.

Water of course cannot run uphill, as even the honourable member for Wannon would know. At the present time Lake Eucumbene is 50 per cent empty. It has a capacity of 7 times the water content of Sydney Harbour. Blowering Dam is the main reservoir at the lowest level of the Snowy Mountains Scheme, where generative water has been trapped from the Tumut power stations for subsequent release for irrigation. As I said earlier, it is overflowing at the rate of 1,800 cubic feet per second at a time when it should reasonably still be capable of receiving water from continued power generation.

For the replenishment of the depleted resources of Lake Eucumbene, we will this year lack the normal run-off from the melted snow because of the phenomenally low snowfall. It is to be hoped that unusually high rainfall will curtail the deficiency and safeguard our food needs. If the honourable member for Wannon listens he will learn. The Snowy Mountains Council has clearly outlined the flooding dangers of the lower reaches of the Tumut River. The main irrigation season is from December to May. The rate of wastage with the Blowering Dam overflow is equal to 40 million gallons per hour and 972 million gallons per day. Each day water is spilling uselessly over its walls-

Mr Fairbairn - The Coombs task force said you do not need the water.

Mr CONNOR - Oh, dry up. Each day, I repeat, water is spilling uselessly over its walls at a rate which would fully irrigate 44,000 acres of land. The choice that faces the Snowy Mountains Council has been between maintaining adequate water supplies for Australia's main food bowl in the Mumimbidgee Irrigation area and generation of power beyond the excess safe capacity of the Snowy Mountains scheme, with the added embarrassment of Tumut valley flooding.

In his political bias, the honourable member for Wannon, who with his rural interests should have been one of the chief advocates of prudent curtailment of power generation, has rushed in, to his own embarrassment. It is ironical indeed that on the very day when the Government is moving to legislate for a referendum to curb prices the honourable member for Wannon, this laird of broad acres, wants to deny the irrigation area its essential needs and create still higher prices due to inadequate production with water limitations. No member of this House ever rushed so eagerly and so stupidly into an ambush.


Mr CONNOR - I move:

That the question be now put

Mr Malcolm Fraser - I raise a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Not one of the 4 charges made against the Minister has been answered. He has treated this Parliament capriciously and with contempt as is the custom of his Prime Minister.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Martin)Order!The point of order is without foundation.

Mr Malcolm Fraser - He is now gagging this debate. He has moved that the question be put. He is showing utter contempt for this Parliament. He has not answered any of the charges. He has not answered the charge that he gave a directive to the Snowy Mountains Council last Sunday.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Martin)Order!That is not a point of order; it is a point of debate.

Motion (by Mr Daly) put:

That the business of the day be called on.

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