Senate debates

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Water Amendment Bill 2008

In Committee

Bill—by leave—taken as a whole.

7:35 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I move amendment (1) on sheet 5649:

(1)    Page 2 (after line 11), after clause 3, insert:

4  Review of operation of Water Act 2007 as amended by this Act

        (1)    The Productivity Commission must, by 30 June 2010, and each 30 June thereafter, prepare a report on the operation of the Water Act 2007 as amended by this Act and provide it to the Minister.

        (2)    In preparing a report required under subsection (1), the Productivity Commission must consider but is not limited to the following matters:

             (a)    the environmental impact on inflows;

             (b)    the economic sustainability of Basin water resources;

             (c)    the environmental sustainability of Basin water resources;

             (d)    the relative efficiency of water trading rules;

             (e)    the effectiveness of the Authority in carrying out its functions;

              (f)    the adequacy of the powers of the Authority;

             (g)    alternative models buying back tradeable water rights;

             (h)    the effectiveness of infrastructure projects and other water-saving measures funded (in whole or in part) by the Commonwealth;

              (i)    any other matter relevant to the objects of the Water Act 2007.

        (3)    The Minister must ensure that the Productivity Commission has sufficient resources to prepare a report required under subsection (1).

        (4)    The Minister must cause a copy of a report prepared under subsection (1) to be tabled in each House of the Parliament within 5 sitting days of that House after receiving the report.

This amendment relates to a review of the operation of the Water Act by the Productivity Commission, which must be done by 30 June 2010 and yearly thereafter. It sets out a number of the matters that the commission should consider. I urge honourable senators to support this amendment on the basis that it provides an overview of the operation of the act. Given that a key aspect of the legislation relates to water efficiency and water savings, the Productivity Commission is an independent body that can check the extent of efficiencies made, the effectiveness of infrastructure projects and other water-saving measures funded in whole or in part by the Commonwealth. Given the importance of the issue of water, I think it is important that there be that overview by the Productivity Commission.

7:36 pm

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Water Resources and Conservation) Share this | | Hansard source

The coalition is quite supportive of the review of operation. We think it is appropriate that the amendment Senator Xenophon has put forward is considered in a very favourable light. It is certainly an appropriate course of action that there be a review, and the Productivity Commission is the appropriate body to do that.

7:37 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

The government is not supportive of this amendment. I just want to go through what I understand to be the logic behind it and explain why the government is not supportive of it.

First, a range of the issues in subsection (2) that Senator Xenophon’s amendment goes to are issues essentially that we would anticipate the authority will consider in the context of the preparation of the Basin Plan. Second, I make the point that, under section 87, audits of the current act by the National Water Commission are provided for every five years, and I also would refer the good senator and the opposition to section 253 of their own act, which deals with the role of the ACCC in addition to provisions in the bill which give certain powers to the ACCC. I would also refer senators to what section 253 of Mr Turnbull’s act says, which is a review of the operation of the act. The government’s view is that the existing act and bill really deal with the issues that Senator Xenophon is seeking to promote.

I would make this point though on the amendment in relation to the Productivity Commission auditing infrastructure projects that the Commonwealth invests in. We wonder whether Senator Xenophon has canvassed that matter with irrigators in the Riverland, because it has certainly never been a point put to me. I wonder whether Senator Nash’s constituents would be aware of her view that the Productivity Commission should be auditing infrastructure projects that those constituents are seeking. I make this point because there are obviously potential consequences from such an amendment. The government’s view is that the existing provisions of the act will deal with the issues.

7:39 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The Greens indicate support for this amendment. We think it is appropriate that the Productivity Commission look at the effectiveness of infrastructure projects that have been funded. I think that is also a worthwhile exercise, so we indicate our support.

Question agreed to.

7:40 pm

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Water Resources and Conservation) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move opposition amendments (1) to (3) on sheet 5650:

(1)    Schedule 1, item 2, page 11 (lines 28 to 35), omit subsection 86A(2), substitute:

        (2)    Critical human water needs are the needs for a minimum amount of water, that can only reasonably be provided from Basin water resources, required to meet human drinking, sanitation and health requirements in urban and rural areas.

(2)    Schedule 1, item 2, page 12 (after line 24), after section 86A, insert:

86AA  Definitions and criteria relating to critical human water needs

        (1)    The Authority must publish, by 1 July 2009, a report containing the following:

             (a)    a comprehensive, practical definition of the term critical human water needs which identifies categories of users of such water and allowable purposes for the use of such water;

             (b)    a definition of the core human consumption requirements which would satisfy paragraph 86A(2)(a);

             (c)    a definition of the non-human consumption requirements which would satisfy paragraph 86A(2)(b).

        (2)    The Authority must, by legislative instrument, determine, by 1 July 2009:

             (a)    clear, transparent and equitable criteria the Authority will apply in determining whether the definition in paragraph 86A(2)(a) is met;

             (b)    clear, transparent and equitable criteria the Authority will apply in determining whether the definition in paragraph 86A(2)(b) is met;

             (c)    clear, transparent and equitable criteria the Authority will apply in determining the volume of conveyance water required to deliver water to meet critical human water needs;

             (d)    clear, transparent and equitable criteria the Authority will apply to monitor the use of such water to ensure it is used for the allowable purposes referred to in paragraph (1)(a).

