House debates

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Resolutions of the Senate

Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission; Consideration of Senate Message

5:33 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received the following message from the Senate:

The Senate transmits to the House of Representatives the following resolution which was agreed to by the Senate this day:

That the Senate—

(a) notes that:

  (i) the Murray-Darling Royal Commission recommended that future water recovery for the environment, including the 450 GL, should be purchased through buyback, which requires repeal of the 1,500 GL cap on buybacks in section 85C of the Water Act 2007; and

  (ii) the future environmental health of the Murray-Darling Basin relies on additional water recovery; and

(b) calls on the Federal Government to support the urgent repeal of the 1,500 GL limit on Commonwealth water purchases.

The Senate requests the concurrence of the House of Representatives in this resolution.

Ordered that the message be considered immediately.

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the House of Representatives does not concur in the resolution of the Senate.

This is why the Australian public hate politicians. For the first time since Federation, we have had agreement from the basin states in the Commonwealth on the delivery of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. When I became minister 15 months ago, I wanted to take the politics out of water. It had to be about leadership. I have to acknowledge the member for Watson, who's sitting opposite, for the leadership that he showed with me. The two million Australians that live up and down the Basin Plan are fatigued. They've had a gutful. They want certainty. The water wars needed to end. And near the end of the 45th Parliament, we sit in this chamber, this great chamber, with great history and great relevance to the Australian people, and we revert back to the politicisation of this most important piece of environmental reform. This is the biggest environmental program in our nation's history.

Instead of continuing on the pathway of bipartisanship for a plan that was created in 2012, at a point when I was not even in this parliament—as a minister who lives in an electorate that's been impacted on by the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and as a member of parliament who has seen the fatigue and hurt in the lives of those people who have been impacted on by this is something that I find abhorrent—we are now standing here trying to tear down the very Basin Plan that we all agreed on. It's not a perfect plan. I acknowledge that in fact the member for Watson was the architect, but I'm delivering it. That's leadership. That is what this nation wants. That is what the Australian people want. They are sick and tired of state against state. To belittle the Australian public and to bring us into conflict, state against state, brother against brother, is something I thought this parliament was above. I thought the people within this parliament were above that. For this to be politicised for cheap political gain by a political party in South Australia that has political irrelevance—it is at the fringe of relevance in South Australia—to try to pit states against state again sets this nation back.

This is an opportunity for our nation to be led by its politicians, not torn apart. I've never yelled. I've never screamed. I've always made sure we got to this point with bipartisanship. Before I became minister, let me say, the likelihood of delivering the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was next to zero. It took leadership, and that is what I want to continue to deliver—not to let those who want to take advantage for their own political gain in their own electorates to try to tear down something that is so important to this nation, to this nation's future and to the certainty of two million Australians.

I sat in a small country town in my own electorate and I held in my arms a 68-year-old man whose town has basically been decimated by buy-backs. He owned a small business. He owned a small business that was his superannuation. After 40 years, that business was worth nothing. This man was beside himself. He told me he had nothing to live for. He had nothing left. For a South Australian senator to try to tear away that man's future, that man's certainty, to gain a political point in this place, to bring the parliament of this nation down, is something we should never be proud of. You should never be proud of that.

This isn't a perfect plan. There's been pain up and down the basin. We all acknowledge that. But let me tell you: if you tear away at this, you will have nothing. For those from South Australia, let me tell you: we've recovered approximately 2,100 gigs. If you want to tear away at this plan now, that'll be it. That's all you'll get. The reality is that, unless we have the basin states with us, we won't deliver the plan. So your motion is more about politics than reality. It would be easy for me as a Queenslander, as someone who represents nearly all of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in Queensland, to sit here and say, 'No more; let's tear it apart.' I could do that. But do you know what? That's not the right thing to do. That's not the right thing to do by those people in Queensland. It's not the right thing to do by anybody. We're above this.

