House debates

Tuesday, 17 October 2023


Water Amendment (Restoring Our Rivers) Bill 2023; Second Reading

5:31 pm

Photo of Fiona PhillipsFiona Phillips (Gilmore, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to lend my support to the Water Amendment (Restoring Our Rivers) Bill 2023. As someone that has grown up on a dairy farm, I know how important water is for our farmers, our communities and of course our environment. My electorate is home to many great rivers, like the Shoalhaven River, the Clyde River, the Moruya River and many more, and I know we really appreciate our rivers. They sustain our towns, and businesses rely on them. We utilise them for recreation and tourism as well.

Around the Batemans Bay, Moruya and Tuross Head region, you will find the best oysters, which of course rely on clean, clear water. At Greenwell Point you will also find the best oysters and champion oyster shuckers. These oysters get sold locally, domestically and sometimes internationally as well. What do these oyster farmers want? They want clean good-quality water. There's a common theme there—rivers, rivers, rivers. Everyone loves our rivers. River health is of great importance—and not a truer word could be said—and so we have Shoalhaven Riverwatch.

The late Charlie Weir was the founder of Shoalhaven Riverwatch. Charlie had a deep love of the Shoalhaven River, having grown up at Riversdale and fished the river throughout his working life. During this time he witnessed the deterioration of the river, so in his retirement he worked tirelessly to restore the river to good health. Charlie was a founder of Shoalhaven Riverwatch in the early 1980s and was a passionate advocate for the next 40 years. Although I was only about 10 at the time, I am told that Charlie was a thorn in the side of many politicians and bureaucrats, fighting numerous battles to protect the river. Some of the things he championed were pollution of the river through industrial discharge into the river, an issue Riverwatch took to the Land and Environment Court in 1992; erosion caused by bad agricultural practices, such as allowing cattle to graze the riverbanks; riverbank erosion caused by wake boats; and re-establishing mangroves along the river, which are the nursery for fish.

Charlie, together with Riverwatch, worked with people and groups to plant trees, planting in excess of 100,000 mangroves and 25,000 Casuarina trees, most of which were propagated in his backyard. Charlie was named the 2003 winner of the New South Wales individual land carer of the year, the 2004 runner-up national individual land carer of the year and more. I'm pleased to say that Charlie's legacy lives on through the Shoalhaven Riverwatch team. Their goal is to improve the health of the Shoalhaven River by working in partnership with government and the community—and that they do. They have many projects, including working bees to clean up the river, bank restoration projects as well as support for signage and small infrastructure such as fishing platforms. They are a very social group, with a barbecue after their working bees.

I tell this story because our rivers are the lifeblood of our communities—healthy river, healthy town. That's why I'm happy to support this bill, which I know is a welcome relief to constituents who have raised this issue with me. I'm really proud that our government recently announced that we had reached an agreement with basin governments to deliver the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in full, including 450 gigalitres of water for the environment. This legislation will rescue the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, and we know that, just like for my communities, this legislation is really important for basin communities and for every Australian who cares about the environment.

What this legislation will do is give basin governments more time to deliver the remaining water based on expert advice. This includes the recovery of 450 gigalitres of water for the environment by 31 December 2027 and the delivery of water infrastructure projects by 31 December 2026. There will be more options to deliver the remaining water, including water infrastructure projects and voluntary water buybacks. There will be more funding to deliver the remaining water and to support communities where voluntary water buybacks have flow-on impacts. There will be more accountability from Murray-Darling Basin governments to deliver the remaining water on time. Federal government funding will be contingent on achieving water recovery targets within deadlines. This is about a return to common sense. It's about remembering what the point is: to ensure a healthy and sustainable basin for the future, just like Charlie Weir role-modelled so well with the Shoalhaven River.

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is a complex plan with a simple objective: to set the river up better for the future. We know that this plan has been off track for many, many years. This comes after a decade of delay and, frankly, sabotage by the Liberals and Nationals. In fact, of the water recovered towards the plan so far, more than 80 per cent has been done under Labor governments. Put simply, we want more options, not more restrictions, and it's urgent. If this bill doesn't pass this year, the current legislation requires states to withdraw their unfinished projects. That's about half of them. This means a major part of the plan will fall over, incurring substantial costs and delays. Delivering the plan is good for the environment, good for jobs and good for communities. Our government made a commitment to deliver the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in full, and that's exactly what we are doing.

I'm proud to be part of a government that is tackling the difficult issues, like the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, and making the health of our rivers a priority. I have also been proud to work with Shoalhaven City Council in my community and with many great local groups, like Shoalhaven Riverwatch and Shoalhaven Landcare, to provide $1.5 million in federal funding from the Urban Rivers and Catchments Program for the connecting community to Shoalhaven waterways project. This is a multifaceted approach to connecting community with waterways through school aged education and activities, linkages to waterway heritage and providing volunteers with a helping hand. This will increase the likelihood of sustainable environmental management pertaining to waterways in the Shoalhaven. Activities will include pollution reduction, water-quality management, bush care and revegetation, and sediment and erosion control. Similarly, in the Batemans Bay region, I secured $20,000 in federal funding for the clean up the Clyde River project, which was all about helping restore the Clyde River, involving local schoolchildren and raising community awareness about the impact of litter and weeds on the environment and Snapper Island's little penguin colony.

I want to conclude today by sending a shout-out to everyone who volunteers their time and/or works to improve river health. Just like we're proud to be delivering the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in full, we can be proud that we are working to keep our local rivers healthy, which is good for everyone in our communities.


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