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Thursday, 31 August 1972
Page: 608

Senator MULVIHILL (New South Wales) - I join with Senator Davidson as a former member of the Senate Select Committee on Water Pollution . in developing an argument as to the motivation for the recommendations of the Committee. Senator Davidson rightly harkened back to the desirability of a national water commission or some such body'.' Unfortunately, the States as a whole are something like the Bourbons of old in . that they have never learned, anything and .they have never forgotten anything. ' 1 particularly have in mind the 'SolveX' -problem. Some wild allegations were made. about pollution and over the general . field' !of- pollution there seems to be an inability to get; a quick analysis for rebuttal -of Such assertions. In this instance it- Was proved that certain fears were groundless but some of the people concerned came- -back with a complaint that 'Solvex' may have been affecting the fishing. !'

I am not blaming any .Commonwealth authority but it was remarkable that the New South! Wales fishing ^authorities had no liaison with other departments. Weeks elapsed before an explanation ..was produced of the high , mortality rale, of fish, in the river in question. That was one weakness. As to the long term; assessment, we saw a film depicting what might . be called the 'millenium in sewage treatment'. The film showed a lake in California where sewage treatment works are located. That works in the next 3 to 5 years may truly be a pacesetter for similar- 'works in Australia. The lakeside plant and. the purity of the water there have proved' that modern science can be channelled to overcome some of these urban problems. . .

I do not disparage the people concerned but we were told that it would not matter how much additional money were dumped into a programme for the Australian Capital Territory, similar treatment would not be available here sooner than 3 to 5 years hence. The Department of Supply is spending money on space tracking programmes. I just wonder whether we could not speed up action to deal with urban problems such as water pollution. Assuming that full achievement were possible of the Committee's recommendation for the Australian Capital Territory, the problem of lack of co-ordination with the States would still arise, in this area I am reminded of the handling of starting price betting by New South Wales and Victoria. It was ignored or attempts were made to eradicate it but finally it had to be legalised. Today the Premiers of Victoria and New South Wales juggle their finances to provide money for the sewerage outfall into Bass Strait and the works at Malabar respectively when the principle of federal grants for modern sewerage plants should be adopted.

Senator Davidsonreferred to the specific recommendations in the report about interim emergency measures for the oil industry to combat water pollution and grants to the States to accelerate and modernise their sewerage outfall works. All that we were suggesting has become part and parcel of the legislation introduced in the United States in the term of President Johnson. One of my fears for Canberra is that it seems to me, from a layman's viewpoint, that the river system of the Australian Capita] Territory may have been used more as a scarifier to combat some of the water pollution. With the multiplicity of Commonwealth departments, I fear, that with the growth of the population in the Australian Capital Territory and expansion in the field of sewerage works action may be taken to rob Peter to pay Paul, as it were, thus negating the river system. Our recommendations would not be implemented in that way. Other lessons can be learnt from this. There is a certain amount of backbiting and blaming of the Australian Capital Territory by New South Wales State departments.

My attitude as a member of the Senate Select Committee on Water Pollution was the same as it is in respect of this proposal that all State Premiers, irrespective of their political party label, in the post-war years have been culpable in their failure to face up to situations. This was brought home to me when I criticised State governments of my own Party in the early postwar years for failing to deal with the situation caused by the tailings from the Captain's Flat and Lake George mining area which caused pollution of the Molongolo River. Despite the evidence that was given about this pollution, the New South Wales Department of Mines assured the Committee that H would never happen again, but we are still receiving reports of continuing pollution from that source. State governments never seem to learn. Perhaps this is because the compartmentalisation of their various departments creates a situation in which there is no effective co-ordination.

This brings us back to the theme which was developed by Senator Davidson in relation to the need for a national water commission. I know that State Ministers responsible for conservation have a series of get-togethers, but unfortunately positive decisions never seem to flow from those discussions. Although they speak of looking at all facets of pollution, time seems to drift on without anything being done. A classic illustration of this is to be found in the United States legislation of the 1950s - it read well, but it did not work. This is the message that we are trying to get across, that it is not sufficient to bring down a report and adopt it; we must act upon it.

It is quite obvious that there is a fragmentation even among Commonwealth departments. The Department under tha control of the Minister for the Environment, Aborigines and the Arts (Mr Howson) seems to be an organisation that other departments merely put up with. There seems to be little doubt about that. When we ask questions about certain facets of pollution the effective answer always seems to be that State Premiers are looking at the answer, that it is being dealt with by State Conservation Ministers, or perhaps that it is a matter for the Minister for Shipping and Transport or some other Minister. It never seems to be a matter to be dealt with by the Minister for the Environment.

I do not propose to belabour the situation unduly. I believe that the blueprint that the Committee has suggested for Canberra should be realised within a reasonable time. I say only that as a result of the Committee's work there will be a tremendous clamour from the States for assistance, particularly for metropolitan Melbourne and metropolitan Sydney. I know that the effects will spread to most other States. South Australia is singularly fortunate with some of its locations because it has certain inbuilt assets so far as sewage treatment is concerned. I cannot emphasise too much that until there is some effective co-ordinating body, much of what has been suggested by the Committee will remain a pious dream.

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