(3)    Schedule 1, item 2, page 13 (after line 4), after section 86B, insert:

86BA  Reports on and evaluation of critical human water needs distributions

                 The Authority must publish, at least monthly, after the Basin Plan first takes effect, a report specifying:

             (a)    the amounts of water distributed or allocated under the Basin Plan to meet critical human water needs; and

             (b)    the amounts of conveyance water distributed or allocated to deliver that water; and

             (c)    in relation to each such distribution or allocation:

                   (i)    to whom and where the water has been distributed or allocated;

                  (ii)    the criteria upon which the water has been distributed or allocated;

                 (iii)    the length of time for which such water has been distributed or allocated to meet that need;

                 (iv)    an evaluation of the compliance of that distribution or allocation with the criteria specified under subparagraph (ii).

I do note the concurrence of views on this particular issue from the opposition and Greens senators. The issue of critical human needs is one that was raised consistently during the inquiry process for this bill. There was very much a consistent view provided through the evidence to the committee that overwhelmingly favoured the need for the bill to more clearly define critical human needs. The inclusion of critical human needs was generally supported, but one of the things that became apparent through the inquiry process was the lack of any definition and the impact that that would have in determining future plans for the basin.

In relation to the definition there was a variance of views from witnesses appearing during the inquiry and from industry itself as to what the definition could mean. Interestingly, and perhaps the minister might be able to enlighten us around this particular area, her view was I think recently stated publicly that critical human needs were ‘drinking water’. The coalition senators, and I am assuming the Greens as well, actually felt that the bill does not address critical human needs to provide that clear and distinct definition of drinking water that the minister gave so publicly recently. Perhaps the minister could enlighten us as to her reading of the very clear definition of critical human needs against what was a very common view that it did need refining to make it clearer and more distinct.

7:43 pm

Photo of Mary FisherMary Fisher (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

If the definition of critical human water needs is intended to be drinking water, can the minister identify which section in the bill so defines them?

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

The definition of critical human water needs appears in proposed section 86A of the bill and is defined under subsection (2) as:

… needs for a minimum amount of water, that can only reasonably be provided from Basin water resources, required to meet: (a) core human consumption requirements in urban and rural areas; and (b) those non-human consumption requirements that a failure to meet would cause prohibitively high social, economic or national security costs.

I do find it somewhat extraordinary that we have coalition senators, including those from Adelaide, suggesting that the provisions around critical human needs should be limited to the extent that Senator Nash’s amendment suggests.

I want to make this very clear so that opposition senators and the shadow minister, who is here, understand what is being proposed here. This is part of the bill which sits within the referred provisions. The referral bills passed by New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia and currently under consideration by the Victorian Legislative Council would not confer on the Commonwealth parliament the power necessary to pass a bill with an amended definition of ‘credible human water needs’. The amendment that is being proposed by Senator Nash—be careful, Senator Birmingham, that you understand what you senators are doing—would, if carried and retained by this parliament, require the scope of the referral to be renegotiated with the states and for each state to amend its referral legislation, significantly delaying the passage of what we on this side regard, and many regard as important legislation. This definition was agreed in the IGA, to which I referred in my summing up speech on the second reading, and it was the subject of extensive negotiations with the states and public consultation both in the lead-up to the negotiation of the agreement and in the negotiation of a comprehensive water bill in 2007.

Just so we are clear about the history and the approach to this: it is the case that, under the new regime, the authority will be required to set out the methodology by which it determines critical human water needs and conveyance water in the Basin Plan. The application of the definition will draw on the contingency planning work that has been underway between governments in the southern basin since November 2006. Communities which are dependent on basin water resources are those communities who rely on basin water resources, and these are likely to be all of the communities within the basin and, obviously, some communities outside of the basin that are provided with water from the basin to meet part or all of their critical needs, such as Adelaide.

The first limb of the definition that is in the bill, ‘core human consumption requirements’, generally refers to full restricted urban demand, no outdoor use and fully restricted domestic and stock use. With the second limb of the definition, ‘non-human consumption requirements that a failure to meet would cause prohibitively high social, economic or national security costs’—and I emphasise that again: ‘prohibitively high social, economic or national security costs’—a starting point may be that these requirements are zero but that uses may then be considered on a case-by-case basis. For example, the authority might draw on the principles in the Murray-Darling Basin dry inflow contingency planning overview report to first ministers May 2007. So this is a definition—and Senator Nash and Senator Birmingham might want to know this—that your government applied under contingency arrangements that you are now essentially seeking to change. Those agreed definitions—agreed by first ministers in May 2007, under the previous government—include:

I. the impact of not providing water would cause prohibitively high social, economic or security costs;

II. there are no viable alternatives to provide the good or service that requires water; and

III. the recipient of the water has developed a water efficiency plan incorporating industry best practice water efficiency targets.

Examples that have been provided to me of uses that may meet—and I emphasise ‘may meet’—these criteria include water for hospitals, schools, aged care, defence facilities such as Thales ammunitions factory at Mulwala, food production, and other important industries that provide significant employment in regional Australia, such as, OneSteel, Nystar and San Remo.

I suggest to Senator Nash that there are some very compelling reasons, both in policy terms but also, frankly, in terms of the cooperative and constitutional arrangements which underpin this legislation, and, in the light of that, she should not proceed with these amendments.

7:49 pm

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Water Resources and Conservation) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Temporary Chairman, we would like to have amendment (1) put separately and then amendments (2) and (3) subsequently put together.

Photo of Guy BarnettGuy Barnett (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that opposition amendment (1) on sheet 5650 be agreed to.

7:50 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I indicate for the record that I have been convinced by the minister in relation to the argument with respect to critical human needs, and I am concerned that the definition proposed by the coalition is unnecessarily prescriptive and may have some unintended consequences. So, for those reasons, I cannot support the amendment.

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The Greens have an amendment that is the same as clause (1) of the opposition’s amendments, so we will be supporting this amendment.

