House debates

Monday, 18 October 2010

Questions without Notice

Murray-Darling Basin

3:06 pm

Photo of Tony AbbottTony Abbott (Warringah, Liberal Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Is water reform the responsibility of the government or is it the responsibility of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority? If it is the responsibility of the government, why will he not lead the debate and actually visit the affected communities? If it is the responsibility of the authority, does he stand by its recommendations and its work so far?

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

In terms of visiting basin communities, last Friday I was meeting with Trangie Nevertire in the electorate of the member for Parkes within the basin. I will be spending a whole lot of time in basin communities, not only speaking with irrigators but also meeting with the townspeople, because we cannot pretend that this issue only affects irrigators. Certainly the irrigators have the option as to whether or not they choose to be willing sellers. Those options are not necessarily available to those people in the town who suffer the economic challenge when a number of irrigators decide to get out and when you have the downstream impacts. Those issues are all worthy of consultation and I will be out there as I have been constantly.

In terms of the final issue for the plan, the order of events on this is simple and ultimately the one document that is called the plan is the document that I sign. Up until that point there is a process conducted by the independent authority, and let me tell you just what level of support there has been for that independent authority. I quote:

Important elements of this bill which give effect to the National Plan for Water Security include an independent Murray-Darling Basin Authority with enforcement powers; a basin plan which sets a cap on water systems …

Speaking in support of the bill when it went through, that was the member for Indi. So please do not come in with the shock and outrage. You support a piece of legislation, you support an independent authority—

Photo of Harry JenkinsHarry Jenkins (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The minister is commencing a debate here. He will answer the question in a directly relevant manner.

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

You support an independent authority which is charged with conducting consultation and charged with eventually bringing forward a proposal. But the final responsibility for the plan itself rests with me as minister and then, to survive, it has to survive disallowance in each house of the parliament, and therefore none of us in this chamber will avoid responsibility. No-one in this chamber should think they are going to be able to walk away from what needs to happen in the Murray-Darling Basin. Anybody is capable of being a wrecker and anybody is capable of doing what has been done for the last hundred years in the Murray-Darling Basin and saying, ‘Rather than address the reform we would rather just throw our hands up in the air and do nothing.’ The responsibility, once I sign that plan, rests with the parliament, and the bipartisan approach which has existed from the day the member for Wentworth first introduced this legislation will come back to the parliament in 2011 when the plan is introduced.