Wednesday, 30 May 2018
Water Amendment Bill 2018; Second Reading
I rise to speak on the Water Amendment Bill 2018, and I do so as a passionate South Australian. South Australians have held the River Murray and the river environment very close to our hearts, because we live in one of the driest states in one of the driest continents on this earth. We're at the bottom of the Murray, where the mouth is, so basically it is really important for us in South Australia, and we are passionate about environmental flows in the River Murray and the sustainability of it. As I said, we are totally dependent on the River Murray.
It's not that long ago that we faced one of the worst droughts that we've ever seen in this nation—and it won't be the last time either. We know, if you look at the history of Australia, that droughts occur and recur continually in this country. We in South Australia all remember the Lower Lakes, where you could basically walk across this wonderful water landscape that used to exist down at Gawler, Meningie and other places. It was devastating to go down there, to see the boats, the jetties et cetera just sitting on sand, and basically to be able to walk across from Gawler to Hindmarsh Island, a place that normally has ferries going to it, boats and all sorts of water activity. You may say that we're talking about water activities, sports et cetera, but the reality is that, if you have a good flow, you know that the river is environmentally sustainable. You know that things are working upstream. It's not just us down at the bottom end that worry about the river. We need an environmentally sustainable river that can go on to do the things that it's done for us for 200 years, for our growers and other people that make a living off the river. But we have to do it in a sustainable way.
We've been arguing for many years, as we heard the member for Parkes talk about earlier—since Federation—about getting a system in place that will ensure that we get those environmental flows and we get the sustainability of the environment, and at the same time looking after communities that are dependent on the river from up top right down to the bottom. To do that, you need a national plan. To do that, you need to be on the same page with every single state and with the users of the river—the growers, the irrigators, the environmentalists and the whole lot. For a hundred years, we haven't been able to find that balance. Since Federation, the River Murray has been the focus of a lot of debate. If you go through the Hansards in this House, you will see debates that date back to Federation. That shows that it is a concern not just for South Australians but for all of Australia, because without an environmentally sustainable river we'd never be able to sustain the irrigators and the growers, the people who make the food that feeds us. So it is very important.
That's why we had the agreement in 2012—and we heard the member for Watson talk about it—where we resolved a hundred years of conflict, a hundred years of states playing off on other states with their own interests. When Labor put the plan in place, it was to deliver a healthy river, a sustainable river, a river that would sustain us for many years and sustain the environment for many years, which is so important. We on this side of the House delivered a plan for the recovery of 2,750 gigalitres for the environment and an additional 450 gigalitres of water for the environment from on-farm infrastructure. The plan includes a mechanism to allow that 450 gigalitres of water to be added, as well as a reduction of up to 650 gigalitres if the health of the environment isn't jeopardised. So you'd have to make sure that the health of the environment isn't jeopardised before that happens. And you need to test the plan, that it's got environmental targets that need to be delivered. You don't just pull that water out; you test the plan as well. So the 450 gigalitres came with a funding package of $1.77 billion that Labor delivered in 2012. That was part of the plan and the agreement. The funding is for on-farm water projects that provide the Commonwealth with the water and the money to remove constraints in the basin to allow the water to get to where it's required.
What we saw was the former Deputy Prime Minister put that 450 gigalitres of water for the environment in doubt, and that was a big thing for South Australians. We heard a lot of debates around that area at the time, because that was part of the agreement. That was part of the handshake agreement that had been put in place through all the negotiations that we heard the member for Watson talk about earlier. For South Australia, taking out that 450 gigalitres was a big issue. I'll go through that again: because we're at the bottom of that river, we're at the bottom of the river system, it is so important to ensure that we had those environmental flows, that we were able to do the things that we needed to do to get that sustainable river.
The package of measures agreed with the government overcomes that problem by locking in that 450 gigalitres, and it's locked in again. What we had was that it was originally locked in, then it was taken out, and now we've gone back to that through the negotiations. But, through this, we've lost another five years while we've tried to get to a better place. We made it clear in our negotiations with the government that we sought the following: assurances around the government's commit to deliver that extra 450 gigalitres of environmental water, those efficiency measures; assurances that the concerns regarding the quality of projects to deliver the 605 gigalitres of environmental equivalent outcomes should be resolved; and the need for taxpayer-funded environmental water to be used for environmental purposes.
