Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012; Consideration in Detail
I present a supplementary memorandum to the bill and move government amendment (5), as circulated:
(5) Schedule 1, item 2, page 6 (after line 11), at the end of subsection 86AD(2), add:
Note 1: As a result of subsection (4) of this section, water access rights may be purchased only if the purchase is related to an adjustment of a long term average sustainable diversion limit under section 23A. That section requires the Basin Plan to prescribe criteria in relation to such adjustments. The effect of the criteria prescribed by the Basin Plan is that water access rights may be purchased only in conjunction with improving irrigation water use efficiency on farms or an alternative arrangement proposed by a Basin State.
Note 2: Under this Part, the Commonwealth will not conduct open tender rounds that are available to all water access entitlement holders in a water resource plan area to purchase water access rights.
This is an amendment which has been sought and referred to in the inquiries which have been conducted by the Windsor committee. In particular, it clarifies the intentions of the Commonwealth and makes clear that open round tenders are not considered part of the way in which water would be recovered to achieve the additional 450 gigalitres. It is a clarification which has been sought to be made formally in the bill, and the government is happy to do that.
Question agreed to
by leave—I move government amendments (1) to (4) and (6) to (7), as circulated, together:
(1) Schedule 1, page 3 (before line 5), before item 1, insert:
1A Subsection 4(1)
Lock 1 means Weir and Lock No 1 Blanchetown referred to in Schedule A to the Agreement.
1B Subsection 4(1)
1C Subsection 4(1)
Murray Mouth Barrages means the Murray Mouth Barrages referred to in Schedule A to the Agreement.
(2) Schedule 1, item 2, page 3 (line 23) to page 4 (line 7), omit subsection 86AA(2), substitute:
(2) Without limiting subsection (1), environmental outcomes can be enhanced in the following ways:
(a) further reducing salinity levels in the Coorong and Lower Lakes so that improved water quality contributes to the health of insects, fish and plants that form important parts of the food chain, with the aim of achieving the following outcomes:
(i) the maximum average daily salinity in the Coorong South Lagoon is less than 100 grams per litre;
(ii) the maximum average daily salinity in the Coorong North Lagoon is less than 50 grams per litre;
(iii) the average daily salinity in Lake Alexandrina is less than 1000 microsiemens per centimetre for 95% of years and 1500 microsiemens per centimetre all of the time;
(b) keeping water levels in the Lower Lakes above:
(i) 0.4 metres Australian Height Datum for 95% of the time; and
(ii) 0.0 metres Australian Height Datum at all times;
to provide additional flows to the Coorong, and to prevent acidification, acid drainage and riverbank collapse below Lock 1;
(c) ensuring the mouth of the River Murray is open without the need for dredging in at least 95% of years, with flows every year through the Murray Mouth Barrages;
(d) discharging 2 million tonnes of salt per year from the Murray Darling Basin as a long term average;
(e) further increasing flows to the Coorong through the Murray Mouth Barrages, and supporting fish migration;
(f) in conjunction with removing or easing constraints referred to in subparagraph (h)(ii), providing opportunities for environmental watering of an additional 35,000 hectares of floodplains in the River Murray System, to do the following:
(i) improve the health of forests and the habitats of fish and birds;
(ii) improve connections between the floodplains and rivers in the River Murray System;
(iii) replenish groundwater;
(g) increasing the flows of rivers and streams, and providing water to low and middle level floodplains and habitats that are adjacent to rivers and streams, in the River Murray System:
(i) to enhance environmental outcomes within those floodplains, habitats, rivers and streams; and
(ii) to improve connections between those floodplains and habitats, and those rivers and streams;
(h) in any other way that is consistent with:
(i) the Authority's modelling of the effect of increasing the volume of the Basin water resources that is available for environmental use by 3200 gigalitres; and
(ii) easing or removing constraints on the capacity to deliver environmental water to the environmental assets of the Murray Darling Basin.
(3) Schedule 1, item 2, page 4 (line 13), omit "up to".
(4) Schedule 1, item 2, page 5 (lines 29 to 31), omit paragraph 86AD(2)(a)(iv), substitute:
(iv) better utilising existing dams and storages to deliver environmental water to the environmental assets of the Murray Darling Basin;
(6) Schedule 1, item 2, page 8 (lines 1 to 6), omit section 86AH.
