House debates

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Resolutions of the Senate

Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission; Consideration of Senate Message

5:58 pm

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | Hansard source

I second the amendment. The most economically efficient way for the federal government to help the river is to return more water to the system through water buybacks. This is more efficient than infrastructure or efficiency spends. The water buyback cap was put in place by this government. It was not part of the original plan and it should be removed. Why shouldn't a small irrigator be able to sell to whomever they want? Over here, you talk about free market all the time. That is a free market. If they want to sell their water allocation to the government and benefit the river, why should we, in this place, stand in their way? Is it because the large irrigators are saying one thing to government? Well, I think so. It does not suit their interests but it does suit the river. This government, as I think we've seen, does not care about the little guys any more. It certainly doesn't care about the end of the river, the most vulnerable part of the river.

The minister wants us to stop talking about politics. That's fine; let's talk about science. That is something we don't talk about enough in here. The Australian Academy of Science rereleased a detailed report on the Menindee fish kills—the investigation of the causes of the fish kills in the Menindee region, New South Wales, over the summer of 2018-19. I tabled this report in the House in February this year. A key recommendation of the academy's expert panel was that the government should:

Return to the intent of the 2012 Murray-Darling Basin Plan to avoid increasing risks of more fish kills and other environmental problems for the Darling River.

Now, the minister and his government cannot cherrypick which parts of science they want to follow. You need to follow the science as it is, and this was the expert panel's position:

Repeal the cap on 1500 GL on water buybacks … from willing irrigators to recover water at the least cost to taxpayers, and fund additional infrastructure, constraint and supply projects, only where independent reviews find with high confidence that they provide required hydrological, ecological, cultural and economic benefits.

The Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission provides yet more evidence that repealing the water buybacks is an urgent and necessary step. Recommendation 8 from the royal commission says:

Future water recovery for the environment, including the 450 GL, should be purchased through buyback. This requires repeal of the 1500 GL cap on buybacks in sec 85C of the Water Act.

I remind the minister: the cap was not there in the original plan in 2012; it was part of the then Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources', the member for New England's, thought bubbles. It was not there in the original plan. So let's be very clear as to what was in the original plan and then what was distorted by this government.

The coalition are governing the Murray just like they govern their parties—for short-term, vested political interest, and not for the long-term benefit of this country as a whole. So I conclude with a question that I will leave hanging in the air: when will this government govern for the long-term benefit of all communities that rely on the Murray—not just the ones in their National Party seats, not just the ones in the eastern states, but actually the whole river and the most vulnerable part of the river? I call on every South Australian MP in this place—and particularly the member for Barker, who has a large section of the river, and the members for Sturt and Boothby—to vote for your state and what your state needs and not for your party. Every single South Australian will be watching how you vote today. Vote for the science, not for the politics.

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