What you would invariably do is put at risk this fragile peace that has taken so long to achieve, with hard work and with leadership, not only from the federal level and from those on the other side but also from state ministers. For the first time we have had state ministers from all political persuasions agree with the management of this plan. That took courage. That took leadership. I said to those ministers when we got through the Northern Basin Review, the sustainable diversion limits and the 450 gigalitres of up water: 'We have to take a leap of faith with one another. We have to trust one another. For the first time since Federation, we have to take each other's hands and we have to lead.' They did. And now you want to tear it apart. That's something none of us should be proud of. I thought this place was better than that. I thought that we could continue on the pathway of a plan that's not perfect but is one that would deliver outcomes. We had leadership from the states that understood clearly that they had to look outside their state boundaries, and they have. I need to acknowledge former New South Wales water minister Niall Blair for his leadership. It was so easy for the parochialism of each state to stand tall and to call each other names so that the plan didn't progress. It took real leadership and courage for him to stand tall with Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and the ACT and say, 'We've had enough.' That's what we are here to do—to lead. Niall Blair led. So did Lisa Neville. She lead and so too did David Speirs, the South Australian minister. He could easily be doing what those from the Centre Alliance are trying to do today to try to gain a cheap political point. He could walk out in front of the Adelaide media and say that he stood up for South Australia and he's going to work for South Australia at the expense of all other states. But he didn't. He showed leadership—not a cheap political stunt.

I have to say that David Speirs is one of the most courageous politicians I've seen. He didn't have to come in on any of this. He could have continued on the journey that Ian Hunter was on and was committed to, but instead he thought about the delivery of the plan. It wasn't just about getting as much water across the barrage. More importantly for him, it was also about the environmental benefits up and down the basin. The blunt instrument that we've created in everyone's mind is that to make the plan work we have to get as much water across the barrage as we possibly can. It's not. There is an enormous number of ecosystems up and down the basin that we are getting environmental outcomes on. It's not just a blunt instrument—not just a cheap political instrument to try to win some points when coming up to an election.

As the member for Murray will testify, I could have gone out only two weeks ago and stood in front of a hundred angry irrigators who were baying for blood and asking for the plan to pause. I could have gone with the pack. I could have said to them 'I'm with you. Let's pause the plan and break it up.' But I didn't. The easiest thing for me to do was to fly in there and tell them what they wanted to hear and then never see them again. Instead, I looked them in the eye and told them the truth. I didn't play games—I told them the truth. This plan hurts me; it hurts my people. That 68-year-old man is still hurting—that man who lives in Western Queensland and worries about his future. I could have done the easy thing. I could have walked away and said, 'You know what? I'm going to blow it up.' But that's not the right thing to do. That's not the right thing for any of us to do. The right thing to do is to stick the course, as ugly as it is, as hard as it is. That's our job as leaders of this nation: to lead the nation and not divide it.

What is proposed tonight will be a step back from the cliff that we were about to fall over before we came to a bipartisan approach to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, on 7 May last year. We instigated a northern review and the sustainable diversion limit—in fact, a world first in our nation's history of a $40 million Indigenous fund. I sat in St George last week with the elders. Ronnie Waters, a great mate of mine, is a great Indigenous elder in St George, a man who cares about his community and cares about his culture. He understands the economic impacts for his people in St George if we continue down the path of destroying this plan. He's had enough. His people have lost opportunities. But the member for Watson and I were able to get to a point where we brought our First Australians with us—and rightly so. They'd been forgotten in this plan.

You tear away the $40 million economic plan we have also put in place. If one state falls out of this, the whole thing dominoes. To anyone who says that doesn't happen: let me tell you, it does. I've faced those ministers. I understand the parochialism. We hold this by a thread because of the leadership that we have shown. It's important that we don't blink. As soon as we blink, as soon as we allow politics to creep back into this, we bring back uncertainty and we destroy the lives, again, of two million Australians who expect us to lead. They pay us to lead, to come into this place and work for outcomes, not for our own political glory.

The greatest achievement I think I'll ever make in my life is to get the Northern Basin Review through—the sustainable diversion limit and the 450 neutrality test—because those two million Australians expect it. No matter what else I've achieved, I've achieved that. I can go back and sit in the shop of that 68-year-old man, and look him in the eye and tell him that I led for him. There are more like him right up and down the basin. There's a whole generation that we owe it to to continue the path—not only the ones that are there now but the next ones to come.

