Senate debates

Wednesday, 23 June 2021


Water Legislation Amendment (Inspector-General of Water Compliance and Other Measures) Bill 2021; Second Reading

11:12 am

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

This morning the Adelaide Advertiser printed—I'm glad Senator McKenzie has come in here. She can explain how much she doesn't support the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, how much she is acting against the interests of South Australia, and how much she is being permitted to do so by the man who has just been elected the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. The Deputy Prime Minister is allowing you, the Leader of the Nationals here, to attack South Australia. I'm very happy to have a debate with you on this, any time. In fact, why don't you come down to Adelaide and have a debate with us on water policy—you, me and Senator Birmingham? It would be quite interesting to see who is on which side.

Anyway, I come back to this morning's paper. The Adelaide Advertiser printed a headline that said it was 'bad news' for the River Murray, that 'Barnaby's Nats won't back the Basin Plan'. And do you know what? That story sounded the alarm on what we already know, what every South Australian knows. The coalition, particularly with this new Deputy Prime Minister, cannot be trusted to deliver for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The fact that Barnaby Joyce—Mr Barnaby Joyce—and his Nationals don't support the plan is actually no surprise, because he never has. This is not news. This bloke has never supported the fundamental principles behind the Murray-Darling plan, which is that we have to return the river to health, that we have to return water to the river.

There are a whole range of mechanisms, including buybacks, efficiency measures, changes to water rules, integrity measures and many other reforms, which are all about recognising what Malcolm Turnbull recognised and what John Howard recognised: that this river system is desperately in need of reform. They don't want to hear that down there, because all they're interested in is playing a bit of internal politics, a bit of power politics with the Liberal Party. And guess who loses out? South Australia. It's always South Australia, when it comes to Barnaby Joyce.

Everyone in Adelaide and in the regions remembers what Mr Joyce said when he was last leader of the National Party. He said to South Australians, who were worried about the River Murray, 'Move to where the water is'! This is his great plan to resolve the environmental and economic challenge of the Murray-Darling Basin: you just tell South Australians to move—easy! Well, that went down really well. Despite this, this weak Liberal Party, who go to South Australia and pretend they care about the Murray-Darling, handed control of the water portfolio to Barnaby Joyce—unbelievable. The bloke who didn't support the plan got to deal with the plan, got to implement—or not implement—the plan.

We see it again today, if anybody thinks there's been any change. We remember Mr Joyce, when Deputy Prime Minister, saying to South Australia, 'There's not a hope in Hades of getting the 450 gigalitres of water secured under the plan.' This is the bloke who was supposed to be implementing it, and then the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, saying to a state of the Commonwealth that something that the Commonwealth agreed to with every basin state had 'not a hope in Hades' of being delivered—as though he was proud of it! What sort of cabinet minister does that? I know we signed up, but 'not a hope in Hades'? Apart from anything, it is utterly disrespectful.

If anybody thought that was an aberration, we have Senator McKenzie, today in the Adelaide Advertiser, saying, 'Labor has forgotten the 450 gigs was never guaranteed.' Oh, so we just agreed it, but it was never guaranteed—I mean, give us a break. Basically, you don't care about South Australia and you don't care about the downstream communities; you just care about upstream irrigators, and you always have. That is how you will always play this. Until the Liberal Party decide that they are going to stand up to this sort of vandalism, you will be condemned. The plan was supposed to end a century of infighting between basin states. It promised the equivalent of 3,200 gigalitres back to the basin. They were pretty critical of me, but I'm proud of securing, when I was water minister, nearly 1,000 gigs for the river, something—

Senator McKenzie interjecting—

Oh, here we go. She didn't like that, did she? She's even interjecting as she's walking around the chamber. I mean, get a grip—seriously. Yes, I purchased almost 1,000 gigalitres, consistent with the plan, in order to help restore the basin. And do you know what? They're critical of it. They want to stop it. They don't want to do anything like that. They don't want to do any of that. They don't want to restore the basin to health; they just want to play to their constituencies in the upstream irrigation communities, and they want to lie to them. They want to pretend to them that things can be as they were. Well, they can't. John Howard knew that. Malcolm Turnbull knew that. Frankly, Liberal and Labor people in South Australia—people across the political divide—know that.

We have to change. It's why Senator Ruston has been in here saying, 'We're committing to delivering the plan on time and in full,' and then the next day the Nationals Leader in the Senate comes out and moves amendments that are completely contrary to that. I would say this: we expect the National Party to be like this. We understand what they're like. We understand that this is all about the politics of a few seats upstream. It's all about the internals. It's all about Senator McKenzie getting her cabinet seat back. That's all this is about. It's not actually about what's right for the plan. But do you know who I am most critical of here? It's the Liberal Party of Australia, and their weakness. They know that Barnaby Joyce is no friend of South Australia. They know that his first priority as leader is shredding this once-in-a-generation plan. They know what the Nationals are like. Well, they have to stand up to them.

So, this is a test today, not only on these amendments—which the Liberals are very embarrassed about—but for Scott Morrison. It's also a test for Steven Marshall, and I look forward to Premier Marshall, of the Liberal Party of South Australia, standing up today and calling on the Prime Minister to stop the vandalism from his coalition partner. I say to Mr Morrison: This is a test for you. There are three things you need to do. Firstly, strip the Nationals of the water portfolio. Secondly, give a clear commitment that you as Prime Minister will deliver the plan in full and on time. Thirdly, give a public commitment that there will be no change on water policy as part of the secret coalition agreement. That's where these deals get done.

Senator McKenzie interjecting—

Then table the agreement. Go on! You stand in here telling me, 'It's very unlikely.' Apparently South Australia should be happy to take Senator McKenzie's statement, 'Don't worry, Penny; it will be very unlikely.'


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