Tuesday, 16 February 2021
Matters of Urgency
Climate Change: Water
I'll tell you what we won't take, Senator Patrick, through you, Madam Chair: we will not take the carping from a South Australian senator, because it is our people and our communities in the heart of the Murray-Darling Basin who have paid the price for the complicit arrangement between South Australian senators in this chamber and the other place. It is our people.
The Murray-Darling Basin is an area that spans four states. Two million Australians live in the Murray-Darling Basin, and it is vastly productive in terms of food and fibre production. You know what you can't do for these two million people and their communities and industries? You can't keep them employed or keep them sustainable and prosperous without water, without a triple bottom line approach to irrigated agriculture.
What we have done, as a political party and a movement very proud to stand up for these people and these industries, is actually bring their concerns. You pretend to bring their concerns, Senator Patrick. You don't know their concerns, Senator Hanson-Young. But we live in these communities, and we're proud to bring their concerns here and to be reformers around water policy and to deliver for our communities.
We are the political party that actually put people into the triple bottom line. Remember the triple bottom line? It was supposed to be about humans, the environment and the economy. Well, you only hear about one side of the triple bottom line from the Greens and from Centre Alliance these days—oh, actually, you'd probably throw South Australia in there as well. When you want to know why there's no water in the Murray-Darling Basin, it's because it's all heading south.
As I stand here today, this chamber has done over 10 Senate inquiries into the Murray-Darling Basin, because it's not working. The great plan concocted with a number pulled out of the air—that number is a political solution with no science to it—which has been prosecuted in estimates and in Senate inquiries ad nauseam over the last decade, is actually ripping apart rural communities in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.
When we talk about why the National Party holds this policy, it's because we understand the implications of the policy intent. We have to deal with the outcomes. It was National Party ministers who decided to decentralise the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, so the people making decisions and implementing this plan actually had skin in the game. They weren't bureaucrats in Canberra, far away, not understanding how their policy decisions and their implementation decisions were impacting real people, kids at school and the future sustainability of our communities.
We are actually very proud to have been the political party that introduced the 1,500-gig cap on water buybacks. That's good policy. We actually prioritised water infrastructure projects over this casual disregard of coming into rural communities and buying back water from willing sellers. Remember 'willing sellers'? They were actually drought affected farming communities and families that had been there for generations who had no other options. And there was the devastating impact of the Swiss cheese effect of those water buybacks in our communities. But you weren't even here when this was happening, but what has occurred is absolutely horrific and there are the channels that have had to close et cetera as a result of that.
You know what? It's the National Party that decided to conduct an investigation, Senator Patrick, into the socioeconomic impact of the plan on our people. Heaven forbid that the National Party actually calls government to account and asks for an assessment of how this Labor-Greens policy is impacting the people and the industries that the Murray-Darling Basin flows through. It's the National Party that delivered a 605-gig reduction in water recovery to the southern basin through a package of 36 projects. It's the National Party that got the Productivity Commission report done. It's the National Party that protects water security, clean drinking water and food supply through a raft of measures, including the Murray-Darling Communities Investment Package, which is amazing.
We've strengthened governance of the plan through our particular ministers. I think it's absolutely fantastic that we've got an inspector general who's lived in the basin, who has a lived experience of what this is like. We make no apology for being the party the people in the Murray-Darling Basin choose to vote for. They don't vote for the Greens. If the Greens' policies were so fabulous for the basin communities, why don't they hold a single seat, state or federal, in any single basin community? Do you know why? Because your policies only float in a couple of places: Brunswick in my home state of Victoria and the CBD of Sydney.
We halted water buybacks and chose to invest in on-farm efficiency to help farmers deal with the impacts of a changing climate and seasonal variations. They are on the front line. They are changing practice every day in response to the high price of water because the South Australian and New South Wales state governments will not stop developments in the southern region of the basin. That's what the National Party is calling for: stop those thirsty almond tree developments which are driving the price of water up. The National Party is also calling to split the compliance functions of the MDBA away. I am very proud to be Senate leader of a party that takes its role in this place seriously and whose water ministers take their role seriously to perform and reform this area, which is so crucial.
We are focused on delivering a triple bottom line. It's a pity the Greens and the Labor Party are no longer interested in putting people at the centre of their policy. You're very happy for people to vote for us to come here; it's about time you started remembering that food and fibre production in this country is reliant on the human beings who till the soil in the communities we represent.