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Tuesday, 10 December 1974
Page: 3325

Senator CARRICK (New South Wales) - I suggest, subject to the approval of the Senate, that we take this Bill and the River Murray Waters Bill 1 974 as cognate measures.

Senator Wheeldon - The Government has no objection.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Lawrie)- There being no objection, that course will be followed.

Senator CARRICK - I propose to be brief in dealing with both Bills. The Opposition will support the Bills. The River Murray Waters Bill is a machinery measure which amends the River Murray Waters Act 1915-73. The Bill really sets out to provide a more satisfactory basis for employment of Commonwealth employees by the River Murray Commission. It brings the staff within the scope of the Officers' Rights Declaration Act 1928-73 and the Superannuation Act 1922-74. It permits the salaries of statutory officers to be determined under the Remunerations Act of 1973-74. Indeed, an identical Bill was introduced into the House of Representatives on 7 March this year but lapsed due to the double dissolution. The Opposition commends the Bill and gives it a speedy passage.

The second Bill, the States Grants (Water Resources Assessment) Bill, amends the States Grants (Water Resources Measurement) Act 1973. The basis of this Bill is the work done arising out of various recommendations by the Australian Water Resources Council. Among the many great reforms introduced in the period of the Menzies and subsequent Liberal-Country Party governments were those relating to the measurement of water resources and to the harnessing of water in Australia. In 1964 the Australian Water Resources Council made some important recommendations as a result of which the States and the Commonwealth accelerated their investigations into water supply in Australia based on 2 factors- the rate of flow, and the quantity and changes in quantity of water. This was a particularly successful venture. I should add that no element in Australia is more important than water. I think it is known to every honourable senator and to the public that Australia is the most arid continent on earth, that our average annual rainfall is 16 inches compared with the world average of 26 inches, and that if we tipped the whole of the run-off of all our rivers and water courses into one river the flow would not--

Senator Mulvihill - You will see that Senator Davidson and myself are nodding. Our report on water pollution vindicated all that you are saying.

Senator CARRICK - It is a tribute for Senator Mulvihill to acknowledge what I am saying. I have in front of me the report from the Senate Select Committee on Water Pollution. I, too, acknowledge the work done by that Committee and the recommendations it made. The report is of a quality of other reports of Senate committees. It is fair to say that the run-off of the whole of the water supply in Australia, tipped into one river, would not equal one-half the run-off of one of the great rivers- the Mississippi River, the Missouri River, the Nile River, or any of the great European rivers. Against that background, the one great trace element missing in Australia for the development of Australian agriculture is water.

Senator Davidson - Quantity and quality.

Senator CARRICK - Senator Davidsonproperly reminds me that we need water not only in quantity but also in quality. We know of the existence of water in various places, and we know that water is polluted in various ways. For example, one thinks immediately of the salination of the River Murray and also of brackish water, all of which are major challenges to us. Carrying on from the major reforms of LiberalCountry Party governments, there is now being brought to fruition a second step, that is, it is believed by the Commonwealth and the States that it is important to measure concurrently the quality of water. This Bill provides a certain amount of money for each State. It is on a dollar for dollar basis with limits. Under this Bill the total amount to be provided by the Commonwealth is $446,305 for surface water quality assessment and $361,600 for underground water quality assessment, making a total of $807,905. That does not include work carried out in the 2 Territories, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. That is a matter of appropriation.

Let me make what I regard as some quite important comments. Whilst this is a major step forward, nevertheless in Australia we should not let up in making a major assessment of the quantity and quality of our water supply. In the past 20 years the continent of Australia has undergone major drilling, largely for minerals, particularly in the centre of Australia and in other arid parts. The Bureau of Mineral Resources has an enormous amount of information relating to minerals. Perhaps lying in each of those files there is a great volume of information regarding the existence and the nature of the water tables. Mr Acting Deputy President, I remind you that there is ample evidence that running right up through the centre the water tables are at about 68 feet for most of the time. But in flood times, as now, the water tables rise to the surface. I would like to see- I make a strong plea- in this computer age when we have the ability to sort material by machinery process, the Government giving special attention to going through the records of the past 20 years of the drilling programs of the Bureau of Mineral Resources and of private mining explorers. This information could be put together so that we could see the picture of the water tables. We may find that in Australia, particularly in the centre and in northern and southern Australia where there are real problems of arid climate, there is a substantially larger amount of water than we know of. As I understand it the water table which runs under the centre of Australia has its origin in the snow mountains of New Guinea. So in the ordinary geology of this zone there is an underflow of water. If this is so, the tapping and use of the water is of enormous importance.

Senator Davidson - This could be especially valuable in decentralisation.

Senator CARRICK - Senator Davidsoninterjects that this would be especially valuable for decentralisation. I support that concept. The limiting factor in this country to all decentralisation is primarily water. We have no navigable rivers. We have a limitation on our rivers completely. Until we learn to desalt the sea at a rate for commercial, industrial and agricultural use then we cannot look to the sea in that regard. I am not referring to town supply because we can do that now. But this is not the time to enter into a major debate. I acknowledge that in a world in which we are in peril in this coming year of some 30 million people dying of starvation and disease it is imperative for Australia to look to the whole of its natural resources and to put them to work not just for the lucky 13 million people of Australia but to help to provide for and to feed those who are less privileged than we. I hope that the Government will take up the suggestion which I make to tabulate and co-ordinate the whole of the information which is known to us. With those thoughts, I commend the 2 Bills to the Senate.

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