We will continue to divide this nation if we do not use this as a defining moment to continue to come together as a nation and push away the fringe elements that want to destroy it, that want to tear away at the very fabric of what is so great about this nation. When we look down Anzac Avenue and see that memorial to what those brave men and women have fought for, we should respect it in this place. We should respect it by delivering certainty and by giving outcomes. We're a great nation. But, if we continue to tear each other apart to win a vote, then, I'm sorry, we tear away at this nation; we tear away at what we are and what we've become. I say to each and every one of you here tonight: we have an opportunity to lead or divide.

I've been clear. I've got to look my people in the eye. I've been honest with them every step of the way. You need to look them in the eye and be honest. It's not a perfect plan. I acknowledge the work the member for Watson has put into this. He's the architect. It's a legacy that he will leave. It's a legacy I want to leave because I've delivered it, as imperfect as it is to that 68-year-old man who sits out in western Queensland tonight, scared about his livelihood and his future. He's important. He's as important as any other Australian in this country. If we don't lead tonight, then we've let him and everyone else down.

5:48 pm

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Manager of Opposition Business (House)) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words—

"the House concurs in the resolution of the Senate".

I acknowledge the member for Mayo as the seconder, which, obviously, will happen at the conclusion of my speech. This has come from the Senate and was originally moved by members of Centre Alliance, by her party.

I should, after what the minister just said, explain what the resolution actually says. The resolution, first of all, notes a finding from the royal commission that I don't agree with. This particular recommendation is one that would, in fact, undo the original agreement of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan; that is, that the additional 450 gigalitres be achieved through general tender buyback. A lot of people will say that that is the most efficient way to get the water, and my original premise that I took to the negotiations when they took place was for that water to be attained through buyback. The exact people who the minister referred to as the people we need to be listening to are the people who persuaded me, including the state ministers at the time, that additional water of that nature should be obtained through on-farm infrastructure projects. That's how that water should be obtained. This resolution simply notes that recommendation. If it asked the parliament to back that recommendation, I'd be recommending that we vote against it because it would be a breach of the agreement and it would be a breach of the plan. But it doesn't ask that; it simply notes that recommendation. What the resolution before us does ask the parliament to endorse is a call on the federal government to support the urgent repeal of the cap on buyback—the 1,500 gigalitre limit on buyback.

First of all, I say this: when the minister said, 'For the first time we now have agreement between the states on how the plan should be implemented,' that was not strictly true. We had agreement when the plan was introduced. That agreement disappeared for a period while the member for New England was the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources. The minister at the table has worked very hard, to his great credit, to get agreement back on track with the states and across the aisle. I pay tribute to him for that. But it is untrue to say that now is the first time that we've had that sort of agreement; it's not. But it did have to be retrieved, and he's done that work. The reason I say that is not, 'Here's a bit of rhetoric; let's have an argument about it.' It's for this reason: when the original agreement for the plan was put in place, there was no cap on buyback. The cap on buyback was introduced as an election commitment designed by the member for New England, the very person who caused the whole thing to almost collapse. So I don't accept that a promise made by the person who tried so actively to undo the whole plan can be seen as something that is integral to holding the whole thing together. I can't logically accept that.

The second thing is: what does a cap on buyback mean? When the cap on buyback first went through, the government had just been elected and they had a mandate for it. We didn't oppose it in the Senate on the basis that where it was set was above where the take was expected to get to anyway, so the cap on buyback was something that had a rhetorical value but didn't in fact have any impact in substance. Since that time we've had two amendments to the plan which were within the parameters of the original agreement. It was said there would be a Northern Basin Review and it was said that there would be things called supply measures which would bring the numbers down. The Northern Basin Review came back with numbers that I didn't like, that I never expected, but they came from the independent authority and were within the parameters of the original agreement, so we agreed for them to go through a negotiation with the minister. The supply measures give a 605 gigalitre reduction in the total amount, and there is some doubt as to the extent to which those supply measures will be fully realised.