Question put:

That the amendment (Senator Nash’s) be agreed to.

7:59 pm

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Water Resources and Conservation) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to withdraw opposition amendments (2) and (3) on sheet 5650.

Leave granted.

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move Greens amendment (1) on sheet 5629:

(1)    Schedule 2, page 286 (after line 20), after item 6, insert:

6A  Paragraph 3(h)

After “to provide for the”, insert “regular and systematic”.

6B  At the end of paragraph 3(h)

Add:

       ; and (iii)    the long-term health, resilience and sustainability of Australia’s rivers, wetlands and estuaries.

This relates specifically to expanding the objects of the act. While the objects of the act are actually quite comprehensive with regard to most issues, we are specifically concerned about the issues of river health and are keen to ensure that the role of the authority is absolutely clear in terms of river health, looking at the issues of river health and ensuring that there is systematic and regular collection, collation, analysis and dissemination of information around river health. We seek to amend the objects to include the long-term health, resilience and sustainability of Australia’s rivers, wetlands and estuaries, because fundamentally that is specifically what we are trying to ensure by this act. The Basin Plan is aimed at trying to achieve that. These amendments were suggested by Professor Mike Young, most recently during the recent inquiry but also during the original inquiry last year into the Water Act 2007, and also very strongly recommended by the late Professor Peter Cullen because he felt there was not clarity in the act around what the role of the authority was in ensuring the monitoring and evaluation of the basin and felt that it needed to be clarified through changes to the object of the act.

8:01 pm

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Water Resources and Conservation) Share this | | Hansard source

I think people recognise very clearly that coalition senators are also very concerned about river health and the future of the Murray-Darling Basin. However, I indicate that we will not be supporting this amendment from the Greens. The coalition believe there are certain triggers that are contained within this amendment that may well have undefined and unintended consequences. On that basis, we will not be supporting the amendment.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I indicate, so senators are aware, that the government is not supporting this amendment. First, in relation to inserting ‘regular and systematic’ into paragraph 3(h), we believe the objective of information collection is already achieved in part 7 of the act, which provides quite a detailed regime for regular and systematic reporting. In relation to the reference to wetlands and estuaries, which is the second part of the amendment, in our view the existing objects of the act already provide that focus for the authority. In effect, the amendment simply uses different words to achieve the same object.

Question negatived.

8:03 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move Greens amendments (1) to (11) on sheet 5646:

(1)    Schedule 2, page 288 (after line 23), after item 22, insert:

22A  Subsection 4(1) (definition of long-term average sustainable diversion limits)

Omit “long-term average sustainable diversion limit”, substitute “long-term sustainable diversion limit”.

(2)    Schedule 2, page 294 (after line 2), after item 50, insert:

50A  Subsection 22(1) (table item 4, column 3)

Omit “long-term average sustainable diversion limits”, substitute “long-term sustainable diversion limits”.

50B  Subsection 22(1) (table item 6, column 2)

Omit “long-term annual average quantities”, substitute “long-term annual quantities”.

50C  Subsection 22(1) (table item 6, column 2)

Omit:

The averages are the long-term average sustainable diversion limits for the Basin water resources, and the water resources, or particular parts of the water resources, of the water resource plan area.

50D  Subsection 22(1) (table item 6, column 3)

Omit “long-term average sustainable diversion limit”, substitute “long-term sustainable diversion limit”.

50E  Subsection 22(1) (table item 7, column 2)

Omit “long-term annual average quantities”, substitute “long-term annual quantities”.

50F  Subsection 22(1) (table item 7, column 2)

Omit “long-term average sustainable diversion limit”, substitute “long-term sustainable diversion limit”.

50G  Subsection 22(1) (table item 7, column 2)

Omit:

The average is the temporary diversion provision for those water resources or that particular part.

The sum of:

(a) the long-term average sustainable diversion limit; and

(b) the temporary diversion provision;

for those water resources or that particular part is the long-term annual diversion limit for those water resources or that particular part.

50H  Subsection 22(1) (table item 8, column 2)

Omit “long-term average sustainable diversion limit”, substitute “long-term sustainable diversion limit”.

(3)    Schedule 2, page 294 (after line 6), after item 51, insert:

51A  Subsections 23(1) and (2)

Omit “long-term average sustainable diversion limit”, substitute “long-term sustainable diversion limit”.

Note:                The heading to section 23 is altered by omitting “average”.

51B  Subsection 24(1)

Omit “long-term average sustainable diversion limit”, substitute “long-term sustainable diversion limit”.

51C  Subsection 24(1)

Omit “long-term average quantity of water”, substitute “long-term quantity of water”.

51D  Subsections 24(6) and (7)

Omit “long-term average sustainable diversion limit”, substitute “long-term sustainable diversion limit”.

(4)    Schedule 2, page 301 (after line 14), after item 75, insert:

75A  Subsection 74(2)

Omit “long-term average sustainable diversion limit”, substitute “long-term sustainable diversion limit”.

(5)    Schedule 2, page 301 (after line 16), after item 76, insert:

76A  Subsection 74(4)

Omit “long-term average sustainable diversion limit”, substitute “long-term sustainable diversion limit”.

(6)    Schedule 2, page 302 (after line 17), after item 77, insert:

77A  Subsection 75(1)

Omit “long-term average sustainable diversion limit”, substitute “long-term sustainable diversion limit”.

Note:                The heading to section 75 is altered by omitting “average”.

(7)    Schedule 2, page 303 (after line 2), after item 80, insert:

80A  Subsection 75(3)

Omit “long-term average sustainable diversion limit”, substitute “long-term sustainable diversion limit”.

