Mr D. L. PAGE: My question is directed to the Minister for Land and Water Conservation. Does the Minister agree with the comments of his colleague, the Labor member for Bathurst, that the country town water and sewerage scheme "needs an extra $70 million or $80 million a year for environmental and public health reasons? If so, why has he agreed to spend just a miserly $15 million a year extra on the scheme, disadvantaging rural families?
Mr AMERY: What a great question! I agree with the honourable member for Bathurst about the need for increased funding for the country town water and sewerage scheme. That is why we are spending not $15 million a year but closer to $65 million.
Mr D. L. Page: Point of order: The Minister is misleading the House. We are talking about an extra $15 million. The honourable member for Bathurst is talking about an extra $70 million to $80 million.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is no point of order.
Mr AMERY: In the last budget the Treasurer gave the department about $52 million a year for the country town water and sewerage program. As I have said to many country communities, in effect we will be spending $1 million a week on the country town water and sewerage program. This is important to give a decent sewerage scheme, to upgrade our sewerage treatment plants and to improve the quality of water being discharged into our river systems. It is also important for the reuse of water being taken up by many in the farming community. Because of the pressure on the scheme brought about not only because of the large number of applications coming forward but also because many of the applications in the last year came from big towns and inland cities that are undertaking a massive upgrade of their water and sewerage systems. Coffs Harbour, Tamworth and Mittagong—just to name three—are making a big draw on the program.
As I said to the House before, the previous Minister, Mr Yeadon, added all the small towns with populations of fewer than 1,000 to the scheme, making the point that small towns should not be cut out of the scheme. So more towns have come into the scheme. As a result of representations by Country Labor—particularly the honourable member for Bathurst, who was mentioned in the question—this year the allocation of $52 million was increased by another $5 million. In addition, the Premier said in his mid-term report that he had allocated another $15 million. This basically means that the department's budget, give or take a couple of hundred thousand dollars either away, will be about $65 million for the next number of years. That will be sufficient for the department to meet the criteria. This is an ongoing program amounting to more than $800 million. We are committed to its completion. I am pleased that because of the good work by Country Labor the allocation in last year's budget and the forward estimates have been substantially increased by $15 million on top of the $1 million a week that had already been allocated to the program.
Mr D. L. PAGE: I ask a supplementary question. Given that there is a $65 million differential between what the honourable member for Bathurst is advocating and what the Minister is able to give, does the Minister now concede that the so-called Country Labor faction is an ineffective sham?
Mr AMERY: That is why the country vote is for Country Labor first and for daylight and the Liberal Party second—and the National Party is nowhere to be seen. The Leader of the National Party is responsible for his party's poll result crashing faster than the Australian dollar has ever crashed. His percentage rates are down 2 per cent or 3 per cent. In view of the figures that Country Labor is getting, he should stay out of the ballpark. His branch members are joining Country Labor branches every day, and the list is getting longer.