Thursday, 24 June 2021
Water Legislation Amendment (Inspector-General of Water Compliance and Other Measures) Bill 2021; Consideration of Senate Message
I'd like to indicate to the House that the government proposes that amendments (2) and (3) be agreed to and that amendments number (1) and (4) be disagreed to. I suggest, therefore, that it may suit the convenience of the House first to consider amendments (2) and (3) and, when those amendments have been disposed of, to consider amendments (1) and (4).
These aren't the only amendments that came from the government side. What we saw yesterday in the Senate, just on the day after the Deputy Prime Minister was sworn in, was that he and his party wasted no time in trying to trash the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. This is a member who could gatecrash his own party. That's what we've seen—a National Party member and now leader gatecrashing his own party and trashing the coalition. A Murray-Darling Basin plan is essential not just for good agricultural product but also for those communities in South Australia.
Government members interjecting—
I note a South Australian member is actually interjecting. I'd say that what he should do is interject against his National Party colleagues. The tail, once again, is trying to wag the dog. Of course, with the rise of the member for New England to be Deputy Prime Minister, there's been some discussion about what that means for the way the government will operate and the way this parliament will function. Well, spoiler alert: the Deputy Prime Minister is the spoiler, the great spoiler within the coalition. He is the great divider within the coalition, and we saw it. We saw the National Party have a meeting and, as Senator Canavan said on radio this morning, deliberately not tell their Liberal colleagues what they were going to do, because, as he said, their Liberal colleagues would have pulled the bill. So the National Party is plotting, within the government, against the government of which they are a part. If there's anything that exemplifies the chaos that we've seen this week, it is what occurred in the Senate last night. This has occurred at a time when we have absolute chaos when it comes to the big challenge of this country.
Yesterday we heard the Prime Minister—the virtual Prime Minister on the screen over there—acknowledge that he had just two jobs. Well, he did have two jobs. He had the job of the rollout of the vaccine and fixing national quarantine. That should have been the priority, but what have we had this week? We've had a plot against the former Deputy Prime Minister, the member for Riverina, on the basis of no argument that he's done anything wrong—no argument at all. They've queued up to say what a decent bloke he is. Between putting a spear in between the third and fourth ribs of the former Deputy Prime Minister, they've queued up to say what a good bloke he is and then gave him a standing ovation as he walked out the door. Well, the current Deputy Prime Minister didn't get a standing ovation when he had to resign in disgrace the last time he had the job, and he won't get a standing ovation from them the next time he has to leave, because his whole record in office is one of chaos.
What we saw last night in the Senate was chaos—government members moving amendments to their own legislation and then being rejected and then going out there on radio this morning spruiking as to why it was the case. We know that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is absolutely critical. As a former water shadow minister, I know exactly why this critical plan for Australia's food bowl as well as for the use of water in this country—particularly for the end users down the bottom there in South Australia—is absolutely critical to access to clean water. But what we have from this government is absolute chaos, and we've got Liberal Party members from South Australia defending this. (Time expired)
Thank you. What we have now is a major test for this government: do they allow the National Party to keep the water portfolio? That's the big test for this government. We now know what the National Party think about water. They want to trash the centrepiece of water policy in this country, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which has enjoyed widespread support, has gone to election after election and has survived changes of government, but won't survive the chaos that has now infected this government. The infections around this country aren't confined to COVID-19; there's an infection over there—an infection of chaos and disunity that has spread from the National Party room onto the floor of the Senate and is now spreading onto the floor of the House of Representatives.
The fact is that this legislation is still very weak. There were a range of things that were promised by this government with respect to the inspector-general bill that we are dealing with here. In August 2019 the government announced 'a tough cop on the beat'. One of the things that they announced as part of that was that the inspector-general role—wait for this—was going to be able to report things to the Commonwealth integrity commission. What do you think the weakness in that is now? What's missing? There's no integrity commission. So we have a process to have an inspector-general to report things like when there are rorts. So why is it that there might be an issue here with the inspector-general, a national integrity commission, water and the Deputy Prime Minister—the current bloke?