(8)    Schedule 2, page 303 (after line 18), after item 82, insert:

82A  Subsection 75(4)

Omit “long-term average sustainable diversion limit” (twice occurring), substitute “long-term sustainable diversion limit”.

(9)    Schedule 2, page 303 (after line 27), after item 83, insert:

83A  Section 76

Omit “long-term average sustainable diversion limit”, substitute “long-term sustainable diversion limit”.

(10)  Schedule 2, page 303 (after line 31), after item 85, insert:

85A  Subsection 77(4)

Omit “long-term average sustainable diversion limit”, substitute “long-term sustainable diversion limit”.

(11)  Schedule 2, page 303 (after line 33), after item 86, insert:

86A  Subsection 78(2)

Omit “long-term average limit”, substitute “long-term limit”.

86B  Paragraph 78(3)(a)

Omit “long-term average sustainable diversion limit”, substitute “long-term sustainable diversion limit”.

86C Subparagraph 78(3)(a)(i)

Omit “long-term average limit”, substitute “long-term limit”.

86D  Subparagraph 78(3)(a)(ii)

Omit “long-term average sustainable diversion limit”, substitute “long-term sustainable diversion limit”.

86E  Paragraph 81(1)(b)

Omit “long-term average sustainable diversion limit”, substitute “long-term sustainable diversion limit”.

These amendments relate to variability of annual flow and were specifically recommended during the Senate inquiry, again by Professor Mike Young. They relate specifically to the word ‘average’, which is used throughout the act. Professor Young said that, as experienced in recent years, averages can be extremely misleading, especially in episodic, event driven systems such as those found in the Darling system. He said that variability is often measured by dividing the flow range, the maximum and the minimum, by the mean annual flow and that, in the Murray, this results in a ratio of 15 to five, whilst in the Darling system the resultant ratio is 4,705 to two. The Darling River system is much more variable than the Murray River system, and Professor Young believes it would be a mistake for basin planners to simply add up averages derived from different parts of the system. The Basin Plan also needs to take into account that adverse climate change may occur.

Given these observations, he recommended that part 2 of the act be generalised by a series of recommendations, which is what we are trying to achieve—a much more realistic way of dealing with flows in the river than using averages. We believe it is a much more rigorous and scientific approach, particularly as we are moving into a period of climate variability and climate change where the science, particularly in the northern part of the basin, is saying that—I hate to say it—on a more regular basis we might see events similar to what we saw last summer that could significantly change the calculations if we do not move into using this particular system rather than just averages. We believe this is more realistic and will provide a better tool for the authority when they are developing the Basin Plan and management plans for the basin into the future. It provides us with a much more significant and rigorous tool as we try to adapt to climate change and deal with the increasing variability in flow. We need to factor in variability in the way that we manage the basin, and we believe this provides part of the tool set that we need.

8:06 pm

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Water Resources and Conservation) Share this | | Hansard source

I indicate, recognising the Greens’ position on this, that the coalition will not be supporting these amendments. Certainly, upon reading the amendments, it seems there may well be unintended consequences as a result of this—I think particularly in the upper basin. As a result, the coalition will not be supporting the amendments.

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My understanding from discussions with the Greens and other parties, including Professor Young, prior to this debate is that these amendments were moved during the debate on the Water Bill 2007 in this place and that the indication at that time was that the then government and the then department felt that it was possible and likely that there was enough flexibility in the act for the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to be able to work around some of the valid issues that Senator Siewert has raised. Averages may not be a neat fit everywhere and there are some instances in which alternative formulae may need to be applied, but elsewhere in the act the potential exists for the authority to be able to establish different formulae and approaches. I would appreciate it if the minister could confirm whether my understanding, given to me by others in recollection of that discussion, is correct and if there is that ability within the act for different approaches to be applied rather than for them having to be the averages that Senator Siewert has highlighted in these amendments.

8:08 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I did note in my summing up speech that this was an issue raised both in the Senate report and also by Senator Siewert, in particular the issue of variability in averages. As I said then, and I will reiterate in a little more detail, throughout the act the term ‘long-term average sustainable diversion limit’ is used. This is intended to provide a useful metric for levels of diversion in various parts of the basin and for the basin as a whole. It does not, however, suggest or necessitate the management of basin water resources through averages, either in terms of planning or compliance. Preparation of sustainable diversion limits involves setting a sustainable extraction limit for the full range of expected seasonal variations anticipated for the planning period. The use of the term ‘average’ in the defined term ‘long-term average sustainable diversion limit’ simply reflects the fact that averages provide a useful metric for communicating a diversion limit, which will itself obviously be based on a more complex formula that does take into account natural variability.

In terms of planning, the act states that the long-term average sustainable diversion limits may be specified as a particular quantity of water per year, as a formula or other method that may be used to calculate a quantity of water per year or in any other way that the authority determines to be appropriate. Such flexibility has been given to the authority to enable it to develop specific arrangements for specific locations and circumstances. The complexity of water management in the Murray-Darling Basin surely provides such a scope. The provisions of the act already allow sophisticated and flexible diversion limit arrangements to be applied, including a share based arrangement, and in relation to particular water years and water availabilities for the basin as a whole, for particular water resources and for parts thereof.

In terms of compliance, the phrase ‘whether in relation to a particular water accounting period or over a longer period’, which is item 8 in section 22(1), emphasises that the compliance arrangements can specify compliance arrangements for specific water years, not just long-term average limits. So this is an important feature of the Water Act 2007 and makes it clear that compliance with the Basin Plan is not on the basis of averages.

