House debates

Tuesday, 17 October 2023


Water Amendment (Restoring Our Rivers) Bill 2023; Second Reading

1:16 pm

Photo of Matt BurnellMatt Burnell (Spence, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise, as every loyal South Australian member of this place should be doing, standing up for the future of the Murray-Darling Basin and standing up for South Australia. There are a few things that should come as no surprise to anyone participating in or viewing the unfolding debate on the Water Amendment (Restoring Our Rivers) Bill 2023 on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, one of those being the vigour of South Australian members to come to the defence of our state and of our river Murray. It should only be deemed as a natural response for us to stand up for a river that is not just the lifeblood to our townships that run along it across the regions but as a source of water for our state as a whole.

Australia is the driest inhabited continent on the earth—drier even than my not-so-subtle attempts to force some humour into a subject that is deadly serious. With so much riding on this plan being reinvigorated under our government after it has been collecting cobwebs, at best, under the previous Abbot-Turnbull-Morrison governments, it is only natural that in the context of our climate we factor in what comes naturally and that we also prepare a strategy to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

I regret deeply that I was not in the chamber on the first sitting evening when debate on this bill resumed. By all accounts I missed out on quite a show by three wise men. However, it is equally fitting, given the National Party's line and length on this debate—they are effectively being Ebeneezer Scrooge towards water flowing into South Australia—that we would have the ghosts of Nationals past, present and future, in no particular order. I'll leave it up to you to decide who's who. We had the member for Maranoa, the Leader of the Nationals and the member for Riverina, a former leader of the Nationals and a notable friend of the filibuster—and, quite arguably, a leading Mike-Pence-cosplay enthusiast. After we heard from the two co-chairs of a group that one would definitely not describe as the 'parliamentary friends of the member for New England', to put it mildly, we heard from the member for Nicholls. The member for Nicholls is someone who I feel is a member with big shoes to fill in this area of public policy. We can't be overly unfair to both tar and feather the member for Nicholls with the remarks and the actions of his forebears, but they are far too outlandish and far too obscene to omit mentioning them in this debate.

Although this occurred before my time as a member of this place, at the time it was happening it certainly got quite the play in the media. The former member for Nicholls, Damian Drum, joined in on what can only be described as being basically a gunpowder plot. It was commenced in the other place by his National Senate colleagues against their own coalition partners to drive a stake through the heart of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The former member even went so far as to distribute talking points, stating that the science no longer supports South Australia needing fresh water. Frankly, 'the science' is such a weird and very ironic nickname for the National Party for so many reasons I don't quite have time to unpack. But equally he could have been using the word euphemistically for 'out of thin air'. The talking points further stated that rising sea levels will mean that the SA Lower Lakes system will not need environmental water. Ancient history? No, try 2021.

From what I have gathered from watching footage from the chamber that night, it makes me lament reading page 163 of the House Practice, which states that refreshments, other than water, are not to be consumed in the chamber, because, if the subject matter wasn't so gravely vital to South Australia, this would have been perfect: you'd have got both dinner and a show. Though I'm glad the House Practice notes that we do not deprive members of water, I just wish the Nationals in this chamber would show the same courtesy for South Australia.

I take particular note of a sterling performance put on by the member for Riverina, a state of affairs we have almost come to expect from the member. He even brought an antique book into the chamber to act as a prop. The contents of the book notwithstanding, it was that glint in his eyes as he brandished it. It reminded me of the many children at Playford College I visited recently for Book Week. With that part, along with much bluster, aside, I would like to take particular note of a number of his remarks in the chamber on this debate.

The member for Riverina dived headfirst into the debate, something one should avoid doing along many parts of the Murray-Darling due to a lack of visibility and perhaps due to the salinity, too. Those opposite are salty enough as it is. The member for Riverina accused government members who participated in the debate at the time of coming in with talking points from the proverbial Labor 'dirt unit', accusing us of not having a stake in the game—though I find the use of the word 'game' to be rather unfortunate. More substantively, he said this all the while the Minister for Social Services and the member for Adelaide were to make contributions to the debate that evening.

I was shocked that the member for Riverina would be at all surprised to hear that—at least on our side of the chamber—those of us hailing from South Australia are singing from the same hymn sheet and that we don't require some mystical Labor dirt unit to achieve this. Is it that the Nationals are just confused because the only special interest we are bringing into this debate as South Australians involves ensuring that our state continues to have clean drinking water from the Murray River for years to come?

For that matter, I am pleased to be speaking in favour of the bill so that the Hansard can reflect that I join not just the Minister for Social Services and the member for Adelaide in doing so but also the member for Boothby and the member for Makin, who stood up for South Australia and the Murray River in this place too. Perhaps we should be updating our registers of interest to reflect the fact that we require water to drink on a regular basis, as without it we would die. I would certainly hate to think someone would consider it a conflict of interest on our part for wanting to continue doing this in South Australia for many long years to come.