Now, here is the catch, and this is where the cap on buyback becomes a real issue that will hit the plan in the next few years. If there is a cap on buyback, the states will know they don't have to go hard on delivering the supply measures they put forward because they have this seatbelt that says, 'If you don't actually deliver, not much can happen under the plan anyway because there's a cap on buyback.' If the cap is removed, we may well find that we never needed to use it anyway because the pressure will be on the states to deliver those supply measures. That's what will happen because they will know full well that if they don't deliver, buyback becomes a live option. What incentive is there on the states other than how much Commonwealth money they get to take if they know, whether or not they deliver the supply measures, the Commonwealth has no recourse because there's a statutory limit on buyback?

All of this has a real outcome. The reason the numbers were allowed to be reduced is because supply measures provide effective ways of delivering under the plan equivalent environmental outcomes using less water. They provide the exact sort of outcomes the minister was saying we should be able to do to listen to the communities. Whether they're fully delivered or not matters. The reason we need them to be fully delivered is that they go to the health of the basin. We need to get right back to first principles here. Why did the Keating government set up a ministerial council? Why did the Howard government put the Water Act in place? Why did the Gillard government put in place a Murray-Darling Basin Plan? Why, under the Turnbull government, did this minister work so hard to keep it alive?

The reason is that the major river system on our continent is at risk of collapse. There are no jobs on dead rivers. If you have ecological collapse, the communities don't get their agriculture water and they don't get their drinking water and you get all the knock-on impacts from that. If you think ecological collapse is an exaggeration then look at the summer we've just had. The need for the plan to be fully delivered is real.

This cap now creates a disincentive for the states to deliver those supply measures. So, please, don't come in here and argue that this is an attempt to have buyback all over the place, because the plan doesn't allow that. I've ruled that out. And, with respect to the 450 gigalitres, the plan doesn't allow a drop of that 450 gigalitres to be through general tender buyback. Those supply measures will only be delivered if the states have an incentive to deliver them. If they don't deliver them and there's a cap on buyback, the river will just take the cut and the ecological collapse that we saw over summer will become an annual event. Don't think it can't happen, because we've watched the beginnings of it happen. This is no ordinary drought. The in-flows are dropping and, as the in-flows to the basin are dropping, the extent to which what once was simply an overallocation now becomes an overextraction that imperils the future of the rivers.

I won't accept the argument that somehow by keeping to the original plan we're playing a political game. I can't accept that. Ultimately, no matter how we negotiate back and forth across the aisle, the rivers have commenced negotiating back, and they are the most uncompromising of all. So I urge members to vote for the amendment that I've moved and the member for Mayo will second, even if you hope that total buyback never goes beyond where the current cap is. By removing the cap you guarantee that the supply projects will happen. I know people will go to their electorates and will want to run a different argument, but this plan was put in place to make sure that the rivers are restored to health and that it's done in a way that works with communities. The cap on buyback is the one part of this that was nothing more than an election commitment concocted by the member for New England.

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

5:58 pm

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the amendment. The most economically efficient way for the federal government to help the river is to return more water to the system through water buybacks. This is more efficient than infrastructure or efficiency spends. The water buyback cap was put in place by this government. It was not part of the original plan and it should be removed. Why shouldn't a small irrigator be able to sell to whomever they want? Over here, you talk about free market all the time. That is a free market. If they want to sell their water allocation to the government and benefit the river, why should we, in this place, stand in their way? Is it because the large irrigators are saying one thing to government? Well, I think so. It does not suit their interests but it does suit the river. This government, as I think we've seen, does not care about the little guys any more. It certainly doesn't care about the end of the river, the most vulnerable part of the river.

The minister wants us to stop talking about politics. That's fine; let's talk about science. That is something we don't talk about enough in here. The Australian Academy of Science rereleased a detailed report on the Menindee fish kills—the investigation of the causes of the fish kills in the Menindee region, New South Wales, over the summer of 2018-19. I tabled this report in the House in February this year. A key recommendation of the academy's expert panel was that the government should:

Return to the intent of the 2012 Murray-Darling Basin Plan to avoid increasing risks of more fish kills and other environmental problems for the Darling River.