(7) Schedule 1, item 2, page 9 (after line 27), at the end of Part 2AA, add:
86AJ Reviews of this Part
(1) The Minister must cause 2 independent reviews to be conducted into whether the amount standing to the credit of, and to be credited to, the Water for the Environment Special Account is sufficient to increase, by 30 June 2024, the volume of the Basin water resources that is available for environmental use by 450 gigalitres, and to ease or remove constraints identified by the Authority on the capacity to deliver environmental water to the environmental assets of the Murray Darling Basin.
(2) A review must be conducted by a panel of at least 3 persons nominated by the Minister, after consulting each Basin State.
(3) In conducting a review under subsection (1), a panel must also consider the following:
(a) the progress that has been, and is anticipated to be, made towards increasing the volume of the Basin water resources that is available for environmental use;
(b) whether the design of projects in relation to which payments have been made under section 86AD is likely to be effective in increasing the volume of the Basin water resources that is available for environmental use by 450 gigalitres;
(c) any other matter specified in writing by the Minister that is relevant to achieving the object of this Part.
(4) A panel must give the Minister a written report of a review.
(5) The report of the first review must be provided to the Minister by 30 September 2019.
(6) The report of the second review must be provided to the Minister by 30 September 2021.
(7) The Minister must cause a copy of a report of a review to be tabled in each House of the Parliament within 15 sitting days of that House after the day the report is given to the Minister.
(8) The Minister must table the Government's response to the report by the following time:
(a) for the first review—the time the Treasurer presents the budget to the Parliament for the 2020 2021 financial year;
(b) for the second review—the time the Treasurer presents the budget to the Parliament for the 2022 2023 financial year.
These amendments remove the reference to 'up to 450 gigalitres' and make it '450 gigalitres' but put in place a process which gives a clear line of sight to the parliament and to the public as to whether or not enough money has been set aside to achieve the 450 gigalitres, and it would then be a budgetary decision for the government of the day to determine whether or not additional money was to be put in.
We are very confident that the money set aside is more than enough to be able to provide for the additional 450 gigalitres through farm infrastructure works. The original wording of 'up to' was put in place on advice that it was difficult to guarantee, where we were dealing with a voluntary system. While it is true that it would be an unusual circumstance if farmers were offered an opportunity where the government paid for brand-new equipment and they then said, 'No, we don't want that,' nonetheless it is a possible scenario and it has meant we have had to work through a wording where the bill would accurately reflect the commitment of the government.
The commitment of the government is to provide the funds required for the additional 450 gigalitres of water and to remove the relevant capacity constraints. We believe the bill does this but, given that there has been some doubt in communities because of the inclusion of the words 'up to', this amendment addresses that and also makes clear the environmental outcomes which are sought as the additional water is required. This will also provide a level of guidance to the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder in the environmental outcomes that are being sought with the additional 450 gigalitres.
The opposition does not agree with or accept these amendments. There are a series of reasons why. The first one is that the express inclusion of particular environmental works is a political statement, not a legislative statement, and it is not an appropriate item to have in such legislation. It effectively breaches the principle of expressio unius est exclusio alterius, or express inclusion of one to the deliberate exclusion of another. It is poor legislative practice and it implies that these are the activities that will occur, when in reality there are numerous other activities that may provide appropriate savings in terms of environmental irrigation, on-farm irrigation and interfarm irrigation. So it is poor legislative practice.
The next reason is to do with amendment (3), which involves a very substantive issue. The original legislation included the words 'up to' in relation to the 450 gigalitres. This was the government's own legislation, the government's own policy, the government's own proposal. And we took them at their word. In fact, only today the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Regional Australia put out a statement, which had unanimous agreement, saying:
The Committee does not agree with the recommendation made by the Senate Committee … to establish a mandatory recovery target of 450GL.
It went on to say:
The program established by the Special Account is entirely voluntary. To establish a mandatory recovery target of 450GL as recommended by the Senate would establish a quasi-compulsory program which the Committee is strongly opposed to.
Signatories to that included the member for New England, the member for Bendigo, the member for Hunter, the member for Capricornia and the member for McEwen. It will be an interesting test to see how each of those members, having made that statement but a few hours ago, votes on a completely contrary amendment from the government.
