Tuesday, 16 November 2010
Farrer Electorate: Murray-Darling Basin
On 28 October I advised parliament of the growing confusion surrounding the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s consultation process into the draft guide for its Basin Plan. At the time I alerted the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities of widespread calls for him to direct the authority to withdraw the plan to allow time for full and proper consultation into the social and economic impacts, which the authority itself admitted was absent. The government then ignored those calls from rural organisations affected by the plan and ignored the coalition.
Today there is more evidence that this government is simply not listening. Today we read that the Murray-Darling Basin Authority will not guarantee it will consider community feedback into its draft plan after the end of this month. This is the feedback that will give the authority and the government the message they do not want to hear: that they are both still orchestrating a plan which has the potential to decimate Australia’s food production industry and do lasting damage to small towns across the basin. So what is the message from the authority and Labor? We are not listening. Despite numerous calls from my office to the authority, pressing the need for them to stage community consultation in seemingly forgotten areas of my electorate—Broken Hill, which has a strong relationship with Menindee Lakes; and Hay, which has, as a vital part of its regional economy, irrigated agriculture on the Murrumbidgee—the answer was no. The message from the authority and Labor: we are not listening.
Today we also learn that the Gillard government has failed to meet its own deadline made during the federal election campaign into the future management of Menindee Lakes. Why the delay? The water minister tells us that it is an important scheme that cannot be rushed and that all due diligence must be followed. What does that sound like to you, Mr Deputy Speaker? Another false and hollow assurance from Labor. We now have two parliamentary inquiries and an additional socioeconomic study, which the MDBA has been forced to undertake because of real and genuine concerns raised by the coalition and basin communities about how this process is being run.
I remind the government that this is a message they could have received directly if they had bothered to attend any of consultation sessions so far. The MDBA was happy to spruik that it had consulted with around 20,000 people over 28 sessions. Imagine that—20,000 people but not one senior member of the government. I wonder how many of those 20,000 actually had their voices heard during the authority’s last-minute dash around the basin. Instead, from the sanctuary of this House, the Labor leadership have assured us they want to get the balance right. Is there any chance that the Prime Minister might direct the MDBA to relax its time line to get all the facts and make the correct decisions for rural people? Not a chance, because they are not listening. This is more evidence that Labor has lost its way.