Wednesday, 27 October 2010
Questions without Notice
My question is addressed to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. In Mildura today thousands of people gathered to protest at the mess this government has created on water reform. People in the basin are now totally confused about what the Murray-Darling Basin Authority can legally report on or how much water will be cut from their entitlements or whether it is the authority or the minister who is running the show. When will the minister start to set out a clear direction for this reform process, firstly by re-energising the momentum established by the former coalition government—(Time expired)
There was only one aspect that asked for action. In the tradition of the Westminster system questions either seek information or ask for action. There was, somewhere embedded in the question, a request for action. The minister is at liberty to ignore the rest or to respond to the rest. That is the danger when we have questions constructed in the manner that that question was. I would allow the minister the liberty to either ignore or respond to the other aspects of the question, which I agree with the Leader of the House were out of order.
The way the Water Act has been described of late you would think it was a recent Labor invention. The water reform process had bipartisan support and the legislation was brought in under the previous government. In advance of the formal consultative process that comes under the Water Act, the authority has made its own decision to release an advanced document called The Guide. They have made that decision independently and it is for them to make that decision.
A large number of issues have caused concern for various communities. Regardless of the level of argument that is contained within the question, I do take in good faith the motivation of the questioner. He on many occasions—as long as I have known him—has spoken of the many mental health challenges that are faced by his community in particular. The irrigation drought was felt more deeply in Mildura than in many other parts of Australia. The work that he has done there with the community has always been constructive and I do take him at face value on that.
On the question about visiting communities, those who listened to the adjournment debate last night would know I was in Griffith last Friday with the member for Riverina. It was a very constructive meeting with community leaders and irrigators. During the week before that I was in Trangie with the Trangie-Neverfail irrigation authority—
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.