We also had a comprehensive response to allegations of corruption. We all saw the Four Corners program not that long ago about allegations of water theft in the northern basin. When you're using taxpayers' money to put all these things into place to ensure that the environmental sustainability of the river takes place for the benefit of all Australians, for the benefit of everyone who is doing the right thing, then to see this was very sad. After all the work and the negotiations that had taken place, to see these allegations of corruption and water theft was one of the low points in our history. We had so many committed people on both sides of this House working to have a sustainable plan, as well as people involved in environmental groups, growers and irrigators, so to then see this happen was very sad. One of the other things was Indigenous consultation and engagement in water planning and governance.
If the outcomes aren't delivered then the plan itself says this will be resolved to deliver for a better environment. The plan is designed to deliver a healthy river. That's what we're all aiming for. A healthy river ensures that we are able to continue to grow our food products, continue to do what we do along the river that sustains us as a nation. That is No. 1. Without a healthy river, all that will finish and we'll have nothing to benefit—not our industries, not our food producers. Absolutely nothing, which will be devastating for the environment.
We've heard representations from all sides. I've heard some really good debates here today, including by the member for Parkes and the member for Watson, with some similar arguments happening on both sides. We know that some irrigators want the plan to go forward to access the funding for infrastructure projects under the programs to help deliver that 450 gigalitres of water. Other irrigators want to see the 605 gigalitres of projects to happen. And then you have others who don't want the plan at all. The debate took place across the extremities of all sides, and we saw it while this debate was going on. Some just want the 605 gigalitres for projects and not the 450 gigalitres for projects, so it's very complex, depending on what your interests are. But what we need, as I said, is a national plan that looks after the interests of the river so that we can continue in the best possible form and the best way to keep on using it for our sustainability. The Murray is just so important to the health of this country and to the nation's food security.
The deal that we have today will help to reverse some of the damage that has been caused, but we need measures in place so that when the next person comes along and wants to cause a bit of a ruckus or damage to this particular plan, and decides to destroy the deal, they are not able to do so. That is so important, because this plan will sustain us for the next 100 years. I suppose that my job as the member for the South Australian seat of Hindmarsh is to make sure that the horrendous impacts from the droughts that we saw affecting South Australia and most of the nation back in the late 1990s and 2000s are never experienced again—to be able to put measures in place that will ensure that we have the water required for our sustainability.
What I mean by that is that we need to be prepared for the next drought, because there will be a drought. There is no doubt that there'll be another drought, and we need this plan to help with that—to ensure that we are insured against the next drought that's going to hit Australia, whenever that might be. This is in addition to better environmental flows, which this plan will help with. Again, I want to thank the former Labor government and the member for Watson for that.
Also, South Australia, especially, has put measures in place for the next drought. We have a desalination plant. It gets a lot of criticism from people, but the reality is that when the next drought hits that desalination plant will be able to produce enough water for the entire metropolitan city of Adelaide—that is 1.1 million people. That will be water that won't be taken out of our flows and out of the River Murray. That is really important, even though we hear a lot of criticism about it. Measures like that may cost a bit, but they absolutely ensure that we do all that we can before the next drought decides to hit, whenever that may be, and provide water security.
It's only a matter of time, as I said before, when the next dramatic climate change event happens. We all know that climate change is real—I know there are others who don't believe in it—but droughts made by climate change are going to be prevalent, not just here but around the world. We need security: farmers need security and certainty, and our city planners need certainty as well. And, of course, our constituents—the people who we represent here—need the same thing.
So I welcome this legislation to the House. I look forward to working with this parliament and others to ensure a healthy, fairer and vibrant river system. Let's be remembered here as the generation that protected the River Murray, not the generation that sold the Murray to the highest bidder to the detriment of the entire ecosystem.