Wednesday, 6 February 2013
Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012; In Committee
by leave—As Leader of the Nationals in the Senate and also on behalf of the coalition, I move:
(1) Schedule 1, item 2, page 4 (line 12), at the end of subsection 86AA(1), add "while achieving neutral or beneficial socio-economic outcomes".
(2) Schedule 1, item 2, page 5 (line 31), at the end of subsection 86AA(2), add:
; (i) investing in water efficient infrastructure and other on-farm works.
We have always stated that there should be a balance. The whole purpose and premise of the inception of this is that there would be a balance between socioeconomic and environmental outcomes. It was explicit in the statements of the previous government, the Howard government, and also in the statements made by the Labor Party. Therefore, if that is what we say to people, especially when you go to Griffith and Mildura and Shepparton and Forbes, then we should put our words into actions and actually state it clearly as a neutrality of socioeconomic outcomes in that piece of legislation and any pertinent piece of legislation that sits beside it, which this one obviously does.
We have to clearly dispel the fear that, all of a sudden, precedence is held by the environmental issues over the lives of the people in the basin. As I have said, we have so many issues that go away from the basin that mean people want a vibrant basin. People want to drink Australian wines. They want to eat Australian food. They want to see a manufacturing sector and that can only rely on having a product to put in a can by having our food processing sector, and this relies on a basin. Most importantly, the Australian populace want the capacity to go into a shop and buy Australian product. We believe in our nation, but if we do not have a clear dedication to economic neutrality then this is put under threat because all of a sudden other factors come into play and the fallout is that we lose the capacity to eat Australian food.
As I have said before, we will be a net exporter of food, but it will be unprocessed wheat, barley, beef. In more and more areas you see when you go into supermarkets that we are eating products that comes in from overseas. That is going to be exacerbated if there is a primacy of the environment over the capacity of the Australian people to produce an Australian product for an Australian population. We are already doing it in other areas—we are importing 72 per cent of our fish product and the majority of our grocery produce. Let us realise that. Every year you read of the shutdown of further manufacturing sectors in food processing.
I know the Labor Party have put at the forefront—and good luck to them—that they want to keep a manufacturing sector. But you cannot keep a manufacturing sector if you want to shut it down in favour of frogs. You have to decide which one comes first: the working family or the frog. Frogs are very important. I am not for one moment denying the rights of frogs, but we are hoping that the rights of people might be somewhere up there with them.
We have said clearly on this issue that we want to achieve a neutral or beneficial socioeconomic outcome. I think that is a fair requirement if we are fair dinkum about wanting to help working families and any other family who may be around. If we do not, we are quite clearly saying that we do not believe in working families, we believe in compromising the rights of working families for environmental outcomes. If that is the policy you want to take to an election well, good, take it. I do not think it will fly; I think it will crash and burn. But you cannot then selectively say at a later stage, 'We've changed our mind now that the crowd in the western suburbs of Sydney is getting a bit angry because we don't seem to be standing behind our own nation and we seem to have been overrun by green issues rather than working family issues,' and you want to change your rhetoric. This is a clear way to say that you believe, and it is doing it in such a way that you are not saying environmental outcomes are superior but you are at least putting them on a level playing field—and I don't know why we don't do it.
We want to make sure there is a clear object of investing in infrastructure and on-farm works. A clever country does increase its capacity to deliver more of a product with less input, but I have to say that one of the areas where we have been losing so much in research and development support from government has been in agriculture. If we clearly focus on this, there are clever people out there who can do better things and grow more with the water they have—that is, if we invest as was always thought we should, by putting the majority of these funds into providing on-farm infrastructure outcomes. It is the simple things: making the water storage cells more economic; raising the level of ring tanks so we reduce the surface capacity proportion to the water held and therefore reducing evaporation.
In our area we lose about two metres of water each year to evaporation. Most of the water taken from the river goes up in the air. If it goes down the river it just goes up into the air in a different place, like a floodplain. The greater the capacity to reduce evaporation by the delivery of water through trickle or lateral systems, or the more appropriate storage in more efficient cells, making sure you keep one storage cell full, and as deep, as cool and with as low a surface area as possible—these are the sorts of things that can make real savings for us.
We have also had good examples of the lining of channels, especially around Warren, with a greater capacity and technical use of gates. These are the sorts of things that can be done and that provide water savings as well as a better infrastructure platform for the future. This is, in a way, building for the nation for the future. But that is completely different to just shutting things down. If you are just shutting things down there is no point whatsoever. It is basically abhorrent to our purpose in parliament because we are borrowing money from overseas—86 per cent of our debt comes from overseas—not to build productive capital so as to assist us to repay the debt but to retire capital and make it harder for us to repay the debt. That is economically Python-esque. Let us invest in ways to make our productive capital larger and more efficient so we have a greater capacity to repay our debts.
We have talked quite clearly in amendment (4) about re-investing in this cap. We have talked about having a buyback cap at 1,500 gigalitres. We have already purchased most of it. There are only about 249 gigalitres to go. That is where it should stop, and all water we get back to the river after that should come from environmental works and measures, putting a weir in, having less water, with water more of an environmental asset or on-farm works and measures, so we can keep the economic capacity and the economic quantum where it is and even let it grow in some instances, keeping the economic base of the basin right and keeping Australian products on Australian shelves. To do that we need to make sure we limit the amount of general buyback. For that last 249 gigalitres that would need to be purchased to make 1,500 gigalitres, we should make sure that is purchased strategically. There is still a lot of water, but there would be a diligent process.
It concerns us that the government does not want to walk down this path of capping it at 1,500 gigalitres, because that means they are going the lazy way, buying as much water as possible. The examples thus far with some of those processes have been bizarre, and in some instances completely incompetent. We have been through the Twynham issue and the Toorale issue, and there are many others we could deal with. We have to make sure this purchase is effective and efficient, and that it stays within the concept of both what we have put forward—that it is a triple bottom line between social outcomes for people who live in the towns, the economic outcomes for our nation and that vast area that is the Murray-Darling Basin—and the environmental outcomes, which was to start with the inspiration for trying to get a better outcome but which should not have been the overarching principle from that point forward.
I move these amendments on sheet 7336. If the previous amendment that I put up had been passed I would not, but because it has not I think it is vital that we move these amendments.