Finally, in relation to the critical items which we oppose, there is a bizarre situation where amendment (4) would remove the ability to increase the size of dams to deliver environmental water as a relevant element in this consideration. That is contrary to common sense. It is contrary to good practice. It is counterintuitive. It makes it harder, rather than easier, to achieve the shared goals. For those reasons we will not be supporting these amendments.
I want to endorse the remarks of the previous speaker, the member for Flinders, and express my disappointment about these government amendments and indeed my concern about the motives which underpin them. They look very much to me like another round of Greens pay-off. We are aware that the proposal to exclude the words 'up to' was at the insistence of the Greens. It was their proposal—one that the government indicated earlier that it was not prepared to accept. The committee has brought in its report halfway through the debate. After considering all of these issues the committee was unanimous that this was not an appropriate amendment to agree to. Yet the government, in spite of the advice of its own committee and in spite of the laudatory remarks that the minister made about the member for New England and his contribution, is now ignoring the member for New England's advice and the advice of the committee and excluding those two words.
It will certainly be seen by the basin community that this is in fact an increase in, a ramping up of, the amount of water that will be taken from them. I can recall saying in my remarks last night—and it was close to midnight so not too many people were listening—that the Greens have a long record of agreeing to one thing today and then turning around the next day and demanding more and more. It has taken only 15 hours for the next increment in the demands for more water to be made and the government has simply rolled over.
I am also concerned in the same context about the exclusion of the word 'dams'. The Greens again are well noted for their distaste of any dams. I do not know how they expect water to be stored. They drink the stuff that comes out of the dams, but they do not want them. Clearly, if you are going to use water wisely for the environment, you have to store it somewhere. It has to be available when you need it, or are we only going to have work done and environmental measures undertaken during flood times? If you want to actually do things in dry times, you have to store the water. Surely, therefore, you have to have a dam. The minister has sort of said that we are not going to have any dams. Perhaps you can explain how he is going to achieve the objectives without having access to the capacity to store water in appropriate places.
All these measures again give rise to heighten my concerns that were expressed last night. The government have demonstrated through the whole of the Murray-Darling Basin process that their favoured way to obtain water for the environment is to simply resort to buybacks. They have not done the engineering works. They have not undertaken measures that could deliver this water. We could be delivering this water without paying local communities. It is almost as though they prefer the painful approach or they just do not care about people who live in the regional communities who are wearing all of this. They have adopted the lazy way in going to the buyouts. Frankly, by raising the high jump, as they are doing again tonight with these amendments—firstly, by insisting on achieving absolutely the whole of the 450 gigalitres and then by ruling out one of the logical ways in which you might achieve that objective—they are setting up a situation where yet again they are going to resort to mass buyouts. There will be more pain, more suffering, more losses and more damage to regional communities.
I would really ask the minister to stand up also for the regional communities. I know that he is the minister for the environment, but where has the minister for agriculture been in this? Where has the minister for regional development been? Where have the people been who should be standing up for those who live outside the capital cities? They ought to be there ensuring that we not only deliver good environmental outcomes, but also that it should be done with a minimum pain to the communities who have to give up this water.
I am very disappointed by these amendments. The coalition has reached a position where it will not be opposing the bill, but now the government has made it so much harder for us to accept that kind of a position by ramping up the pain, ramping up the suffering and making it so much more difficult to achieve the objectives that it proposed in the bill.
Finally, it is a nonsense to be proposing all these detailed matters in the bill. They should be in the plan, not in amendments of this nature. (Time expired)
I would like to speak briefly against the government's amendments to this bill, and I appreciate the procedural difficulties but this is extremely important. Clearly, the process has been hijacked, Minister, by the Greens again. First, we had a committee that released a report that accepted the words 'up to 450 gigalitres'. Then we had the Greens in the Senate move amendments and motions to say that they wanted to take out the words 'up to', and say '450 gigalitres'. Then we have had you, Minister, accept that with no rational explanation. We have had the member for New England go against his own report, that apparently was only tabled today. I look forward to his explanation, because the people in my electorate trusted him. They thought he was a good guy. They were wrong.
