Senate debates

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Bills

Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012; In Committee

10:25 am

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Murray Darling Basin) Share this | Hansard source

I note that again we are about to proceed to a vote in those circumstances. We were making some progress with Senator Farrell's answers earlier, but then we returned to what might be classically described as the 'vibe' of the bill. I appreciate the vibe of the bill, but let me try to help Senator Farrell by asking another fairly specific question.

Senator Farrell gave an example of how buybacks may occur in tandem with an infrastructure project and that is one means of a buyback happening under this bill. Also under this bill there are provisions for the Commonwealth to undertake other water recovery activities if those activities are agreed to by a state government and that state government has determined and agreed that such activities do not have socioeconomic disadvantage. Presumably, those state government agreed activities could include some form of buybacks if the state government has ticked off that there is no socioeconomic disadvantage in there. Are there any other circumstances aside from the whole manner of projects that could be covered in a state government agreement—so I am not asking you to specify what they are; they could be anything under the sun really if the state government has agreed to it—or projects that are part of an infrastructure water-saving recovery activity that are engaged directly between the Commonwealth and farmers? Is there anything else that you can foresee could happen where water buybacks form part of the expenditure of this money?

I invite you to check with the officials there because certainly it has been my understanding through elements of this debate as they have occurred that certainly it is the intention of the government. Really what I am looking to see is whether the intention matches up with the detail of the legislation and that the government is willing to put on the parliamentary record that the intention matches the detail of the legislation before the parliament. It has been my understanding that really they are the two areas. We have questioned how the buybacks would work, why it is that buybacks exist as an area in this bill for expenditure when the Prime Minister—when she announced this—made it very, very clear that she wanted this money spent on infrastructure. It came as a shock to everybody when the bill was released and we saw a buybacks provision there, hence a number of stakeholders and Senator Joyce and Senator McKenzie and I and others have constantly said: 'Why is this buybacks provision there? Why is this part of the bill?' During the Senate inquiry we asked all of those questions as well, and the impression we were distinctly left with was that it was there either for the types of infrastructure projects—and you gave an example, Senator Farrell—or for possible buybacks that might happen under a state government sanctioned and approved agreement with the Commonwealth. Are they the only two types of areas where buybacks are going to be facilitated, or is there something that I cannot foresee that could be allowed under the bill?

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