Wednesday, 6 February 2013
Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012; In Committee
I move amendment (1) on sheet 7335.
(1) Schedule 1, item 2, page 7 (lines 25 and 26), omit paragraph 86AD(2)(b).
This is in regard to issues pertaining to buybacks. What we have clearly stated is that the economic consequences of buybacks in regional towns—and we are seeing it right now in some cases—have been dire especially in parts of Victoria where buybacks have led to reduction of milk quota into the processing factories and therefore you get a closure of processing factories which brings about unemployment. This is not a situation which a responsible government should be part of. If we are going to talk about employment and regional development, we cannot be closing down regional towns.
We fully support the capacity of saving water through basically being clever in how we use it. We want to make sure our efforts are concentrated on being clever in how we use it. We acknowledge that strategic purchases in certain areas were part and parcel of the initial parts of the plan, but we have stated categorically that we believe there should be a cap at 1,500 gigs—which means that there are around 250 gigs left to purchase to get to that number, because we have already purchased a substantial amount. After that, the money that is employed should be through strategic purchases and not through haphazard purchases—strategic being that you take into account the economic viability of irrigation, the economic viability of delivering water, and the economic viability of the mechanisms and the production of the town being sustained in such a way as it keeps the employment of the town there and keeps a future for the town.
This first amendment on sheet 7335 is to make sure that we remove from this extra 450 gigs the capacity for it to be attained through buyback. If it comes via buyback this will send a real sense of fear through the irrigation communities from South Australia all the way up to Queensland. We are talking about an amount of water that is approximately the same amount as what South Australia and Queensland each use. So it is an immense amount of money, and we cannot just be going into these areas and buying up all the water and shutting the areas down. Some might say that that is the cheapest way to get the water. Yes, but it is also the most devastating way to get the water.
We have stated all along that we believe that, in being part of this process, there should be an equivalence between the social and economic outcomes for the 2.1 or 2.2 million people who live in the Basin and the environmental outcomes and there should not be superiority of one over the other—and certainly not superiority of the environment over the people this parliament is here to represent. We welcome an investment that delivers water back to the river in a way that takes into account the economic viability of the towns and allows the productive capacity to remain as unscathed as possible. But that will not happen if we just go in there and start purchasing with an extra $1.77 billion the water licences or trying to attain 450 gigs. Technically, you could buy all the water in South Australia or all the water in Queensland. That would not be a good outcome. That would be a devastating outcome.
So, to make it completely unambiguous, we should remove the capacity of this money to be used for buybacks and show—in the good faith that has been asked of the people of these regional communities—that we intend to get this water through infrastructure upgrades and through environmental works and measures. The way to do that is to make it unambiguous that we are not just going to have a haphazard arrangement of going to areas and buying back water. To be honest, after talking to people from Victorian areas, I know so many of these communities are at a tipping point right now. We have already lost rice mills and dairy processing factories. We cannot lose anymore.
For every one that goes, there is an employee—and a working family—that loses their job. Nothing is being offered to them by way of compensation. Nothing has been offered to these towns that have the lost the value of their houses. Nothing has been offered to the businesses that have lost income and to those who have lost the money that they have spent purchasing a business on the belief of an income stream that is supported by irrigation. Nothing has been sent to them. So we cannot add any more uncertainty into this environment. We cannot add any more uncertainty into their capacity to refinance with banks. We cannot add any more heartache into areas where people say, 'I can't get young kids and families back on the land, because the government, by its own actions, is showing that it has no intention for there to be an economy there.' So, in the first instance, this amendment will remove that ambiguity. If this amendment were passed then the subsequent amendment, I think, could be withdrawn. If it is not passed then I have a further two amendments, one of which is an amendment to try and go about this in another way.