I trust that deals with the issues that Senator Siewert raises. I also on this occasion share Senator Nash’s views about potential unintended consequences. In particular, the government is concerned with the omission of the definition which is contained in relation to item 2 section 50C of Senator Siewert’s amendment. We do not support these amendments.

Question negatived.

8:11 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I move the amendment on sheet 5661:

Schedule 2, page 293 (after line 7), after item 45, insert:

45A  Before Division 1 of Part 2

Insert:

Division 1A—Interim Basin Plan
Subdivision A—Powers of Minister in relation to management of Basin water resources

18I  Decision that Interim Basin Plan required

                 The Minister may decide that, to address the current crisis affecting the Murray-Darling Basin, an Interim Basin Plan is required, as an emergency measure to apply until such time as he or she approves a Basin Plan that is consistent with the Water Act 2007.

18J  Authority to prepare Interim Basin Plan

        (1)    If the Minister decides under section 18I that an Interim Basin Plan is required, the Minister must direct the Authority to prepare the Interim Basin Plan and the Authority must prepare the Interim Basin Plan.

        (2)    An Interim Basin Plan prepared by the Authority under subsection (1) must include any determination made by the Minister under section 18L, 18M or 18N.

        (3)    A direction by the Minister under subsection (1) must provide that the Authority must prepare the Interim Basin Plan, after consultation with the Basin States and provide it to the Minister within 6 months of the date of the direction.

        (4)    An Interim Basin Plan may include any of the matters that must or may be included in a Basin Plan under section 22, but does not need to include all the detail required in a Basin Plan.

        (5)    A direction by the Minister under subsection (1) is a legislative instrument.

18K  Approval of Interim Basin Plan

        (1)    If the Minister gives a direction under subsection 18J(1), within 30 days of receiving the Interim Basin Plan from the Authority the Minister must either:

             (a)    approve the Authority’s Interim Basin Plan; or

             (b)    approve the Authority’s amended Interim Basin Plan provided to the Minister under paragraph (3)(a); or

             (c)    amend the Authority’s Interim Basin Plan and approve it; or

             (d)    prepare an alternative Interim Basin Plan and approve it;

as an emergency measure to apply until such time as he or she approves a Basin Plan.

        (2)    The Minister must, before amending the Authority’s Interim Basin Plan under paragraph (1)(c) or preparing an alternative Interim Basin Plan under paragraph (1)(d), consult the Authority.

        (3)    If the Minister consults the Authority under subsection (2):

             (a)    the Authority may amend its Interim Basin Plan and provide the amended Interim Basin Plan to the Minister within a timeframe decided by the Minister; or

             (b)    the Minister may amend the Authority’s Interim Basin Plan under paragraph (1)(c) or prepare an alternative Interim Basin Plan under paragraph (1)(d).

        (4)    An Interim Basin Plan approved under subsection (1) is a legislative instrument.

        (5)    When an Interim Basin Plan approved under paragraph (1)(b), (c) or (d) is laid before a House of the Parliament under the Legislative Instruments Act 2003, the Minister must also lay before that House a document that sets out the Minister’s reasons for not approving the Authority’s Interim Basin Plan under paragraph (1)(a).

18L  Matters that may be determined by Minister

        (1)    The Minister may, to give effect to an Interim Basin Plan under this Division, determine:

             (a)    interim water sharing regimes; and

             (b)    interim allocation arrangements; and

             (c)    interim storage management; and

             (d)    interim water accounting rules; and

             (e)    rules for arrangements for sale and purchase and movement of water among Basin States; and

              (f)    the allocation of water for essential system maintenance, conveyance and environmental purposes; and

             (g)    any other matter necessary to give effect to an Interim Basin Plan.

        (2)    In making a determination under subsection (1), the Minister must have regard to the matters set out in section 18O.

        (3)    A determination under subsection (1) is a legislative instrument.

18M  Sharing regime

                 In the interests of sustaining and protecting the environment and to assist in making any determination under subsection 18L(1), including in relation to any water resource plan area, the Minister must determine:

             (a)    the share of water needed to maintain Basin water resources in a manner that enables water of reasonable quality to be conveyed to water users, to maintain essential system functions and to maintain water quality; and

             (b)    the share of the remaining non-flood water to which a Basin State is entitled; and

             (c)    the share, if any, to be granted to the environment as a separate and clearly identifiable holder of an inalienable entitlement to water allocations in the water resource plan area.

18N  Activities inconsistent with relevant international agreements

                 The Minister may make a determination that certain activities are inconsistent with relevant international agreements.

Subdivision B—Matters to which Minister must have regard when making a determination

18O  Matters to which Minister must have regard when making a determination

                 In making a determination under this Division, the Minister must have regard to:

             (a)    the principles set out in the National Water Initiative which have been agreed to by all governments of the Commonwealth of Australia;

             (b)    critical human needs;

             (c)    environmental needs and obligations including international obligations;

             (d)    community needs;

             (e)    the importance of efficient market processes in determining the most appropriate way to use water and to facilitate structural adjustment;

              (f)    the importance to the economy and communities of maintaining permanent plantings;

             (g)    relevant international agreements;

             (h)    the possibility that all or some parts of the Murray-Darling Basin may be experiencing adverse climate change, so that it may not be possible to sustain all forms of water use in the Murray-Darling Basin and that any adjustment burden must shared equitably across the Murray-Darling Basin;

              (i)    the need for economically efficient water use and investment;

              (j)    any other benefits available to particular users of Basin water resources;

             (k)    the need to prevent activities that contribute to the improper use, storage and diversion of water;

              (l)    any other matter to which the Minister considers it necessary to have regard.