We have got this tiny figleaf behind which the minister is hiding—notes to part of his amendments that says that the Commonwealth will not conduct open tender rounds that are available to all water access entitlement holders—a figleaf, Minister. If you believe this, put it in the subclause of the legislation. Do not have it sitting there like something you can wriggle out of later. We have come a long way on this side of the House to accept a measure that says 'up to 450 gigalitres', and you have taken it out.
And what I particularly object to is that this minister at the Press Club cited Bernie Roebuck, principal of the Finley High School. You have no idea, Minister, of the pain that your legislation is causing the community of Finley. You have not sat in the hall of the Finley High School and looked at the expressions on the faces of all the kids. You have not seen the despair of their parents. But you had the nerve to mention the Finley High School and Bernie Roebuck as if somehow that excused the things that you are doing to the communities that I represent.
I very strenuously disagree with your amendments and I am delighted that on this side of the House, when in government, will be able to introduce a cap on buyback that effectively negates the nonsense that you are putting forward in your amendments. As I said, we came a long way to accept the bill. The minister knows how difficult that was. The cap on buyback that the coalition will introduce in government will mean that anything above 1,500 gigalitres will have to be realised by efficiencies. That at least will mean that the destructive crippling buybacks that have affected the communities of Farrer so very badly will not continue under a coalition government.
It will mean proper investigations—and I make this point too—through a constraints management strategy to manage areas permanently under flood—where red gums are dying because they have got their roots in water nine months of the year, where areas that have previously been town beaches, camping areas and areas for general amenity are just simply at a low-level flood line—and it would actually carry out a proper socioeconomic analysis. The coalition understands the need for that. If the minister accepts that these things are possible, then those socioeconomic analyses and the proper constraints management and the dollars to do that should have been contained in this legislation and his remarks.
After the previous two speakers I probably should say something, though I know people want to go to other events.
An honourable member: No!
Thank you. I think this is quite sad. I really do think so. As to the two speakers who have just spoken—the member for Farrer particularly; I can excuse the Leader of the National Party, but as to the member for Farrer, who has some knowledge of this issue—I think it is quite sad, what has just been said. We have spent quite some time here talking about the fear that has been out there in these communities, the uncertainty that has been out there in these communities, and what you have just created, or attempted to create, is this dying gasp of the last decision. You are going to vote for this. But you want something out there that says to these people, 'You are still being screwed by this dreadful group of people in the parliament.' Well, if you believe that, don't vote for it—don't vote for any of it, because that is exactly where you have been right through all of this process. If you believe that the people of Finley or wherever are being persecuted by some greedy person or government coming along and taking their water, why are you supporting it? That is the tragedy and the hypocrisy of this: that you people have bled your constituents dry on this issue and you are going to go along and then say to them, 'It's all out there again.'
I listened to you; it was difficult for me because I have not heard you for a while, but I did. And the words are in the legislation. Have a look at the Hansard in terms of the committee inquiry. The words are in the legislation. 'As a result of subsection 4 of this section, water access rights may be purchased only if the purchase is related to an adjustment of the long-term average sustainable diversion limit under section 23. That section requires the Basin Plan to prescribe criteria in relation to such adjustments. The effect of the criteria prescribed by the Basin Plan is that water access rights may be purchased only in conjunction with improving the irrigation on farms and an alternative proposed by a basin state.' This is a Commonwealth piece of legislation. The Commonwealth is saying in here, the minister has said and the Prime Minister has said that buyback will not apply in terms of the 450 gigalitres. There is absolutely no need for it.
The member for Farrer, the member for Riverina and many others who were involved in a number of reports actually recommended that, if more water is to be taken from the system, it should be done through on-farm works and measures; that was the great cry. But when someone comes along and does that, you have got to find this wriggle room in there to say that this is the greatest tragedy that is going to occur to people in the basin system, and I would ask people who may be listening to this to listen to the further hypocrisy that you are going to hear tonight in terms of this 450 gigalitres.
