House debates

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Questions without Notice

Murray-Darling Basin

3:16 pm

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) Share this | Hansard source

Nevertire. I apologise; you are right. Mildura obviously is going to be one of the key places which I will be visiting as well. Similar to how it went with the member for Riverina, I do believe the goodwill of the member will lead to our having a constructive visit together. There are three things that I have been saying the whole way through this process that we need to get through water reform. We need to get healthy rivers—we absolutely need to have a healthy river system; we need to have strong communities; and we need to have strong food production. I have argued those three principles the whole way through, long before The Guide ever came out.

There was doubt as to whether or not under the Water Act we would be able to deliver those things, so I sought independent legal advice. In advance of that advice coming out, the minister with responsibility for the Water Act at the time—the member for Wentworth—had been saying that the act did allow you to optimise your environmental, economic and social consequences. That view was consistent with the view I had been putting about where we needed to get with a healthy river, with strong communities, with strong food production. The legal advice confirmed that the view that had been put publicly by the member for Wentworth was in fact reflected in the legislation and was in fact reflected in the international instruments that underpinned the legislation. But the Water Act says we need to get to the end of the process before we get final numbers. That does mean that there is a level of uncertainty for communities and we all wish that we could go through a process without having levels of uncertainty for communities on the way through.

The reality is that the uncertainty is only there to the extent that the consultation is real, and the consultation on these issues is absolutely real. Let us not forget: no-one is going to be able to walk away from this. Ultimately, the instruments that are signed need to be able to survive a vote in each house of the parliament. That is where this ends up. But no-one will be pleased with us if we allow further uncertainty and we fail in the basic task of reform of the Murray-Darling Basin.


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