Tuesday, 16 February 2021
Matters of Urgency
Climate Change: Water
I rise to speak on the matter of urgency today, which goes to concerns about the National Party ever doing much about water.
Let's go back to the start of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, where sensible decisions were made to introduce an act to manage the Murray-Darling Basin and to do so in a manner that established what the sustainable level of take was by the best available science—the best available science. A 726-page document was produced by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority showing that the right number in terms of the amount of water we had to recover was somewhere between 3,900 gigalitres and 7,600 gigalitres. Of course there was debate about how much uncertainty we were going to allow in the recovery of water to make sure the river was healthy.
Unfortunately, there was political interference from the Nationals. In fact, one of the people suggesting those numbers were wrong is the current Interim Inspector-General of Water Compliance, who is on record saying, 'No, it shouldn't be 7,600, it shouldn't be 3,900; it should go even lower. It shouldn't even be 2,750,' which is ultimately what the political number was. He wanted it to be 2,100. He's on record suggesting that it be 2,100 gigalitres. This is the inspector-general who is a former New South Wales deputy premier, a National Party member, appointed by a National Party minister in this government. What does that do for confidence in the plan?
Of course, the Nationals are not concerned about lawfulness when it comes to the river. I'm a little bit surprised that Senator McKenzie—'Senator McKenzie SC'—hasn't stood up, having won lots of High Court challenges, and tried to contest what Bret Walker SC said in the royal commission! And that is that the plan is unlawful. It's unlawful because of the Nationals' interference in determining what the appropriate SDLs ought to be. Having got a plan, having got an unlawful plan, they still want to take more water from the river. The National Party says, 'Let's pray for rain.' It's not about that. We know what the rainfall is. We know the in-flows are reduced. The problem is you're taking too much water. Funnily enough, Senator McKenzie pretends to represent irrigators. I've been to the southern river—
Senator McKenzie interjecting—
Well, you might live there, but what about the people who are there who can't take water as it goes past because there's no water coming down—