Subdivision C—Powers of Authority in relation to implementation, compliance and enforcement of Interim Basin Plan

18P  Powers of Authority in relation to implementation, compliance and enforcement of Interim Basin Plan

        (1)    The Authority is responsible for implementing an Interim Basin Plan.

        (2)    For the purposes of investigating compliance with and enforcing an Interim Basin Plan, the Authority has the same enforcement powers as it has in relation to a Basin Plan.

        (3)    For the purposes of investigating compliance with and enforcing an Interim Basin Plan, the Authority also has the same enforcement powers as the ACCC and the Minister have in relation to a Basin Plan.

Subdivision D—Other matters

18Q  Inconsistent State actions

        (1)    A State must not act in any manner which is inconsistent with an Interim Basin Plan or a determination made under this Division.

        (2)    A State that imposes restrictions on the trading and transfer of tradeable water rights in relation to Basin water resources is not eligible to receive any Commonwealth funding under the National Water Initiative.

18R  Trading and transfer of tradeable water rights by Commonwealth

                 The Commonwealth and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder are not subject to any restrictions on the trading or transfer of tradeable water rights in relation to Basin water resources.

18S  Declaration of taxation schemes detrimental to management of Basin water resources

        (1)    The ACCC must, by 30 June 2009, inquire into the effects of arrangements in the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 on:

             (a)    the water market; and

             (b)    the nature of irrigation practice and investment;

and provide, by 31 December 2009, advice to the Minister based on the outcome of the inquiry.

        (2)    Acting on the advice of the ACCC, the Minister may determine that a taxation scheme is detrimental to management of the Basin water resources.

        (3)    The Minister must give a copy of a determination made under subsection (2) to the Treasurer.

        (4)    If the Minister gives a copy of a determination to the Treasurer under subsection (3), the Treasurer must cause a report to be prepared in response to the determination.

        (5)    The Treasurer must cause a copy of a report prepared under subsection (4) to be laid before each House of the Parliament within 15 sitting days of that House after the completion of the preparation of the report.

18T  Failure to comply with Interim Basin Plan made under this Division

        (1)    If a Basin State fails to comply with an Interim Basin Plan or any determination made under this Division, the Minister must assess:

             (a)    the impact of that failure to comply on the other shares determined under section 18M in the Basin water resources; and

             (b)    the quantitative effect of that failure to comply on the Basin water resources.

        (2)    If a Basin State fails to comply with an Interim Basin Plan or any determination made under this Division, the Minister must by determination reduce that Basin State’s share in the Basin water resources as determined under section 18M by 10 times the quantitative effect of that failure to comply as assessed under paragraph (1)(b).

        (3)    If a Basin State, after the Minister under subsection (2) reduces that Basin State’s share in the Basin water resources, continues to fail to comply with an Interim Basin Plan or a determination made under this Division, the Minister must apply for an injunction against the Basin State under section 140.

This amendment is about having an interim Basin Plan. It is to add a degree of urgency to the bill to ensure that the minister may decide, in order to address the current crisis facing the Murray-Darling Basin, to implement an interim Basin Plan as required as an emergency measure to apply until the Basin Plan is approved. That is what it is in a nutshell. There are a number of consequential amendments as to how it would operate, but effectively it would provide for the authority to prepare an interim Basin Plan within six months and for the minister to sign off within 30 days. My concern in relation to this, which I have stated before, is that waiting until 2011 with implementation in 2019 is just too long a time frame, given the urgency of the crisis.

8:13 pm

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Water Resources and Conservation) Share this | | Hansard source

The coalition certainly recognises the intent of the amendment that Senator Xenophon is putting forward here this evening. There is indeed a recognition of the speed at which we should be moving forward with the plan. However, in terms of putting an interim Basin Plan in place, there was a level of concern from many industry groups that appeared before the inquiry about the necessity of doing that, perhaps because of the duplication that would arise as a result of that. But we do take on board Senator Xenophon’s intent in trying to relay the urgency, from his perspective, of what he would like to do.

One of the things that I would point out is that a lot of the planning could already have taken place under the old Water Act 2007, as I am sure the minister is well aware, and the minister could have begun under the act standing. There certainly has been a degree of speculation that perhaps nothing can move forward until we move to the new legislation, but I think even the minister would recognise that there is a degree of planning and forward movement on reform that could already be taking place. So I indicate to the Senate that the coalition will not be supporting the amendment of Senator Xenophon.

8:14 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The Greens indicated in our minority report on this bill that we felt that it was important that we start setting some sort of basic planning in place. We felt that planning with a non-binding approach should be started in order to start sending some security to basin communities so that they have a bit of a sense of certainty about their planning. We are attracted to the idea of interim planning. We are concerned that resources may be diverted away from the final planning to an interim plan, which is why we were going for a non-binding approach, so that some preliminary work would be done to give some security to communities. We do have some problems with more formalised interim planning. We would prefer some sort of non-binding approach to be taken in order to do some preliminary work with communities.

8:16 pm

Photo of Mary FisherMary Fisher (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support Senator Nash’s comments. We understand Senator Xenophon’s motivation in moving these amendments and would support the motivation behind them. But, however well-intentioned they are, I fear they may fail to deliver in coming up with an interim plan that Senator Xenophon hopes would enable an emergency response. Instead, they risk coming up with an interim plan that would essentially be the surrogate real plan, would last for significantly longer than the interim and would ultimately stave off what should be the arrival at the end point, which is a permanent and ongoing plan. On that basis, whilst Senator Xenophon’s amendments are very well intentioned, I do not believe that we can support them.

8:17 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I am sure that it comes as no surprise to Senator Xenophon that the government is not supporting this set of amendments. I note that they essentially comprise giving the relevant minister quite a lot of power.

