Senate debates

Tuesday, 16 February 2021

Matters of Urgency

Climate Change: Water

5:10 pm

Photo of Perin DaveyPerin Davey (NSW, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

But let's look at this. They say that because blaming someone like the Nationals for being denialists is good for their constituents. But their constituents don't bear the brunt of the reforms that have been done over years in the name of the environment. Those regional communities have been put through the wringer and are still living in perpetual uncertainty about what water regime they will be living under and whether there will be enough water remaining in their region to enable effective, efficient and affordable water management. You can't do it alone. Let's talk about the progress of water reform and what it has actually cost. Forget about the cost to the taxpayer; what about the cost to our communities? In the Edward-Wakool system, 50 per cent of their water entitlements have been recovered in the name of the environment. Imagine trying to run a store and being told you're only allowed to put 50 per cent of your stock in that store, but you've still got the same costs and the same overheads. It doesn't work.

The dairy industry in the Murray region, which includes Victoria, has been decimated by water reforms since the 2000s, and it is ongoing. It has declined by 40 per cent since the turn of this century, during the peak of the water reform frenzy. While our remaining dairy farmers are absolutely pulling their weight and keeping Australian dairy going, there is no doubt that they are in pain. Our rice industry, the most water-efficient rice industry in the world, is on its knees because of the impact on the water market that water reform has had. This is the water market that the Productivity Commission says has significant net benefits. I'm not saying the water market is a bad thing, but look at the cost of reform. We can't keep exporting our problems. We cannot say, 'Just grow rice overseas.' Should we grow rice in Third World countries, which need to feed themselves, or grow rice in countries that use triple the amount of water, which is a precious resource everywhere in the world? Should we grow rice overseas, where they may or may not use child labour, where their chemical regimes are far more questionable than Australia's? No, we've got to take responsibility for our own nation and our own production. I also remind people that rice growing can be turned off and on, so think about that next time you're choosing between rice milk and almond milk when you're ordering your latte. Almonds use more water than rice per hectare every year, without fail. Rice can be grown when it's wet and not grown when it's dry. Rice is the perfect crop for our variable climate.

Finally, if we want to talk about climate change—seriously, water reform and climate change—let's talk about the Lower Lakes. Let's talk about the impact of rising sea levels on the barrages and the Lower Lakes.


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