There is no buyback in it. There is no buyback. The minister may like to reiterate that and go to the clause. There is no buyback. It is a voluntary scheme. It says here: 'Water access rights may be purchased only in conjunction with improving irrigation on farms.' If the farmers decide that they do not want to improve their irrigation, they do not have to. And that is the point I made in my earlier speech. The baseline figure is 2,750 gigalitres. The 650 gigalitres comes off that, the basin states have agreed, through environmental works and measures—virtual water, in a sense, in terms of the 2,750 gigalitres. Then you have this new bill, for the 450 gigalitres, for on-farm works and measures and possible removal of some constraints to assist the flow. If the farming community is not interested in becoming more efficient, the answer to this could be zero, in terms of on-farm efficiencies. No-one has to accept it. But it is the very thing that, when the members for Farrer and Riverina and I visited these communities, the communities right throughout the basin kept saying to us: 'We don't mind a plan as long as it incorporates some money being spent on making us more efficient so that the productivity, the triple bottom line, of our communities, is maintained.' And that is exactly what we recommended, and these people actually endorsed those recommendations. The government has taken up those recommendations. We have revisited the concern that was expressed in this latest inquiry, and that has been fixed within the context of this particular bill. (Time expired)
I have a question for the minister for the purposes of clarity to the community and legislative interpretation. Is it mandatory that the additional 450 gigalitres, outlined in this bill, will be acquired by the Commonwealth by 2024? Can the minister simply clarify: is it mandatory that the Commonwealth acquire all 450 gigalitres by 2024, or is it not?
To round up discussion on this amendment, if any of the things that were referred to by the Leader of the Nationals or the member for Farrer were actually in this amendment, I would give a very different speech, but they are not. I explained, when I moved the amendment, precisely the answer to the question that the member for Flinders has just pointed to, which is: what is the significance of the amendment? Can it mean a situation of compulsory acquisition? What does it mean if for some reason—unexpected, because we believe there is more than enough money—you were tracking to less than 450 gigalitres? What it would mean is this, and this is what would be mandatory: there would be a couple of points between now and 2024 where it is audited and made public to the parliament as to whether or not there is enough money there to get to 450 gigalitres. Whether additional money is put in place is a matter for the budget of the government of the day, but this amendment means that there is a clear line of sight as to whether or not there is enough money there.
We have put something that is all about making sure there is a parliamentary scrutiny of a clear line of sight as to whether or not there is enough money there—we believe there easily is. But we have something that is simply about a clear line of sight, and we get that sort of response. Everybody deals with consensus in their own way, I guess, but it is fairly extraordinary to get those sorts of reactions to something that is about making sure that there is a clear line of sight for every member of parliament between now and 2024 as to whether or not enough money has been set aside. And there should be a clear line of sight, because if it turns out, contrary to all expectations, that not enough money was set aside then every member of parliament should know what that would mean, and that should be a serious issue that is considered in the budget by the government of the day. Without this amendment, that could not have been guaranteed, but now that would be guaranteed. It does not involve compulsory acquisition. It does not involve alternating back to general tender buyback for 450 up.
The Leader of the Nationals ran the argument, 'Why have you got this reference taken out saying that it can't be used for dams and storages?' Because, when you find more efficient ways of using your dams and storages, that contributes to the 650 down. That is already counted before you get to the final 450 up. That is in the plan because it is one of the ideas that came from the original Windsor report, which their members signed up to.
Opposition members interjecting—
And can I make clear, on this claim that there is an inconsistency between this amendment and the report that has come out today from the Windsor committee, that they can only draw that conclusion if they did not listen to a word I just said right here two minutes ago, because the recommendation was to not go along with what the Senate was saying—that it was an automatic guaranteed 450-gigalitre compulsory acquisition or however you got it if you did not get enough people participating. Instead of going down that path, consistent with the recommendations of that inquiry today, we have gone down a path to make sure that there is a clear line of sight. I have to say that I have every confidence that future parliaments, if there is not enough money there, will make sure in future budgets that it is put in place. There was never a legislative guarantee for the money that Prime Minister Howard put in place, but the money, when it has not been spent, has continued to be rephased and has continued to be made available.
If people do not want there to be a clear line of site for future parliaments, then argue against the amendment for that reason. But do not invent something that is designed only to put fear throughout Basin communities when we are actually delivering something where we have not compromised on the environmental ambition of the reform but are making sure we are acquiring the water in the exact ways that every one of those community meetings asked us to implement. They all asked for this path, that is the path we are choosing, and if people want to take issue with the plan by all means they can oppose the reform but, please, the misrepresentation in communities should not continue.
