Tuesday, 12 February 2019
Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. The one thing I think we really have improved on is putting a cap on the amount of buyback from the system. Those on the other side of this debate would have you believe that that has put a cap on the amount of water that can be returned to the environment. That is wrong. There has always been, under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan—before we were in government and now—a variety of means to recover water. One of the ways is to buy directly from farmers, willing sellers, to take that water out of the system. The other main way is to improve the efficiency of the system by lining channels and by better levelling our country. You save water, and the saved water can go back to environmental purposes.
In our view, we've got to have an appropriate balance. That's because, as we've seen—Senator Williams, myself and others, and I think Senator Ruston was mentioning similar outcomes—when you buy too much water out of an individual community you take away the economic base of that community. It has enormous impacts, not just on the irrigators—actually, the irrigators do okay because they get to sell their water and do something else with their life—but also on the local petrol station, the local newsagent and the coffee shop in town. They are left destitute because they no longer have the business that they did when the irrigation was in the community. So we've got to find that appropriate balance. I know—I've been out to Dirranbandi since we started this process, and it's had a terrible impact on that town. I think we've managed that better since we've been in government.
I firmly believe that what we need to do going forward is ensure we continue the good work of this government in finding a sustainable outcome to this problem. It is a wicked problem. But the outcome that will be sustainable for the long term is one that still creates food production and jobs in the Murray-Darling; still creates social communities where people can have the confidence to invest and buy houses in their local towns and join sporting clubs—do all the great things people in communities do; and also protects the environment for the long term. If we don't do those three things, if we just focus on one, it won't be a sustainable solution.
One reason is there'll be in-built issues that will come back to get us. The other reason is political reactions—there will be a political reaction if we don't properly manage all of those issues. Notwithstanding what we've seen over summer, the system is much better than it was 10 years ago. It's moving in the right direction. All of the responsible people in this parliament need to keep contributing to the good work that has been done.