What is it, do you think?
What do you think the link is there? Why mightn't they want someone to closely examine the water buybacks that have been undertaken under this government, now that we have this Deputy Prime Minister, the bloke who'll sit in this chair at lunchtime? What do you reckon? I reckon there's another member as well, the member for Hume, who might be a bit interested in whether this gets a close examination or not.
The fact is that this is a government that doesn't have integrity. This is a government that is all about itself. We've seen it this week when, in the middle of a pandemic, they have prioritised stabbing rather than jabbing. They've prioritised stabbing a Deputy Prime Minister, a man of integrity, a man who doesn't have question marks over his buybacks and his personal involvement in these issues—a man whom, whilst I have substantial policy disagreements with him, there is no cloud over. You can't say that about his colleagues.
Opposition members interjecting—
You can't say that, can you? Their priority was to get rid of him and then to immediately flex their muscles and say: 'We're not really a part of the coalition. We don't care about South Australia. We don't care about proper use of water to maximise agricultural outputs whilst ensuring environmental sustainability. We don't care about having a national integrity commission. We're showing once again that we're just focused on ourselves.'
That's the problem for this mob opposite. They've been there for almost a decade now, for the best part of a decade, and they'll be asking for even more time. They are without a plan for the future—just a plan to wreck, not a plan to actually deal with the current challenge of COVID-19, let alone a plan to recover stronger. This has been a debacle of a final sitting week, a debacle that began with the stabbing of a man of integrity and his replacement with the bloke who has presided over this attack on a key part of our agriculture and water policy in this country.
At the conclusion of this debate, under standing orders, I will be moving additional amendments to this bill that are directly relatable to the Senate amendments that came back into the House at the conclusion of last night.
Honourable members interjecting—
What is going on with this government? If you can't govern yourself, you can't govern the nation. It's about time this government got its act together. It is unbelievable that less than one day after the new Deputy Prime Minister was sworn in, having knifed the former Deputy Prime Minister, the Nationals in the Senate were moving amendments against their own government's legislation. Now, today, we are seeing the Nationals Whip saying that he's going to be moving amendments, presumably surprise amendments, against the government's legislation as well.
What is going on with this country and with this government? It is chaos. It is absolute chaos, and the people who will suffer will be all of the people who rely on the Murray-Darling Basin, the people who rely on the health of the rivers—and that's all Australians, because the Murray-Darling Basin is of incredible economic significance to our country. It's of significance because of agriculture, it's of significance because of regional communities, it's of significance because of Aboriginal communities, and it's of significance because Australians care about the natural environment that relies on these rivers being healthy. And you people cannot seem to get your act together on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which is fundamental and underpins the health of these rivers.
Instead of having stable government, instead of having what we've been told is commitment to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which is a commitment to deliver the 450 gigalitres—of which, by the way, about two gigalitres have actually been delivered—a tiny, tiny fraction has been delivered. Instead of the stability, the commitment, the reassurance, we have the National Party Whip saying he's going to move amendments to undermine the plan, to shred the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. That's what is happening in this government. That's what is happening right now, before our eyes. We are here in this chamber seeing an unfolding debacle, and it has been a debacle after debacle after debacle sort of week, hasn't it? It's been an absolute disgrace of a week. I cannot actually believe that this government is allowing itself to be so divided, to be so chaotic and to be so reckless about this incredibly important environmental community and economic asset. People up and down South Australia and people up and down the entire country are now looking to this government and saying, 'What is going on?'
Why do we have to have a situation where amendments like this are being sprung on the House because the National Party are trying to sort out their own internals? Why are we spending our time on this internal issue, where we see a senator for Victoria, Senator McKenzie, just trying to get her spot back in the cabinet? Why is it that we have to be in a situation where the Liberals have been so absolutely unable to get a handle on the National Party? I say to the Prime Minister, wherever he might be right now, it's about time you face up to the fact that you cannot allow the National Party to retain the water portfolio. It's about time that the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party stand up to the fact that they cannot allow the National Party to retain this portfolio.
