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Thursday, 21 November 1974
Page: 2701

Senator Davidson asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice:

(   1 ) Was the Prime Minister, in a speech made in Canberra on 22 October 1974 to the Murray Valley Development League, very critical of the River Murray Commission.

(2   ) Did the Prime Minister propose that the Commission be expanded, with Mast resort power to ensure its effectiveness'; if so, will the Commission be expanded.

(3)   Did the Prime Minister also express doubts that the States might not be interested in such a proposal because of a potential loss of power; if so, (a) does the Commonwealth intend to confer with the States concerned before proceeding with such a move, and (b) will the recommendations of the Senate Select Committee on Water Pollution relating to a national water authority be studied and taken into account.

Senator Murphy - The Prime Minister has provided the following information for answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1)   No. I was not very critical of the River Murray Commission.

I did say in my speech that the River Murray Commission should have the responsibility for control of water quality in the River Murray. Further, 1 believe that the River Murray Commission should have certain responsibilities in relation to all aspects of the use and management of the waters of the River Murray and its related lands.

I had expressed this view on previous occasions, notably on 30 March 1969, during a National Seminar on Water Development held in Coleambally. I said then: 'The River Murray Commission lacks the resources to do the job it should be carrying out. If we are to effectively develop the Murray basin, we need an authority which has the resources to carry out a positive program. The time has come to look seriously at the establishment of a Murray-Darling Authority, which would plan and carry out the development of the regional water resources, just as the Snowy Mountains Authority was able to harness the wasted waters of the Australian Alps. '

(2)   No. I did not propose that the Commission itself should be expanded with 'last resort power to ensure its effectiveness '.

I did say that, because the River runs through three States, an interstate agency such as an expanded River Murray Commission is clearly required.' I also said: 'the Australian Government would see such a body principally playing a coordinating role, much of its function being of an advisory or deliberative nature only. The organisation might need some strong 'last resort' powers to ensure its effectiveness. However, experience in the United States indicates that these are rarely used, if at all.'

Whether the Commission itself is expanded must bc u matter for decision by the Australian government and the three States which were signatories to the River Murray Waters Agreement in 1914.

(3)   Yes. I said: 'I am sure that one of the reasons for lack of interest in this broader approach to the use and management of the River Murray is a fear that some of the State powers may be forfeited to the Federal Government. While State Governments could lose some of their right to individual action, I emphasise that these rights would be vested in an interstate body acting in the best interests of all concerned. '

(a)   It is my custom to consult on such matters.

On 2 March 1973 I convened a meeting with the Premiers of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia to discuss the River Murray and the powers of the River Murray Commission.

It was probably the first time the four heads of government had met since the River Murray Waters Agreement was signed 60 years ago.

At last year's historic meeting we established a steering committee of ministers of the four governments to which a working party of officials would report.

In my speech on 22 October 1 974 I expressed my concern at the disappointing progress of that working party 18 months after it was set up. I said: 'If in March 1975- which will be two years after my meeting with the three Premiersprogress has been unsatisfactory, then 1 shall call for u further meeting with the Premiers in order to obtain agreement on an accelerated program for completion ofthe working party 's investigations. '

(b)   Details of any study being undertaken are subject to agreement by representatives of the Australian and State governments.

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