Wednesday, 6 February 2013
Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012; In Committee
Thank you, Chair. I move amendment (1) on sheet 7337:
(1) Schedule 1, item 2, page 5 (lines 36 to 37), omit paragraph 86AA(3)(b), substitute:
(b) increasing the volume of the Basin water resources that is available for environmental use by up to 450 gigalitres.
We were thinking of delaying because we were thinking, for brevity, of moving a few more of these amendments together. The amendment under discussion is to make sure that we remove the words 'up to'. This is basically about making sure that 450 is a target that does not become explicit in the requirement. If we define 450 gigs, that could cause real problems. It is an object, it is a target we want to achieve, but we do not want to have any sort of suggestion that we are being held over a barrel for it.
Just understanding the quantum of this water, this is as much water as South Australia has. It is a large, large requirement and they have only allocated $55 million over the forward estimates for this. So it is kind of absurd to say, 'We are going to lock in this 450 gigs', even though with the real dollars that count in the forward estimates we only have $55 million. You have not got a hope. You will not get anywhere near it.
This is to make sure that the process is not tied to having to make sure of 450 gigs. It is ambiguous at the moment. We want to remove the ambiguity because ambiguities can work in both ways. They can work in your favour and they can work against you. We note the Greens and Senator Xenophon want to make a minimum. Obviously that would cause absolute problems. You would have to ask: where do you intend the water to come from—which towns, what areas? Then we would have to discuss with those people what we were going to do with their houses and where we were going to move them off to. I think they would deserve that right.
What this amendment talks about is omitting from paragraph 86AA(3)(b) and substituting:
(b) increasing the volume of the Basin water resources that is available for environmental use by up to 450-gigalitres.
We believe that in the use of the words 'up to' we are not going to be tying people into an outcome which the reality is we do not have the money for.
Even if you budget out the 450 gigs, it is looking at about $4,000 a megalitre and the current cost of where we are at the moment is around $10,000 a megalitre. If we really want 450, just purely from an accountant's perspective it is completely impossible to be able to deliver the outcome that you are requiring with the money available. It is just not possible so why do we say two incongruous things? It is like saying, 'I demand we buy a car for $4.50.' They are two incongruous statements. We should realise that the money that we have can aim towards a target but, with the $55 million we have in the forward estimates, you are not going to get anywhere near there. You are not even going to scratch the surface of what is required.
Obviously from a socioeconomic position—trying to look after the people of regional Australia and making sure that we maintain the capacity to provide Australian shelves with Australian food—we must provide the socioeconomic sustenance of the community. If we get to where we are passing the economic tipping point, where they are shutting down production facilities, losing manufacturing jobs, losing the underwriting of the value of houses and losing the capacity to underwrite the service industry that is pertinent to these towns, we are not going to compromise them for a number. We are going to make sure we look after the people first, so we set 450 gigalitres as a target. This amendment clearly states that we are not going to be held over a barrel by it.