We saw the member for Sturt yesterday stand up and claim that he was going to stand up for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Well, have a word to your Liberal colleagues and get them to finally stop this incredibly important portfolio being handed to the National Party. Until you do that, it's just crocodile tears from the Liberal Party. It's nothing but crocodile tears. The Liberals from South Australia cannot be trusted on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Just like the Liberal minister for water in South Australia, he has managed to completely undermine the 450 gigalitres that's of such significant importance to South Australians. Just like their state counterparts, the Liberals from South Australia are unable to take control and to get a handle on what's happening in the Murray-Darling Basin. They are unable to stand up for South Australians, and they are certainly unable to do anything about the fact that, because of the internals of the coalition, because of secret coalition deals where these sorts of arrangements are agreed to, because of all of those things, the National Party gets control of water.
And what happens when we see the National Party get control of water? We see this circus happening in our nation's parliament. It's about time that some things happened in this place to support the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. It's all well and good to say that you're committed to the plan. It's all well and good to say you will deliver on the plan on time and in full. That's all well and good, but these are just words unless they are backed up by actions. So we have called on the government to actually make sure that someone is in charge of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan who can be trusted to stand up for it, and that means taking it off the National Party.
Due respect to the minister, this week's complete debacle has shown that the Nationals cannot be trusted on water. And when I asked the Deputy Prime Minister about this the other day in question time, he said, 'Oh, we're just listening.' You're not 'just listening'. What you are doing is fundamentally shredding the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, and it is Australians and Australian communities who will pay the price. You're pitting farmer against farmer and state against state, and you should be ashamed. (Time expired)
That amendments Nos (1) and (4) be disagreed to.
Question agreed to.
I present the reasons for the House disagreeing to the Senate amendments Nos (1) and (4), and I move:
That the reasons be adopted.
Question agreed to.
by leave—I move:
The amendments were unavailable at the time of publishing.
It is tough to have to stand here in this place, when you live in the Murray-Darling Basin and you experience the hardship each and every day, to hear from the Leader of the Opposition, who spends all of his life in Sydney, and from the opposition water minister, who spends all of her life in Brisbane, standing up telling us what's fair and what's reasonable in relation to water policy. These amendments are effectively what the various state governments all agree on, with the exception of the City of Adelaide. So, throughout Queensland, right through New South Wales and right through Victoria, these amendments are very well received.
In late 2018 another 450 gigalitres of water was effectively ruled out because of a new socioeconomic neutrality test. It effectively said that the new socioeconomic neutrality test could not take more water out of agriculture for the environment if it was going to have a negative and detrimental effect on the communities. That was agreed to by all states. So what we're doing here is simply legislating that. So the 450 is out—that's been proven.
Then we have the 605s. It's another 605 gigalitres worth of water. Some of the states are effectively saying that the 605 projects, which are environmental projects, are having trouble reaching the required time lines by 2024 and they may fail. What these amendments do is actually give the states the time and the flexibility to make sure that the 605 gigalitres worth of environmental projects can come to fruition, and, if the projects that are currently on the list cannot be done, then we're putting into legislation the flexibility that the states can find new projects and they can have extended time lines to make sure that those environmental projects are in fact met. These are the issues that are again heavily supported by the states in relation to the Murray-Darling Basin. So, the 450 is out and the 605 is given greater flexibility and greater time lines.
In amongst this whole recovery of water, what has been the worst policy by any government has been the concept that you end up getting a big chequebook from government, you go and find desperate farmers that need to sell their water to retire debt and you pay them a premium for their water. That water effectively just leaves the agricultural districts, and it just goes straight to the environment. So we're going to put a line through buybacks, simply because buybacks are most destructive, dangerous and damaging. From a government, they're also incredibly lazy. We're saying no more buybacks, and this is primarily aimed at the Labor Party because the Labor Party still have buybacks at the top of their policy direction. That is what the Labor Party want to do. Should they ever be back in government, their first port of call, their first action, would be simply to go back and buy water off desperate farmers. We're saying we want to legislate that, even though it's already government policy, and no more buybacks.
