Senate debates

Wednesday, 23 June 2021


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

11:21 am

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

Sorry: the member for New England. I just want to clarify that that is not why we're doing this today. We are doing this today because we have been listening to our communities. This was flagged at a Senate committee inquiry last year, on 23 September. When the New South Wales water minister, Minister Pavey sat down before the committee—the only state minister to front that committee, despite invitations being sent to all—she said that there were problems with this plan. We are all committed to a Basin Plan. We are all committed to our environment—the whole environment, not just one icon site but the whole environment. But we're not going to achieve the good environmental outcomes that we can achieve if all we're focused on is a number printed in black and white in a schedule of the Basin Plan. That is where we have all got lost over time.

I was involved as a stakeholder, representing irrigation interests—I will put my hand up—back in 2010, when we were negotiating the Basin Plan. I applaud the then minister, Tony Burke, who at the time did listen. He came out to Deniliquin. He fronted 3,000 angry people. Let me put that into perspective. You might sit here and say: 'Three thousand people? That's nothing.' I'm talking about 3,000 in a town with a population of 6,000 or 7,000, in a regional area with a population of 30,000. Ten per cent of the whole regional population came together to front Tony Burke that day, and he stood there and he listened and he took on board what they said and he did make changes.

Then, at the eleventh hour, then Prime Minister Gillard did a dodgy deal with South Australia for 450 gigalitres. I'm convinced that the then minister, Tony Burke, understood the ramifications of that. That is why, in the Basin Plan, there were tests set, and the 450 gigalitres could only be recovered on two provisos. The first was that it was voluntary, that farmers came forward offering their water. The second was that it had no negative social and economic impacts. Well, we have had report after report after report telling us that we've already seen negative social and economic impacts. We've already seen the demise of some of our most vulnerable irrigation communities. In my area I have seen dairy farmers walk off the land in droves because of the impact of buyback. Senator Hanson-Young says it's the most economic and the easiest form of water recovery. What a farce! If your economics is based on what is cheapest, then maybe. But what is the most effective and most efficient, with the least economic damage? It is not buyback. We need to get better and smarter about the way we manage our water.

We have been accused here today of stealing water from the environment and stealing water from South Australia. We're not stealing anything. We are not proposing to take the water that is already allocated to them; we are not proposing to change the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement, which distributes the water between the states; and we are not proposing to take any of the water out of the accounts held by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder. What we are proposing is to stop and say: 'They have enough. Now let's look at how they manage it. Let's look at how they get the water to those environmental sites. Let's make sure the whole environment, from top to bottom, is taken care of.'

We have heard, through the Senate Select Committee on the Multi-Jurisdictional Management and Execution of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan—and I note that Senator Hanson-Young, even though she is a member of that committee, has not attended any of the—


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