Once again, for legislative purposes, does this amendment make in mandatory for future governments to acquire the full 450 gigalitres by 2024? We understand that there are other elements in terms of future assessments, but is it mandatory under this law, under the intent, that future governments must achieve the 450 gigalitre target by 2024?
I have answered that twice in the last answer so I am not going to delay the parliament further. What is mandatory is that there will be a clear line of site as to whether or not we are tracking towards it. I believe the fact of that will guarantee that governments put the money on the table. On all the budgeting that we have already done, we believe the money is required on the table. But that is the one thing that is made mandatory. The one thing that is made mandatory is the clear line of sight as to whether or not enough money has been set aside—the one thing.
For a final time, with respect, will you make it clear that it is not mandatory for future governments to achieve the full 450 gigalitres as a consequence of these amendments?
by leave—I move opposition amendments (1) to (10) on sheet 2 and amendments (1) to (5) on sheet 1 together:
(1) Schedule 1, item 2, page 6 (lines 1 and 2), omit paragraph 86AD(2)(b).
(2) Schedule 1, item 2, page 6 (line 9), omit "or (b)".
(3) Schedule 1, item 2, page 6 (after line 14), after subsection 86AD(3), insert:
(3A) To avoid doubt, subsection (2) does not permit amounts standing to the credit of the Water for the Environment Special Account to be debited for the purpose of purchasing water access rights in relation to Basin water resources.
(4) Schedule 1, item 2, page 6 (line 17), omit "or purchase".
(5) Schedule 1, item 2, page 6 (line 17), omit "or (b)".
(6) Schedule 1, item 2, page 6 (line 18), omit "or purchase".
(7) Schedule 1, item 2, page 6 (line 24), omit "or purchase".
(8) Schedule 1, item 2, page 6 (line 28) to page 7 (line 6), omit section 86AE.
(9) Schedule 1, item 2, page 8 (line 19) to page 9 (line 3), omit paragraph 86AI(2)(b), substitute:
(b) achievements against those objectives and priorities;
(10) Schedule 1, items 3 to 5, page 9 (line 28) to page 10 (line 9), omit the items.
(1) Schedule 1, item 2, page 3 (line 22), at the end of subsection 86AA(1), add "while achieving neutral or beneficial socio economic outcomes".
(2) Schedule 1, item 2, page 4 (line 7), at the end of subsection 86AA(2), add:
; (h) investing in water efficient infrastructure and other on farm works.
(3) Schedule 1, item 2, page 6 (line 2), at the end of paragraph 86AD(2)(b), add ", but only if such purchases achieve neutral or beneficial socio economic outcomes".
(4) Schedule 1, item 2, page 7 (after line 6), after section 86AE, insert:
86AEA Limit on purchase of water access rights
The total amount of water access rights purchased by, or on behalf of, the Commonwealth since 2009, whether with amounts debited from the Water for the Environment Special Account or otherwise for the purposes of the Basin Plan, must not exceed 1500 gigalitres.
(5) Schedule 1, item 2, page 9 (after line 11), after paragraph 86AI(2)(c), insert:
(ca) for all water recovery for which an amount was debited from the Water for the Environment Special Account during the report year for the purposes of paragraph 86AD(2)(b)—how that recovery achieved a neutral or beneficial socio economic outcome;
For five years, Australia has had a choice between a once-in-a-century replumbing and a buyout of rural Australia. At the last minute, this government has finally agreed to the replumbing rather than the buyout. These amendments guarantee a replumbing rather than a buyout; no general buybacks to achieve the 450 gigalitres; neutral or beneficial socioeconomic outcomes; a 1,500-gigalitre buyback cap; and adequate reporting. If the government does not pass these amendments, our commitment is that we will do so in government. We expect the government to support them. We guarantee a once-in-a-century replumbing, not a buyout of rural Australia.
We cannot support the amendments. If the states come forward with the proposals that the plan allows them to, then the buyback figure that is referred to would in fact be achieved. But, if the states chose to not come forward with projects, then the entire plan would be at risk. For that reason, we cannot support the amendments.