We want to create certainty for our agricultural sector. Everybody in the House always wants to talk about what a great job our farmers are doing during this pandemic, about how we're able to keep the supermarkets full of food and about all the benefits that we have. The opposition love talking about how our farmers are doing a great job and how our supermarkets are doing a great job. But they forget about the most important component of this, which is the component of water. You can't have it both ways, but the opposition love to have it both ways. Unfortunately, there is a finite amount of water that we get to deal with each and every year. Sometimes it's plentiful, as it is at the moment, and sometimes, in drought, it's very, very scarce. These amendments would make a little bit of water a little bit less scarce.
Mr Speaker, I draw your attention to standing order 160, which states clearly:
The House may only amend a House bill which has been returned from the Senate if its further amendment is relevant to or consequent on the Senate amendments or requests for amendments.
Mr Speaker, I put to you that these amendments, as we know, were moved in the Senate yesterday in exactly the same form now proposed by the honourable member. But they do not relate to the amendments that have come back from the Senate. They are not consequent on the Senate amendments or request for amendments and, on that basis, I believe that they are out of order.
I'll hear from the Manager of Opposition Business on the subject. I particularly want members not to be interjecting. Obviously, the Leader of the House has raised a point of order. I want to hear from the Manager of Opposition Business, and I think members would expect me to consider the matters carefully. I can't really do that if people are deciding to interject.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Standing order 160 would have applied, except that the House has effectively suspended it. The moment when we suspended it was when the mover asked leave as to whether he would be allowed to do this. At that moment, any member of the House could have stood up and denied leave. I was the only one who stood up and specifically granted leave to allow for these amendments to all be moved and to be moved together. That has now happened. The moment to object under this standing order has now passed. If there were, for example, one amendment or if the member had gone straight to moving them without seeking leave in any way then that standing order and the point of order raised by the Leader of the House would have prohibited us from going any further. But leave was given for what has now been moved to be moved. Leave has the same impact as suspending standing orders, and that's what occurred.
I make an observation to the House. I obviously came in just as the member for Nicholls was moving the amendments because I could see he was on his feet but he hadn't actually moved them. I know the point the Leader of the House is trying to make. The difficulty for the chair is that you cannot make a judgement on the amendments until they are moved. So I wanted to hear the member for Nicholls. How would I make a judgement under standing order 160 without knowing what the amendments are and not even having heard from the member? Clearly the intent is not for the chair or the Speaker to rush in and pick up the amendments before they're moved and make a judgement and have, almost, a preventative ruling. So I think hearing from the member is absolutely necessary. We've now done that.
The Leader of the House has very quickly moved that he thinks they should be ruled out of order on the basis of standing order 160. I know that, when members move amendments, they seek advice, and they certainly know what the risks are. Let's be very clear about that. I don't think these have been moved in the ignorance of the risk of breaching standing order 160. I think the point the Manager of Opposition Business is making, though, can equate with what I'm saying, which is that I needed to hear what the member has said about the amendments. I will obviously make a ruling one way or another. I don't think I need to do that straightaway. I'd be happy to hear some more contributions on the amendments. The Leader of the House has expressed one view. I certainly have a preliminary view on the matter, and the Manager of Opposition Business obviously has a clear view on the matter. But, given the circumstances, we've heard from the member for Nicholls, and we've heard from the Leader of the House and the Manager of Opposition Business, obviously. I'd be happy to hear some other contributions on the subject. The member for Nicholls is welcome to speak, and what he's speaking on now is the point of order. The member for Nicholls.