Speaking of the South Australian hymn sheet, I started preparing my remarks, hoping for something a bit better from the member for Grey and the member for Barker. But at least we can hold onto some quotes from the member for Sturt and Senator McLachlan, two South Australia Liberals. The member for Sturt told the Australian that South Australia should get the extra 450 gigalitres of environmental water delivered to it, even if it is by way of voluntary water purchases, although he somewhat equivocated on that when speaking on the bill; he strayed from the path. Senator McLachlan on the other hand said it was an imperative that we prioritise the welfare of our natural world and that the way we do so is through securing that water. When the senator has his chance to speak on this bill at some point in the future, we can only hope that this view remains constant.

Now that we are passing around quotes, I'm hoping someone is good with their trivia and can tell me who this is. By the sound of it the author of the quote I'm about to discuss must have been a truly radical freethinker. A true environmentalist and progressive must said these words about the Basin Plan. I'll share the quote and I'm sure once I say it the identity of its source will be utterly obvious. He said:

… the old way of managing the … Basin has reached its use-by date.

…   …   …

… we need to confront head on and in a comprehensive way, the over-allocation of water in the Murray-Darling …

The name might not come to mind straightaway just from that, but I'm sure those opposite are narrowing down whether this person is a Greens left, a Marxist, a South Australian or all of the above. It was, in fact, John Winston Howard, former Prime Minister, who, as my South Australian colleague the member for Ramsey pointed out earlier in his contribution, started this journey by way of his government introducing this water bill in 2007, coupled with billions in funding—something relatively easier to do with banked-up political capital, an economy still enjoying the enormous sugar hit of the mining boom and the scruples of a fiscal conservative with an election fast approaching.

Though the Howard government did not survive long after that, nor did John Howard's political career, I'm still happy to take note of significant developments like this by those belonging to the parties occupying the other side of the chamber, past or present. For many reasons, nobody can be surprised by the tone and content of the debate thus far from those opposite, but I'd contend that it has a bit to do with the exact point made by the member for Riverina. It's about what stake they have in the game.

It is a commonly known fact that the National Party, at the present day, is effectively a nonentity in South Australia. The last elected member of parliament, federal or state, to hail from the National Party in South Australia was Karlene Maywald, who was the state member for Chaffey from 1997 until 2010, a seat located in South Australia's Riverland region. However, for roughly half of her parliamentary career, she served as a minister in Mike Rann's state Labor government—as the Minister for River Murray and the Minister for Water Security no less. For that matter, she was the last member of the National Party to hold portfolios in that policy space who did make everyday South Australians anxious to hear that they were a National Party member too.

Even their coalition partners, when in government, have tried to avoid giving the Nationals the pick of the litter in those ministerial portfolios. Even from within their joint party room, the Liberals make efforts to keep portfolios like the environment and water away from the Nats' exclusive fiefdom, though, when this doesn't occur, it makes me wonder how the sausage gets made, with that coalition agreement of theirs and the cause of the weakness and capitulation by the Liberals. And we are close to it under the Leader of the Opposition.

Let's examine their shadow ministry list for a moment. Agriculture has gone to the Nats. Environment has also gone to the Nats. And water? You can rest assured that that has also gone to the National Party. Climate change and energy? No, the Liberals kept that. They were close to the quinella, but not close enough.

Photo of Pat ConaghanPat Conaghan (Cowper, National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I raise a point of order on relevance. This debate is in relation to the Water Amendment (Restoring Our Rivers) Bill, not the history of the National Party in other states.

Photo of Scott BuchholzScott Buchholz (Wright, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the honourable member. Member for Spence, I reckon you are being relevant. You've put a lot of effort into this. It's an evocative speech. I'm interested to hear the end of it.

Photo of Matt BurnellMatt Burnell (Spence, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy Speaker Buchholz. Speaking of agriculture, the shadow minister for agriculture spoke just before the member for Riverina in this debate, and it was quite a scrappy and erratic display. It was almost as though he was auditioning for the voice role of the member for New England on some new take of the 1980s show Rubbery Figures. But we all know that the member for New England would like to play the part that the member for Maranoa currently holds. Time will tell.

But on this bill the member for Maranoa yelled into the void, wondering where the Minister for the Environment and Water was to answer all of his rhetorical questions, of which there were many. However, since the introduction of this bill into the House last sitting, the minister has been in this place every single question time—every single one. And now for a rhetorical question of my own: did the member for Maranoa ask any of these questions directly of the Minister for the Environment and Water? Absolutely not. It was completely superfluous of me to fill you in on that tidbit of knowledge. However, did anyone ask questions of the minister about the bill and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan? Absolutely. They did so on three separate occasions during question time.

None of those questions were asked by the member for Maranoa, of course. Two questions were asked by the member for Boothby and a third question was asked by the member for Makin during the previous sitting week, nothing since. But who's surprised? Would it be a shock to anyone to know that the member for Maranoa's first instinct when he doesn't know the answer to—

Photo of Scott BuchholzScott Buchholz (Wright, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate will be continued at a later hour, and you will be granted permission to continue your speech.