Photo of Mary FisherMary Fisher (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There is such a thing as a poisoned chalice.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

But it is not a regime that is consistent with what we have negotiated with the states. I want to also raise a practical issue. I think all of us who are close to the issue of water management in the basin have a sense that much should have been done before but, in terms of the practicalities of this, the government is focused on getting the authority up and running, on resourcing that authority adequately and on ensuring that we achieve a Basin Plan in early 2011, as I said in my second reading speech. That is a very substantial task to put in place with the relevant community consultation that is required under the legislation. Also, it is already a substantial task to, as a matter of policy, take into account a whole range of scientific issues which have previously not formed the basis of management decisions, as Senator Xenophon and others well know. To load on top of that an additional interim plan is, in our view, unmanageable.

Question negatived.

8:19 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move Greens amendment (2) and (6) on sheet 5629:

(2)    Schedule 2, page 293 (after line 7), after item 45, insert:

45A  Paragraph 20(b)

After “quantities of”, insert “or shares of”.

(6)    Schedule 2, page 294 (after line 2), after item 50, insert:

50A  Subsection 22(1) (table item 6, column 2)

After “quantities of water”, insert “or shares of water”.

50B  Subsection 22(1) (table item 7, column 2)

After “quantities of water”, insert “or shares of water”.

This is to do with long-term sustainable diversion limits. These are two amendments that are intended to implement recommendations from Professor Young at the committee’s inquiry. They are about trying to produce a better outcome for the basin. Essentially we seek to change the word ‘quantities’ to ‘shares’ of surface water and groundwater. We believe this is more consistent with the National Water Initiative, which requires—but it is not done in many of the basin’s unregulated systems—that it is more appropriate to define sustainable diversion limits as the proportion or share of water that can be derived under different circumstances and conditions. We believe that, in the increasingly variable climate and water flow scenarios that we are facing in the basin, this is a more appropriate way to start setting the long-term sustainable diversion limit. In other words we start thinking of proportions or shares of the water.

We have sought to amend this act before. We think that this is a more appropriate way to go. As has been mentioned earlier, we sought to move a number of these amendments last time. I repeat that they are on the recommendations of professionals and experts in river management and ecosystem health, who presented to the previous inquiry in August 2007 on the Water Act 2007. They still recommend that these amendments will improve the act. So it is not a case of them having given evidence a year ago, thinking it was a good idea at the time but subsequently changing their minds. They still think this is a more appropriate way to facilitate effective management of the basin. We are talking about setting up a system that needs to deal with an increasingly variable climate, with decreasing water flows in an environment in which we are going to have to reduce consumptive water use by 42 to 53 per cent. So we need some pretty progressive ways of thinking about how we are going to manage a very limited resource.

We believe that these amendments make sense and assist us in innovative ways of thinking about the water resource and how we are going to manage it and share it into the future, because that is what we are going to be doing. We are going to have to share a limited resource for ecosystem and river health, for wetlands health, for irrigators and for human needs. Each one of those uses is extremely significant, and we believe that this is a more appropriate way to look at that water resource. We commend these amendments to the committee.

8:22 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I support these amendments. Senator Siewert is absolutely right. You need to look on a share basis rather than take the current approach. This is something that has been strongly recommended by a number of experts, including Professor Mike Young from the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, and I believe Professor Young is absolutely right in taking that approach in relation to looking at a sharing regime.

8:23 pm

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Water Resources and Conservation) Share this | | Hansard source

I certainly could not agree more with Senator Siewert that we need to be progressive and innovative in how we move forward in terms of managing the basin. Indeed, I recognise the very clear intent with which Senator Siewert has moved these amendments. However, I must indicate to the committee that we will not be supporting these amendments. In spite of having very closely listened to Senator Siewert, we believe that there is the potential for possible unintended consequences and, as a result, we will not be supporting the amendments.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I wish to indicate to Senator Siewert a couple of things. The government is not proposing to support this. In part, there is a possibility that the amendments, as they are drafted, may well confuse the interpretation of the act. I would also ask Senator Siewert, on this issue, to have regard to the existing definitions in the act, under section 23, subsection (2), which makes it very clear that:

A long-term average sustainable diversion limit for the Basin water resources, for the water resources of a particular water resource plan area or for a particular part of those water resources may be specified:

(a)  as a particular quantity of water per year; or

(b)  as a formula or other method that may be used to calculate a quantity of water per year; or

(c)  in any other way that the Authority determines to be appropriate.

So, in the government’s view, that section of the existing act already allows the authority to take into account the dynamic nature of water availability in the basin, including different climatic and hydrological regimes. This section that I have just outlined would allow the long-term average sustainable diversion limit to be expressed as a share if the authority considered it to be appropriate pursuant to section 23, subsection (2C). The use of the term ‘average’ in the defined term of long-term average sustainable diversion limit, as I have indicated before, simply reflects the fact that averages provide a useful metric for communicating a diversion limit, which will itself, obviously, be based on a more complex formula that takes into account natural variability.

Question negatived.