Now, the minister and his government cannot cherrypick which parts of science they want to follow. You need to follow the science as it is, and this was the expert panel's position:

Repeal the cap on 1500 GL on water buybacks … from willing irrigators to recover water at the least cost to taxpayers, and fund additional infrastructure, constraint and supply projects, only where independent reviews find with high confidence that they provide required hydrological, ecological, cultural and economic benefits.

The Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission provides yet more evidence that repealing the water buybacks is an urgent and necessary step. Recommendation 8 from the royal commission says:

Future water recovery for the environment, including the 450 GL, should be purchased through buyback. This requires repeal of the 1500 GL cap on buybacks in sec 85C of the Water Act.

I remind the minister: the cap was not there in the original plan in 2012; it was part of the then Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources', the member for New England's, thought bubbles. It was not there in the original plan. So let's be very clear as to what was in the original plan and then what was distorted by this government.

The coalition are governing the Murray just like they govern their parties—for short-term, vested political interest, and not for the long-term benefit of this country as a whole. So I conclude with a question that I will leave hanging in the air: when will this government govern for the long-term benefit of all communities that rely on the Murray—not just the ones in their National Party seats, not just the ones in the eastern states, but actually the whole river and the most vulnerable part of the river? I call on every South Australian MP in this place—and particularly the member for Barker, who has a large section of the river, and the members for Sturt and Boothby—to vote for your state and what your state needs and not for your party. Every single South Australian will be watching how you vote today. Vote for the science, not for the politics.

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that the motion be agreed to. To this the honourable member for Watson has moved an amendment. If it suits the House, I will state the question in the form 'That the amendment be agreed to'. The question now is that the amendments be agreed to.

6:03 pm

Photo of Sussan LeySussan Ley (Farrer, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

When a piece of public policy is tolerated at best and hated at worst in the entire area of its application, that should signal to the parliament responsible for that policy that something is wrong. A perfect example is the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Go anywhere in the basin, and anyone who is affected directly as to their livelihood, their business, their family or their community by this plan tolerates it at best and hates it at worst.

I don't care about some no-name senator coming up with a no-name motion about water buyback. What I care about is the media release put out by the member for Watson only five days ago and the ensuing change to Labor Party policy on what, as our minister has just enunciated, was clearly bipartisan. So the media release that Labor has put out says:


Two changes made by the coalition are going to be undone, it says. One is the cap on buybacks and the second is:

… a change to the socio-economic definition for delivering the 450GL of water for the environment.

So those two things have now been picked up by Labor as a change in their policy.

I think there was some very clever speaking just now by the member for Watson. I think what you could have said, Member for Watson, is that you are walking away from your bipartisan approach, because the two things that you have said you are changing were subject to passage through this parliament. You agreed to them. They went through this parliament in 2012.

The letter I have here was written to me by the then Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott. Many members of this House have changed, but I've been here for this journey all along. I know the history. I've lived and breathed it and my communities have hurt more than any other group of communities in the country when it comes to water policy. This letter from Tony Abbott clearly said: 'We will implement the triple bottom line'—we've always said that; we've maintained it all the way through—'of the cap on buy-backs of 1,500 gigalitres, the 450 gigs and the socioeconomic test.' The member for Flinders as environment minister then spoke about it in the House in the debate on the Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012. It was agreed to by Labor. It went through the parliament and actually changed the socioeconomic test. That was the only reason that we agreed to it. They were the conditions that we signed up to it, because we knew how much it would hurt farmers. We knew it was a piece of politicking by South Australia to add the 450 gigs. It's physically impossible to deliver. Everyone on the southern basin actually understands that. But we agreed to it with these careful tests. They were secured and confirmed by the minister and the ministerial council in December last year at MinCo. So everyone, all the basin states, were on board with this. Only last week, as we lead into the pre-election period, did Labor change their mind.