Effectively, as I understand it, Speaker, under standing order 160, there has to be a directly relatable link between the amendments that I have put forward and the amendments that came back from the Senate last night. The amendments that came back from the Senate from the government were entirely about the inspector general and the inspector general's role. And, in a very practical sense in terms of what's going to go on in the future, the inspector general will be actually in charge of a lot of these 605 projects that states will put forward and states will knock back. The inspector general will, in fact, have a real role to play in how the 605 SDLAM offset projects are dealt with and whether or not they are effective or ineffective. So the inspector general's role is directly relatable to the amendments that I have put forward. In relation to the 450 projects—because government policy is that 450 not be delivered with water, but that 450 be delivered with environmental works and complementary measures—again that will be the role and responsibility of the inspector general. So my directly relatable link from the amendments that came back from the government in relation to the IG and the IG's bill with the amendments that I have put forward directly come around those two main components of the 605 and the 450 and the National Party's desire to have the 605s fixed up and the 450 knocked out.
Mr Speaker, on the point of order, and just to provide some further clarity, the amendments the honourable member is seeking to move are clearly out of order as they're neither relevant to nor consequent on the Senate amendments. The Senate made a very specific amendment to this bill—that is, to require all water trades across the Murray-Darling Basin to be recorded on a national water register. This is a specific amendment to section 4(3) of schedule 3 of the Water Act 2007.
The amendments which the honourable member is seeking to move are not related to the national water register. These amendments do not even relate to the same schedule of the Water Act. The amendments which are seeking to be moved relate to water recovery generally and the timing of reviews of the Basin Plan, which is in schedule 2. So the amendments being moved clearly sit outside the scope of the amendments as relayed from the Senate. On that basis, clearly, they should be ruled out of order.
On the point of order: I will just raise again that the House is the master of its own destiny. I appreciate the point that you made earlier, Mr Speaker, about the opportunity for the chair to make a ruling that the amendments need to be presented—I will simply add this detail. The amendments had been circulated in the House and, having been circulated, the House then gave leave for this course of action. That has occurred—it occurred with the knowledge of standing order 160 and it occurred with the full text of the amendments having been circulated in the House. The House gave leave for this course of action and the House should be allowed to do so.
Respectfully, I disagree on one aspect of that. Technically, that's true, but standing order 160 stands in its own right. It doesn't say that an amendment can't be moved, really. If it's seen to breach standing order 160 it's that it not be put before the House for a vote. That's really what it's saying. Certainly, I would argue, that it's absolutely within the right of the Speaker not only to see the amendment but to hear the justification for why the amendment is being made and to hear the points of order—as we're hearing now.
There certainly have been occasions—not many in my Speakership—where amendments have been ruled out, and I think quite justifiably, but without an opportunity for any debate. They were really ruled out with an iron fist, if you like. I haven't taken that course; I actually wanted to hear from the member for Nicholls, to see whether my view would be altered by any details that he would put forward to actually show that connection.
Let me be very clear about it: I think that the Manager of Opposition Business is trying to say that the House gave leave, and I understand the point he's making. But that doesn't then mean—just by the mere moving of an amendment that might breach 160, if a decision is taken by the chair that it indeed does—just because leave has been granted that a determination can't be made prior to the amendment being voted upon. That's certainly my view. I will happily hear from the Leader of the Opposition.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Further to the point of order by the Manager of Opposition Business, the processes that have occurred here are, firstly, that the member for Nicholls indicated he wished to move an amendment. He then circulated the amendment to all members, and I must say that they were actually circulated to all members. All members then got the opportunity to grant leave, which is not the job of any specific member but as you're aware, Mr Speaker, under standing orders it's the responsibility of each and every member of the House.
Of the 150 people who had the opportunity—
It's 150; he can't give leave to himself—150 plus one, Barnaby. So 150 people had the opportunity to say no—every one—and no-one did. At that point in time, the member for Nicholls moved his amendments and they're now before the House.
