Wednesday, 23 June 2021
Water Legislation Amendment (Inspector-General of Water Compliance and Other Measures) Bill 2021; Second Reading
I rise to contribute to this debate on the Water Legislation Amendment (Inspector-General of Water Compliance and Other Measures) Bill 2021. As I do, I want to say with a heavy heart how disappointed I am that, two days into Barnaby Joyce's appointment as Deputy Prime Minister, we have a new war being launched on South Australia and the Murray-Darling Basin by the National Party. Two days of Mr Joyce as Deputy Prime Minister, the deputy chief sheriff to the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and they want to take water out of South Australia and off the Murray-Darling Basin and screw over the environment. Two days in, and the National Party have said to South Australia: 'Nup, nothing. You can be left at the bottom of the system with nothing.' Why is that? It's because they're more interested in looking after their big corporate irrigator mates up north.
The last time Barnaby Joyce—Mr Barnaby Joyce—was in government as water minister, he told South Australians that if they wanted more water they should just move. This is a bloke who has never, ever supported the management, the fair management, the sustainable management of the Murray-Darling Basin. He has never supported a plan that would have this river system managed nationally, fairly and for the long term. He has never supported making sure that at the end of the system, where South Australians rely on a healthy river, we would be able to have access to the water to keep the river alive. In the midst of the millennium drought he snubbed South Australia, basically saying 'tough luck', while his big corporate mates were sucking and sucking the river dry. So forgive me if I stand here today thinking that this government is going to do anything that betters the management and the transparency and accountability of the management of the Murray-Darling Basin, because—boy!—the track record shows something different.
The whole reason we need an inspector-general and a cop on the beat is blokes like Barnaby Joyce and his cotton-growing mates. That's why it is just absolutely appalling that, as I stand here this morning debating what is meant to be an accountability measure, we have the National Party in the Senate moving amendments that take water out of the river system and take water from the environment to give to the big corporate irrigators and leave South Australia running dry. So forgive me if I think, as many South Australians do, that this government will never ever be able to manage the Murray-Darling Basin properly, fairly and in a way that makes sure we look after the environment and the small users all the way throughout the system. Under this government we have had rorting, we have had water theft and we have had public money used as a slush fund for the mates of the National Party. The only reason we need a cop on the beat is that the National Party think the Murray-Darling Basin is a river of gold—for themselves.
The amendments moved by the National Party today rip water out of the environment and cut water from the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which, let's remember, was designed because the Murray-Darling Basin had been mismanaged for decades. Too much water has been extracted and greed has dominated. If we want a future for our nation's food bowl, then we have to manage this water more sustainably. Of course, with the drying climate there's less water available all round, but the National Party don't care about that because they don't even believe in climate change. They don't give two hoots what the science says. It is just take, take, take.
The whole point of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was to try and put in place a system where the river would be managed fairly and sustainably for the long term. That meant water needed to be returned to the river because too much water was being taken out. Now, nine years later, we see Mr Barnaby Joyce as Deputy Prime Minister and his supporters here in the Senate wanting to blow a hole in the plan, steal more water, thieve from the environment and leave downstream users and downstream states worse off.
There are a few other elements. This legislation is meant to be about putting in place an Inspector -General of Water Compliance. Just imagine—if Barnaby Joyce makes himself the water minister again, who will he put in place in this job? You can't trust the National Party to manage the Murray-Darling Basin and you certainly can't trust the National Party to put in place a proper watchdog. This inspector-general bill has some good elements but some very worrying elements. There are some other amendments that have been moved today to try and fix the bill that we will be supporting. But we need to make sure that the integrity of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is kept intact. The whole purpose of returning water to the environment is to save the river from death, to ensure the survival of the Murray-Darling Basin, the nation's biggest river system, the life blood of our nation. We need to make sure that extra 450 gigalitres is protected and is delivered in time and in full. We need to make sure that if we need to return water to the environment that we can still do it through buybacks. It's the most efficient mechanism, environmentally, economically and socially, to return the water that the river needs.
But, today, as we stand here debating what is meant to be an integrity measure, we have the laughable farce of the National Party wanting to undermine the whole damn thing. Mr Barnaby Joyce is in negotiations with the Prime Minister right now over ministries for the National Party and his new team. If the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has any mettle, he will deny the water portfolio to the National Party. They have shown themselves over and over again to be inept, shady and tricky and to misuse and mismanage the water portfolio. There are serious questions about corruption. They can't be trusted with the water portfolio, and Mr Barnaby Joyce cannot be trusted to be in charge of the Murray-Darling Basin. I say to the Prime Minister directly today: be a proper national leader and strip the National Party of the water portfolio. Put it in the hands of someone who actually cares about the survival of our river and the sustainability of our environment and all of the communities that rely on a healthy river, from top to bottom. Don't allow the National Party to continue to use the Murray-Darling Basin and the billions of public dollars attached to the plan as their own personal slush fund. I tell you what, if Mr Scott Morrison, as Prime Minister, allows the National Party to keep hold of the water portfolio in today's negotiations, the Liberal Party are going to suffer in South Australia, and suffer hard.
We've got two Liberal Party frontbenchers in this place: Senator Birmingham and Senator Ruston, both proud Liberals and South Australians. How are they going to fare going back home to South Australia after Barnaby Joyce, as Deputy Prime Minister, has just flipped the bird to SA? Today, in this place, they've moved an amendment to steal water from South Australia. When are the South Australian Liberals going to stand up to this nonsense? It's a challenge now to the Prime Minister, to Senator Birmingham and to Senator Ruston to stare down this wacky, crazy, untrustworthy mob and make sure they do not get their mitts on the portfolio, on the public money, or on any more of the water. Thank goodness South Australia has such a strong wedge of representation in this place from the crossbench, the Greens and members of the Labor Party. I call on our Liberal South Australian colleagues: do not let the National Party steal from our state again.
If this piece of legislation today is going to go forward, it needs to be fixed. We need to make sure that the National Party don't get their mitts on any more water, any more money or any more power. South Australians are horrified at what's transpired over the last 48 hours. If you're a member of the voting public in Boothby, think about what you want to do with your vote at the next election. Would you really want to trust a member of the coalition when they are thumbing their nose at our state and our river and our environment, at the future survival of our state? Every South Australian gets to vote for who they want to represent them in the Senate. I'd be thinking pretty clearly, right now, that it is not worth your time, your faith, the future of our state, to be voting for this mob when the Deputy Prime Minister himself is prepared to sanction such an attack on South Australia, such an attack on our environment and our Murray-Darling Basin.
You've got one job today, Prime Minister: tell the National Party to back off—hands off—and lay off attacking SA, stealing water from the river and cutting water to the environment.