So I come back to the plan itself and the awful reality that my constituents now face if there's a change of government. For them, it will go back to what we all call the bad old days of buyback. That's because the buyback was completely nonstrategic. It was completely haphazard. It divided communities, it divided irrigators and, as the minister said, it divided the country. What Labor have told us they will do is go back to buyback and scrub the neutrality test on the 450 gigs. That is absolutely, totally unacceptable. I really want to appeal to the crossbench. Obviously we're locking in behind our teams here on this message from the Senate, but it's the crossbench that holds the key to this. I appeal to my colleague the member for Indi, because she knows what damage this has done and she knows how much these communities have been hurt. She's very familiar with them. She's a person who cares about farming. I understand the member for Mayo has seconded this bill and I understand the member for Melbourne will lock in behind the Greens but, for the rest of us, if this 450 gigalitres is undone in the way it's recovered, the water will come from my electorate and the member for Murray's electorate. For us to confront our communities that are on their knees right now and actually say to them that we have an opposition in Canberra, potentially the government, that will come back into our communities to recover upwards of 200 gigalitres, if you combine our two electorates, and buy that back we may as well lock the door, turn out the lights and forget about the future. We have almost turned the food bowl of Australia into a dust bowl as it is.

For the member for Watson to talk about how this is good for communities and how this will work for communities is absolute nonsense. Walk down the main street of Finley. Look at the number of shops that have closed. Go to the high school. Talk to the kids. Listen to the stories. Understand that farmers are watching what is notionally a healthy river run straight past their doorstep, taking the water past their region. Their allocation is zero. That's right—zero. We have to accept that the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder know exactly what they're doing with all this environmental water. Not one drop was able to be borrowed by irrigators through a sensible proposal I put forward last year to allow them to finish growing their winter crops and grow food to feed the rest of the country that was struggling with drought.

These rivers are flooding. It is physically impossible to deliver this water down to the bottom end of the basin. But people all over Australia think they're experts on this subject. Lots of people come in here who have no idea of the reality of life. They have no idea how we have effectively said to some of the best, youngest, smartest, most innovative and efficient farmers in the country, 'Actually, don't worry about your future in farming because it won't exist under a Labor government.' It won't exist if you, the opposition, become the government in Canberra, because turning your back on the Basin Plan at five minutes to midnight—just before an election—is absolutely pure politics.

As the minister said, this is not easy. I am just hanging in there. At one stage I said to the New South Wales minister, 'I think it might be time to exit the Basin Plan.' That was before we secured the northern basin disallowance agreement and we sorted that problem out. Before then, the states were the gatekeepers. What's Labor saying? They're creating enemies of the states in their conversation in the House today. They're saying, 'The states won't do the right thing.' The states are doing the right thing. They're looking after their people. They're standing behind their farmers. At the moment, they are the only thing between this Labor Party and decimation.

This is a piece of public policy that is tolerated at best and hated at worst all across the basin. This is so not just in my patch; it is all across the basin. Surely, that sounds an alarm in this parliament that something needs to be done differently. Where are we now? Yes, I accept the plan is a framework. Yes, I'm just hanging in there, along with most of my community. But what I do know is that it needs flexibility. It needs to have the ability to change the rules. It needs a smart assessment—an examination of water allocations and entitlements that actually proves the viability and the value of irrigated agriculture and our need to have and introduce that flexibility so those communities can say, 'Yes, we're valued by the parliament of Australia. Yes, we're valued by everyone who sits in this place.'

I cannot overstate what I see as the huge risk in the Labor Party in government owning this policy. They're not going to get there; we're going to get there. But people have to think about this very, very carefully and really consider how hard it's going to be for our farming families, their children and their future if this policy passes. This policy crept into the parliament by way of an independent senator but was seriously backed up by a release put out by Labor last week that they're not really talking about. But don't worry, it has been heard loud and clear across my electorate. It's a release that actually says they will remove the cap on buyback and restore the original socioeconomic definition for delivering the 450 gigalitres to the system. Not only that, they're moving the Murray-Darling Basin Authority compliance functions to the EPA and having an urgent review of climate change impacts on the basin, which, from my point of view and that of my community, is an excuse to get in there and suddenly say the plan's not working, we have to change it, we have to find more water and we have to do these things.

