Senate debates

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Statements by Senators

Water Desalination Plants

1:39 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | Hansard source

As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, and having just spent three days with several internationally renowned scientists establishing that no valid empirical evidence exists to support the claim of human induced climate change, I now rise to speak to one of the massive costs to the taxpayer of the widespread government belief in this myth. Seeing that taxpayer funds are spent wisely, and not profligately and wantonly wasted in the pursuit of an ideologically driven left-wing agenda, is one of the most important tasks of a crossbench senators. Ours is a house of review and it is focused on ensuring accountability. As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I started in this Senate with the aim of protecting freedom—in fact, restoring freedom—by opening the debate about climate science. The debate is now blown wide open.

Last night the international scientists who I have been hosting joined me in live Facebook broadcasting on 'Restoring trust in Australian science'. This live Facebook conversation reached 72,000 people and had over 20,000 views, 1,000 reactions and 1,000 comments. A chair was left vacant on the panel for the CSIRO chief executive, Minister Hunt, Labor environment spokesman, Mr Butler, and Senator Larissa Waters. Unfortunately, these parliamentarians did not think that the 20,000 people who tuned into our broadcast were worth the time to explain why they are implementing policies that are destroying our nation's wealth. Why are the Facebook figures worth talking about? Because people want to engage in this topic, they want rigorous debate and they want accountability—and our live broadcast last night proved this. Australians are crying out for debate, for an ability to contact their members of parliament—who must listen—and have those members of parliament answer questions on issues such as the cost of climate change policies.

After watching the issue of climate change explode on Twitter last night, I was pleased to see Dr Karl Kruszelnicki accept my offer to debate the issue. I am very much looking forward to a public discussion—at last—out in the open, with Dr Karl, on the great climate change scam. The public want openness in this debate; at last, we will start to have a debate. For example, the public have fair and legitimate questions about desalination plants constructed at exorbitant expense by Labor state governments in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. Based on the myth that the cyclical drought experienced by many Australian states a few years ago was somehow evidence that Australia's climate was becoming too arid to ever build more dams, Labor governments in five states poured billions of dollars into the construction of desalination plants. Australians were told the dams would never fill again. The CSIRO had glossy brochures featuring dried-up mudflats. But then of course in 2010 the drought broke and it rained and rained and rained—and existing dams filled till they overflowed and desalinated water was not needed.

These colossal white elephants have proven to be one of the most wasteful and useless expenditures of public money in this nation's history. In its 2011 inquiry into the urban water sector the Productivity Commission found that $10.2 billion was spent by five states on constructing six desalination plants between 2006 and 2012. This included $1.2 billion wasted by the Queensland Labor government on the utterly useless south-east Queensland Tugun desal plant completed in 2009. In addition to the initial construction costs, in their wisdom Labor governments committed to paying ongoing operating costs for these desal plants regardless of whether they were actually needed or even operating to produce any water, massively compounding the cost to taxpayers for decades into the future.

In its 2013 report on water infrastructure the Queensland Audit Office found that Queensland's white elephant desal plant had a $935 million replacement cost and an $824 million written down value. And even though this plant was never used it still incurred an actual annual operating cost of $89 million in 2011-12 and the forward estimate is $121 million per annum—paid for by the taxpayers and families of Queensland. In Queensland, shortly after wasting $1.2 billion on construction, due to unexpected high rainfall the desal plant fell into disuse. Yet it is costing us $121 million a year to keep it.

In Victoria, the plant—built in 2012 at a cost of $3.5 billion—was mothballed almost immediately. That is billions being flushed away. Despite no water being drawn from the Victorian facility, and dams filling to up to 80 per cent of capacity in 2014, costs to the Victorian taxpayer were found to be $2 billion and rising—what is a few billion here and there, I hear the Labor Party and their Greens mates say. As a direct result of the construction of the useless Victorian desal plant, water costs in Melbourne were driven up by as much as $200 a year. Even if no water is produced, the Victorian taxpayer is still liable to pay contracted operating costs with a so-called holding charge of $600 million required to be paid every year for no benefit. Costs to the taxpayer are projected to cumulatively rise to as much as $18 billion by 2039/2040. Now, however, with the election of the extreme left-wing Andrews government, some effort has been made to pretend that Labor's desalination liability is of some use, with an unnecessary order for a small volume of water in the current financial year.

In New South Wales, the government cunningly sold its plant to a consortium including the Ontario Teacher's Pension Plan for $2.3 billion—but on a 50-year lease that guarantees them a generous annual income, even if no water is produced. The New South Wales taxpayer would probably have got better value if the government had simply blown up the New South Wales desal plant, and agreed to give the Ontario Teachers' Pension Fund half of what they are now receiving for nothing. In fact, speaking of blowing things up, the South Australian government deliberately detonated a coal-fired power plant, and Senator Back was correct in talking about the energy security that is being destroyed—the Taliban is at work in the government of South Australia.

What is most astonishing with the white elephant desalination plants—


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