Mr D. L. PAGE: My question without notice is directed to the Premier. Given the Premier's comments that salinity is the biggest environmental issue facing New South Wales, will he consider an increased allocation beyond the $13 million per annum announced in his salinity strategy, especially when the commitment from the private sector is so uncertain at this stage?
Mr CARR: As work on salinity advances the Government will consider increased funding. We spend $30 million a year on salinity and we have increased that with a $52 million program over four years. We will fund serious model projects that provide farmers and rural communities with an assessment of what works. A noticeable reaction to the Government's announcements in Wellington is the support of land-holders and farmers for what we are doing. Farmers were apprehensive; they wanted it to be made clear that they would not have the cost and difficulty of dealing with this problem dumped exclusively on them. They wanted a partnership with the community that shows that salinity is seen as a national and statewide problem.
Salinity is tied up with the productivity and competitiveness of Australia. City dwellers, as much as country communities, need to be committed to doing something about the substantial problem of land degradation on the Australian continent. I have been on farms and I have seen salt thrusting its way up through the soil. It affects different parts of the State differently. When I was in Condobolin on Saturday farmers argued to me that there was evidence that the water table was actually going down in that region. I cannot confirm that, but they made that argument to me.
The salinity problem seems to affect different parts of the State in different ways; it is more urgent in some areas than in other areas. However, it cannot be disputed that there is mounting evidence that unless we have strategies in place by the middle of this century the salinity problem will be deducting from the productivity of vast areas of Australia, because the Australian soil is very rich in salt which is being driven to the surface by the impact of the things we do. So it is a partnership; it is a commitment. If additional funding is necessary, and if it can be spent to gain an optimal result to benefit rural communities and to enhance farm productivity, obviously the Government, with the excellent start it has made, will give that favourable consideration.