House debates

Thursday, 25 March 2021


Murray-Darling Basin

12:58 pm

Photo of Damian DrumDamian Drum (Nicholls, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The farmers in the communities of the southern-connected system of the Murray-Darling Basin over the last 12 months have enjoyed a relatively good season. We've had crops that have recorded record yields. Some of those results have been stunning. Pastures have again had growth, which has resulted in farmers having very strong hay yields and storages for upcoming seasons. Again, they are in a very good position. The yields in the fruit industry were quite stunning. They have had some of the best yields. Our fruit growers have to fight against frost, too much rain, too much heat, insects, birds and hail. Finally they got this incredible year, where they've had the right amount of rain at the right time of the year, only to find that, unfortunately, the Victorian state Labor government closed the opportunity for them to bring in the pickers. That's been a quite demoralising situation in that regard.

But the season has been one of the best seasons on record. It's also been a fantastic story for our storages for upcoming irrigation seasons. Dartmouth is now at 63 per cent; this time last year it was 46 per cent. Lake Hume is at 47 per cent, whereas this time last year it was 14 per cent. Eildon, which feeds the Goulburn, is now at 60 per cent, whereas this time last year it was 36 per cent. The coming irrigation season therefore should see fantastic water allocations and reasonable prices for temporary water.

But now is not the time to relax. Now, in good times, is when you make the best water policy decisions. So we should be using this time to effectively look at what type of policies we want to have around water for when we face our next dry period, our next drought. In the next drought the human cost of those bad water policies is absolutely heart-breaking, as people have to walk off their farms because they simply cannot afford to purchase water on the temporary market.

So this is the opportunity now where we should be looking to see some of the successes that we've made with water policy. We have, in fact, put a socioeconomic test around what is called the 450, meaning that any water policy cannot have a social or economic detriment to the community surrounding the project that you are contemplating. What this is seeing is that effectively all on-farm efficiency projects have to be stopped, because with the on-farm efficiency projects you see that half of the savings of those projects goes off to the environment. It diminishes the overall pool that's available for irrigation, and once you diminish that pool that's available for irrigation you put the price of water at a higher level than where it previously was. David Littleproud was the minister when we implemented the socio-economic neutrality test. That's been a significant piece of legislation.

It's not easy to change the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. To change any part of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan you have to get the agreement of all four states. You have to then get the agreement of the federal parliament, both the Lower House and the Senate. So you understand, with everybody having to agree to any change, it makes it very difficult for people like myself who represent a significant irrigation area where your constituents simply believe that because you're in the federal parliament, and you're in government, you should be able to change this horrendous policy. You should be able to look at where the Murray-Darling Basin Plan started, the detrimental effect it's had on the communities that have been affected, and surely, you're in government—why don't you just change it? But we can't change it unless we bring everybody else with us, unless everybody in the House, everybody in the Senate, everybody in South Australia, are all honest enough to realise that we have taken too much water out of agriculture to try and fix these environmental outcomes.

Now is the time. We've had the Sefton report, we've had so many reports that are all effectively saying the same thing. In looking back to where we started, we designed this plan in 2012. We've now had nine years of looking at the outcomes and consequences of taking this amount of water away from irrigation communities. We can see the damage that has been done, and yet we can't change it. We can't make this plan an adaptive plan. All our people want is for everybody to have the courage to look at the consequences and say enough is enough.

Question agreed to.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 13:03