Senate debates

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Bills

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

1:29 pm

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

by leave—I move Greens amendments (17) to (24) on sheet 7314:

(17) Schedule 1, item 2, page 10 (line 27), after subsection 86AI(2)(b), add:

     ; (iv) whether it is anticipated that that increase will meet the target of at least 450 gigalitres by 31 December 2019;

(18) Schedule 1, item 2, page 10 (line 27), after subparagraph 86AI(2)(c)(iii), insert:

     ; (iv) whether the project achieved the optimum water recovery volume against the expenditure of funds under the Water for the Environment Special Account as under subsection 86AD(2);

(19) Schedule 1, item 2, page 11 (line 19), omit "30 June 2024", substitute "31 December 2019".

(20) Schedule 1, item 2, page 12 (line 5), omit "30 September 2019", substitute "30 September 2015".

(21) Schedule 1, item 2, page 12 (line 7), omit "30 September 2021", substitute "30 September 2017".

(22) Schedule 1, item 2, page 12 (line 14), omit "2020-2021 financial year", substitute "2016-2017 financial year".

(23) Schedule 1, item 2, page 12 (line 16), omit "2022-2023 financial year", substitute "2018-2019 financial year".

(24) Schedule 1, item 2, page 12 (after line 16), after section 86AJ, add:

86AK Audit of Water Special Account

(1) Pursuant to the powers under Part 3, the National Water Commission must audit the Water for the Environment Special Account as soon as practicable after 30 June in each financial year from the date of establishment of the account.

(2) The audit must report on:

  (a) the quantity of environmental water that was delivered to each project that receives payments under this Act; and

  (b) the value to the community of any payments made under paragraph 86AD(2)(c)(ii).

These amendments are the last of the Australian Greens amendments to this legislation. They go specifically to auditing of the account. They are to make sure, of course, that the Australian community gets value for money within this special account. It is almost $2 billion and we need to make sure we spend it in the best possible way. It cannot just simply be left to chance as to whether or not, as the years progress, this money is actually delivering the water that we are setting out to achieve.

We do not want to find ourselves in 2019 or, God forbid, 2024 suddenly realising that the well is dry and the water has not been returned but that it is all too late because we have spent the money from the special account. It needs to be carefully audited every year so that everybody, from the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to the scientists to members in this chamber and our local communities and constituents, knows exactly how much water has been purchased or returned so far and how much money remains in the account. Every time the Commonwealth Water Holder buys water at an inflated price through expensive means, such as some of the more expensive on-farm infrastructure grants, we know less money is available to buy the water that is outstanding.

We are seeking to amend the bill to ensure that the National Water Commission will properly, rigorously, audit the special account after every financial year to make sure that the $1.77 billion is being spent wisely and productively. This is an appropriate role for the National Water Commission. It enhances its current oversight role and the list of tasks it has to achieve. It is true that this bill as it stands has some inbuilt review mechanisms including a requirement for annual reporting to parliament and two ad hoc reviews. These reviews have their place, but they are very limited in their scope and timing. They will work in parallel with the audits under the Water Commission, as proposed by these amendments, so that the community can be confident of knowing exactly where this money is going and what they are getting for every dollar.

The Greens amendments will make sure that whenever the department is required to table the annual report before parliament it has to state clearly whether the volume of water secured, project by project, was bought in the most cost-effective way. We know that we have examples of porkbarrelling in this area already—Senator Heffernan has spoken about this many times during this debate over the last three days. We need to make sure we put as many safeguards as possible in this legislation to ensure that Australian taxpayer money is not simply frittered away because this chamber cannot be bothered ensuring that we put some proper rules and regulations in place.

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