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Monday, 22 October 1973
Page: 2453

Mr McVEIGH (Darling Downs) - The small percentage of national revenue allocated to the Department of the Environment and Conservation by this the first Labor Budget in 24 years indicates that these two important facets of modern living are treated just as nice sounding rhetoric and not as matters of fact. It is a rather remarkable occurrence to observe not the few items included in the estimates for the Department but the items and procedures that have not even been mentioned. The miserly allocations are needling the public, and they prove that the powers that control the Labor Party are not digesting the lessons of political life. Within the framework of these estimates some elucidation is necessary on subdivision 4.01 which relates to grants-in-aid for the Australian Conservation Foundation and subdivision 3.02 which deals with water resources research.

One often reads of the conservation problems in the coastal areas, and one often reads about Lake Peddar, but one does not observe even passing reference to the most insidious of all rape of natural resources - soil erosion. In Queensland 3.6 million acres of cultivatable land need low cost preventive treatment against soil erosion and 2.7 million acres need intensive treatment. Of the 3.6 million acres, 550,000 acres have been protected, while 800,000 acres of the 2.7 million acres have received at best partial treatment only. Early action will prevent the problem from becoming greater and more expensive to control in the long term. Any proposal to minimise erosion damage must contain measures which allow for an in-depth analysis before new land is ploughed for cultivation purposes. It is much better that land be not brought into cultivation if the contour and soil structure is such that it is likely to be eroded, with the resultant silt polluting the stream and creek beds, damaging roads and fences and generally aggravating the inconvenience which such erosion causes to all.

The Queensland Government deserves the praise of all conservationists for showing initiative in relation to soil erosion control. It has declared 5 shires - Allora, Clifton, Pittsworth, Cambooya and Jondaryan - areas of soil erosion hazard, and statutory controls will be placed on shire councils and land holders. There are sound agronomic and conservation arguments for these controls as it has been reliably estimated that 10 million tons of top soil are washed away each year. The State Government is offering a subsidy of $1,000 on a dollar for dollar basis for contour bank construction and/ or for the purchase of stubble mulch machinery. The Government realises that there is an urgent need to protect a large area of arable land and that progress in the introduction of protective measures has fallen well short of what is required. Unlike the big city oriented Labor Government, it realises that droughts and natural disasters, combined with rapidly rising costs and low prices, have not allowed farmers in recent years to spend capital on these various essential conservation measures. Additionally, following the budgetary decisions, there will now be a major deterrent to future progress in these measures because of the loss of tax deductibility concessions in the year of construction on all expenditure for this purpose. The cost of construction of this kind will now be spread over 10 years for tax concession purposes.

Mr Grassby - -I hesitate to interrupt the honourable member, but I rise on a point of order. I seek your guidance under the Standing Orders, Mr Deputy Chairman. Is it right and proper for the honourable member for Mackellar to listen to the debate giving the appearance of being asleep?

The DEPUTY (CHAIRMAN (Mr Armitage) - Order! That is not a point of order, that is a fact.

Mr McVEIGH - Following the statutory proposals as outlined by the Queensland Government, land holders involved will face compulsory expenditure which in many cases will strain their financial resources. The loss of the tax deductibility concession in the year of expenditure will be magnified and could result in the entire scheme of conservation being jeopardised. This is why I cast grave doubts on the Government's sincerity in the matter of conservation. Its actions indicate that it merely mouths meaningless platitudes in this regard. Where is the matching Commonwealth contribution in this very essential conservation proposal? I appeal to the Government to match the State subsidy and help the farmers to combat and control this menace. We are dealing with our soil, our national heritage - a heritage from which real wealth emanates. The Labor Government by its contemptuous dismissal of the depth of the problem, seeks to ignore it. Not only are personal problems encountered but also local authorities are involved.

The Bjelke-Petersen inspired Government of Queensland has granted help in the form of a 25 per cent subsidy for road cross-drainage and structures required to link up the water disposal systems, thus providing a continuity of water disposal from the top of the catchment area to the eventual main watercourse, be it creek or river. I have been informed that Queensland has applied also for a matching subsidy from the Commonwealth to alleviate the financial burden on local authorities which, like the landholders, will be compelled under statutory controls and authority to carry out certain work. I have also been informed that the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, under the direction of the Minister, is conducting an in-depth analysis of this proposal which will probably be finished next March. In this Estimates debate I ask the Minister whether there is any prospect of hurrying up this in-depth analysis because the people of Queensland and the people of the areas involved are concerned with the vein-like erosion of their top class arable land. They are concerned that this present Government does not appear to be appreciative of the great problems that are confronting the area and that the Government does not appear to be concerned with the great problems that face the local authorities. We ask for a matching Commonwealth subsidy to the State governments-grant of 25 per cent subsidy for these very essential purposes.

The other point I want to deal with in this debate is the amount of money allocated in the water resources division. In a country such as ours, which is one of the driest in the world, any legislation which deals with water, water harvesting or measuring water resources is of significant importance. We are somewhat upset to find that the amount of money that is allocated under this proposal is the same as that allocated last year and takes no account whatsover even of the insidious rate of inflation which is now running at 14 per cent per annum. It is true to say that the farmers of this country have developed techniques of farming which maximise the rather moderate rainfalls on an irregular basis which their lands receive in comparison to the regular rainfalls of other continents. We have the best machinery in the world and we have the best farmers. It is a fact of life that in Australia we have fast flowing rivers in the eastern areas which discharge almost unlimited quantities of water into the ocean, water which often causes severe flood damage to homes, properties and businesses, and even loss of life. Rains would sweep across into inland areas if they were not blocked by the Great Dividing Range and the resultant water could benefit the dry inland areas. As a result of being blocked by the ranges these waters are not being harnessed for the maximum benefit of the Australian economy.

As long ago as the 1930s we had such eminent engineers as the late Dr Bradfield of Sydney Harbour Bridge fame advocating along with many others the diversion of these fast flowing coastal rivers into the inland river system so that water which is almost wasted would become the life blood of the drier areas. I speak not only of the farming areas - it is certainly not an insular approach that I take - but also of the water needs of the inland cities. Water is a precious commodity not only for irrigation purposes but also for serving the needs of urban people. Indeed, I submit that one of the most important aspects of decentralisation and of creating growth centres is the availability of adequate water to service these needs. Water in effect in inland Australia is liquid gold. The points that we on this side want to make in regard to the allocation of what seems to us a rather minute sum of money are, firstly, the intention to accelerate the survey of the measurement of the discharge of rivers and the possibility of inland diversion and, secondly, the investigation and measurement of underground water resources in such areas as Brookstead Basin in the Darling Downs division.

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