CESSNOCK ELECTORATE SEWERAGE SERVICES
(Cessnock) [5.03 p.m.]: I draw to the attention of the House, and in particular the Minister for Land and Water Conservation, problems caused by the lack of sewerage services to many of the outlying villages throughout the Cessnock electorate. The Cessnock electorate is characterised by two main townships surrounded by outlying villages that historically developed around poppet heads, the associated mining industry and social infrastructure. Many of the villages are totally reliant upon either aerated waste water treatment systems or septic tank evapotranspiration systems. The villages have continued to sustain a significant population increase at a rate of approximately 1.5 per cent per annum. More people mean more sewage, which has to be evaporated somewhere. Without the proper infrastructure of a sewerage system for fringe areas the problem will only be exacerbated.
Officers of the Cessnock City Council reported to my office only last month, as a result of investigations into complaints from residents regarding septic system overflow or malfunction, that only 10 per cent of system breakdown was due to inappropriate installation or system failure. Therefore 90 per cent of the complaints are the result of something beyond the control of the householder. Investigations revealed that the real issue was saturated soil due to recent rains. The effectiveness of the system was compromised by the reduction of transpiration and evaporation, and the growth of vegetation. Recent periods of heavy rain have caused ponding of nutrient-laden effluent throughout the village of Kitchener, in particular, that has resulted in algae growth and odour problems for many residents.
Only a fortnight ago one of the residents came into my office complaining about a large pool of green algae growth under her home. She was concerned that the children were playing in it. Residents are concerned about the impact not only on them of large amounts of nutrients finding their way into the local watercourses but also the damage it will cause to the overall bushland environment. It is obvious to me and my concerned constituents that the possible health and environment problems created by untreated waste water overflowing populated areas and the ineffective system of waste water sewerage disposal in communities undergoing steady growth are not acceptable. I ask the Minister for Land and Water Conservation to ensure that in the next budget period funds be made available to the Cessnock electorate to develop a feasibility study identifying the scope of works required to provide sewerage services to the villages of Ellalong,
Mulbring and North Rothbury, and to continue work in the Kitchener area.
I ask the Minister to ensure that funds be provided through the fringe areas sewerage scheme to complete the identified works in accordance with the guidelines set out by the Hunter District Water Board. The village communities have existed since the early 1900s, when no services were provided. Town water is now available. However, sewage is disposed of by on-site systems. Research shows that allotment sizes provided in the old subdivisions are inadequate for long-term disposal of sewage on site. As development within the villages continues, the cumulative effect of sewage disposal via on-site systems continues. This problem needs urgent attention. The fringe areas sewerage scheme should be extended throughout country areas.
(Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture, and Minister for Land and Water Conservation) [5.08 p.m.]: I thank the honourable member for Cessnock for his representations on behalf of the small villages within his electorate. I assure him that I will meet with him and discuss the priorities of local councils in his region as to applications for assistance from the State Government for small town sewerage programs. In 1995 the Government spent $236 million on such schemes. In that period the Carr Government started 73 significant water and sewerage projects comprising new schemes and augmentations. Some 70 major works are in progress, some of which are in a number of towns within country New South Wales and Hunter sewerage. In this financial year the Government has provided $51.8 million, which equates to spending about $1 million a week on the water and sewerage schemes for country towns within the State.
In 1997 the Carr Government introduced a major initiative for smaller towns that would finally give them access to affordable sewerage schemes. Under this initiative smaller towns of fewer than 1,000 people with low-growth potential have been given access to additional government assistance of $168 million to sewer their communities. To date, expenditure on the small-town initiative by the Carr Government has been in the vicinity of $22 million. I thank the country Labor member for Cessnock for his strong representations on this issue. I will meet with him and consider the priority list prepared by local councils in an effort to obtain some of the money that has already been allocated by the State Government in the current budget to various towns and communities within his electorate. Various criteria must be met and processes undertaken, but I will give an undertaking to meet with him in the weeks ahead to look at the priorities.