I'll ask you to consider this, Mr Speaker, in your deliberations: on a range of occasions when confronted with issues which are, shall we say, open to interpretation, Speakers have consistently made the determination that the House is the master of its own destiny. You have had a process whereby the House has determined to consider the amendments. That's the first point. The second part of that process is whether it agrees to the amendments or not, and that is a matter, again, in my view and my submission to you, for the House now. There is something before the House; it has been moved. It's been moved in accordance with the standing orders and processes. Leave was given, and then it was moved by the member for Nicholls, so now it is up to the House as to whether they agree to that or not. That is an important part of the process—that all of us have a responsibility to determine what we think about the amendments moved by the member for Nicholls.
For many members of the House that, unusually, could be an uncertain result, because it's pretty clear that the idea of the normal circumstances, whereby you have coalition members voting one way and Labor voting the other and the crossbenchers doing what they do, is not applying in this case. So I, for one, am very interested in the outcome, it must be said, and I wouldn't want anything other than members' right to exercise their views on this. I know that the member for Kingston and other members from South Australia are particularly interested in the casting of a vote on this position. I'd say, as I said, in conclusion, the first part has been done; it's been agreed by the House with leave that the amendments be moved. All that remains is for the House to determine its position, and I do not believe it would be appropriate, with respect, for the Speaker or for any other process to circumvent the casting of a democratic vote on the amendments moved by the member for Nicholls.
I'm being very patient, and, just before I call—
Mr Joyce interjecting—
If the Deputy Prime Minister could cease interjecting, that would assist everybody. I'll just say to the Leader of the Opposition: certainly leave was given for him to move the amendments together, and I've made my arguments. I don't accept the argument that, because the member has moved them, once that has occurred the Speaker can't make a ruling on whether the amendments are in order or out of order.
An honourable member interjecting—
Everyone has had a good say, and for once you've all spoken longer than me! I don't accept that at all, and I couldn't accept that for the role of the Speaker. I could not expect that. But I will hear from the Manager of Opposition Business, and then I'll be very open with the House about what choices the House has. The Manager of Opposition Business.
The shadow minister, the member for Griffith, has just raised with me the specifics of amendment (3). We had four amendments come back from the Senate. Amendment (3) involves omitting subsection 222D(3) from the principal act. That subsection is quite specifically about the implementation of the plan, which is what these amendments go to.
I'll be very direct on this point, and I want the House just to listen carefully to what I say because it might surprise some people. It won't surprise the Leader of the House or the Manager of Opposition Business—or, for that matter, the Leader of the Opposition, who's had both roles over the years.
Mr Joyce interjecting—
Deputy Prime Minister, I am trying to deal with a serious situation for the House. It is not a time to interject. In all seriousness, you risk not being here if there's a vote, which I suspect there will be at some point.
I've outlined my views. I've listened to the views. I understand the cases that are being made; even that last point, I've heard. But let me be very candid: before amendments are drafted, advice is sought, things are considered, and certainly the issue of standing order 160 as a risk has been raised. I obviously disagree with the question of leave, and I've explained that; I won't go through that again. I understand the House clearly wishes to make a decision on this. The Leader of the Opposition made it very clear he'd just like to see a vote. I understand that. But that doesn't mean the standing orders can be ignored.
So what I'm going to do—and please hear me out on this, because it's important for all members—is: I am ruling that these amendments breach standing order 160. That's certainly my considered advice, and that's my ruling. But I am going to say to the House that the House can seek to make a different ruling. The House can move dissent from my ruling. And let me make clear: in doing so—and this is not well known—that is in no way a reflection on me as Speaker. It is not any question of confidence. This is often misunderstood; it really is. But Practice makes it really clear that, on an issue of a ruling like this, it is in no way a question of confidence, and, as Speaker, it would not in the slightest, in my mind, be any reflection or judgement if the House took a different case. So if a motion of dissent was moved it would be seeking to make an alternative ruling.
What I'm really saying to the House is—and I want the House to listen to this—that I believe the amendments breach standing order 160. If the House decides otherwise, that's fine—and I can go through all the precedents, if you want—but it would just mean the House was taking responsibility for the matter. That's what it would mean. Now, is that clear to everybody? You don't need me to go through all the historic examples?