There is all this expertise but none of the hard, practical understanding of talking, listening and learning. Anyone anywhere is welcome to come and speak to my people. Understand the situation and think very, very carefully before you take the actions that it looks like you're going to take.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The original question was that the motion be agreed to. To this the honourable member for Watson has moved an amendment. The question before the House is that the amendment moved by the member for Watson be agreed to.

6:22 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion moved by Mr Littleproud be agreed to.

6:32 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The result of the division is ayes 72, noes 72.

Hon. Members:

Honourable members interjecting

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

It's not that perplexing. I didn't think I would have another casting vote. As with amendments, under the principles that members would accept, I need to leave motions in their current form, so, therefore, I cast my vote with the ayes. I will hear from the Manager of Opposition Business; I'm happy to.

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Manager of Opposition Business (House)) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Speaker, I'm seeking for you to clarify; I'm basing this on previous public statements you've made about how you would use the casting vote. The public statements that you have made about how you would use the casting vote said that, for example, in a second reading motion you would always cast with the ayes, because the principle is to allow for further debate, but for a third reading, for example, or for a motion, you would not use the casting vote to make a final decision that the House had not otherwise made. On this occasion, we have a decision of the House as to whether or not we have concurrence with the Senate. We don't have a procedural motion. We have a formal decision of the House. I put to you, Mr Speaker, in terms of what you have previously said on how you would use your casting vote, that: this is not a moment where it allows further debate; it is not the ordinary procedural motion that you might otherwise refer to; it is, in fact, a decision of the House. It would be different from precedent and a different use of the casting vote certainly to what you had said publicly you would use it for, if the casting vote becomes the reason that the House forms a view on a policy issue.

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll hear from the Leader of the House. Just before I do: obviously, sometimes, the principles somewhat conflict. I was obviously giving it consideration. On this occasion my understanding is that the minister had moved that the Senate message not be agreed to. We've dealt with the amendment. I'll hear from the Leader of the House. I think the Manager of Opposition Business has made a point worth considering.

Photo of Christopher PyneChristopher Pyne (Sturt, Liberal Party, Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

On the points that have been made by the Manager of Opposition Business and by yourself, the position you've previously taken publicly and in this building was that you wouldn't use your casting vote on precedent to change anything. The difficulty with using your casting vote to vote 'no' on this occasion would be that we would actually change something, because the message from the Senate would then become a government decision, or a policy of the House of Representatives. You'd be using your casting vote to make an action occur, and you've said previously that you wouldn't do so—that you would leave things as they are. The only way to leave things as they are is to cast your vote with the ayes. Otherwise, you would be accepting a message from the Senate, which would be an action—a changing motion. Therefore, I agree with your decision to vote with the ayes and to use your casting vote with the ayes.

Mr Burke interjecting

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I think, Manager of Opposition Business, I'm reconsidering, based on—the proposition is this: there are three propositions. I don't think we need to go through them all. The final question was that the message from the Senate not be agreed to. There are a number of propositions there. One is to allow debate to continue, that's true. Having reflected on it and having listened to the Manager of Opposition Business, I do think that, on reflection, I should cast my vote with the noes, because I shouldn't vote to create a majority on an issue when a majority doesn't exist. I will cast my vote that way, having reflected on it. Where that leaves us is that the minister's motion has not been agreed to. I'll cast my vote with the noes. I think that is consistent with what I've done in the past, although I hope I have the forbearance of members, given the nature of the motion and the amendment, that my initial reaction was to cast it with the yes, but I think that is right—I think I should cast it with the noes—and at this late hour I don't want to be being inconsistent. I really don't. That's my position.

Photo of Christopher PyneChristopher Pyne (Sturt, Liberal Party, Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

The House now suspends?

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

No. We've got—would you believe it?—a committee report.