8:26 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I move amendment (3) standing in my name on sheet 5649:

(3)    Schedule 2, page 293 (after line 7), after item 45, insert:

45A  Before paragraph 20(a)

Insert:

           (aa)    the Authority to take a whole of Basin approach in managing Basin water resources, taking into account environmental, social, economic and hydrological considerations;

This relates to a whole-of-basin approach in terms of the way that the authority will function. It makes explicit what some would say is implicit in the bill, but I think it is important that it be clear that what is being proposed is spelt out in the context of the authority’s functions. I would urge senators to support this particular amendment. The amendment makes it clear that the authority should take a whole-of-basin approach when preparing a Basin Plan. It requires a Basin Plan to take into account environmental, social, economic and hydrological considerations and to set out environmental objectives for each part of the system. Section 20 of the bill requires a Basin Plan to set out environmental objectives for each part of the system but does not necessarily require these objectives to be defined in a manner that reflects the impact of one part of the system on all other parts. This amendment effectively promotes a holistic approach to the Basin Plan which, at present, appears to be lacking, other than in the form of some subtle undertones.

8:27 pm

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Water Resources and Conservation) Share this | | Hansard source

As Senator Xenophon has indicated, whilst the intent of this is already taken into account in the bill, the coalition certainly believes that it is appropriate to clarify it by way of the amendment that Senator Xenophon has moved. To have a little more clarity and transparency in the requirements is appropriate, and the coalition will be supporting the amendment.

8:28 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to echo that support for Senator Xenophon’s amendment. In some ways this is a cosmetic amendment. I am not wishing to downgrade it at all but, of course, it flows to objects of the Basin Plan and the purpose of the Basin Plan. Nonetheless, it is important that the new Murray-Darling Basin Authority be very clear in its understanding of what the objects and purpose of that Basin Plan are. Whilst the purpose, as outlined in the current act, does go through a range of associated factors that have some overlap with the amendment that Senator Xenophon has moved, it is not put so clearly and concisely. In particular, it does not provide that whole-of-basin understanding across the different factors that Senator Xenophon has raised in this amendment—across those factors of environmental, social, economic and hydrological considerations.

Yes, the current purposes of the plan and the act talk about basin-wide environmental objectives, but they then go on to specify and limit that to some extent to water dependent ecosystems rather than looking at the fulsome approach that has been proposed by Senator Xenophon. As to giving a clear message and mandate to the MDBA and ensuring that the new authority, when comprised, has a mandate to deliver the type of basin plan that will give consideration to the full basin, I endorse and echo Senator Nash’s support for Senator Xenophon’s amendment.

8:30 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to indicate the Greens’ support. We think that it is important to put this sort of emphasis into the plan. It will give the authority the extra support to ensure that whole-of-basin approach is taken to managing our basin water resources. We think the plan needs to take into account the environmental, social, economic and hydrological issues that are in this amendment and that this enhances the plan. I cannot see any reason why all the state stakeholders would not support an amendment such as this. The Greens will be supporting this amendment.

8:31 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I indicate to Senator Xenophon that we believe that the existing section 20 of the act essentially already provides the sort of whole-of-basin approach that is included in his amendment. Frankly, it is probably the case that different words are used in the amendment to achieve the same object. For example, the current section of the act provides for the integrated management of basin water resources in a way that promotes the objects of the act, including the environmental, hydrological, social and economic considerations that are fundamental to the purposes of the act. I acknowledge that the opposition is going to vote to amend the objects that Mr Turnbull put in place in their legislation. I hope they discussed that with him.

Question agreed to.

8:32 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move Greens amendment (3) on sheet 5629:

(3)    Schedule 2, page 293 (after line 7), after item 45, insert:

45B  After paragraph 20(b)

Insert:

           (ba)    measures which ensure that flows are sufficient and regular enough to maintain essential ecosystem functions throughout the Basin and that the effects of diverting water in one part of the Basin on all other parts of the Basin are fully accounted for;

This is an amendment to ensure that the Basin Plan also provides for maintaining ecosystems. The measure ensures that flows are sufficient and regular enough to maintain essential ecosystem functions throughout the basin and that the effects on all parts of the basin of diverting water in one part of the basin are fully accounted for. We believe this enhances the role of the Basin Plan. I think it actually fits in quite nicely with the amendment that Senator Xenophon has just successfully moved to ensure that the authority takes a whole-of-basin approach to managing water resources. This is specifically aimed at ensuring that there are sufficient and regular flows to maintain essential ecosystem functions. By moving this amendment, we are trying to ensure the maintenance of the entire ecosystem and that its functions are protected and are provided with minimum flows of water through the basin. Again, I remind the chamber that the amendment is a result of recommendations from scientists who think that the act does not necessarily ensure that the whole of the system is looked after. As I said, I think this complements very well the amendment that has just passed by ensuring that those minimum flows are provided to ensure ecosystem health.

8:34 pm

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Water Resources and Conservation) Share this | | Hansard source

Certainly, the coalition recognises Senator Siewert’s point, that she believes that it fits quite nicely with the previous amendment. However, having looked closely at this and having listened to Senator Siewert, we are not convinced that there will not be possible unintended consequences as a result of this. I indicate to the Senate that the Nationals will not be supporting the amendment.

8:35 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

The government is not supporting this amendment. I make the point that this is potentially highly prescriptive. In our view, the MDBA should be left to set these targets as appropriate rather than mandating quite in the manner that is proposed in this amendment. We are also concerned about how this may interact with other sections of the bill and act. The government is not minded to support this amendment.

8:36 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I am obviously disappointed that neither the coalition nor the government are supporting an amendment that is designed to ensure sufficient and regular maintenance of flow and to ensure that the essential ecosystem functions throughout the basin are maintained. I think it is a critical amendment for ensuring that ecosystems are protected. Needless to say, we are extremely disappointed that they are not getting supported. Again, I remind this place that this is from strong recommendations from people that know about ecosystem health and know what is needed to protect those ecosystems. I remind the chamber that 80 to 90 per cent of the wetlands in the basin have already been lost. We are talking about trying to protect those remaining few original wetlands in the basin. It is a shame that the coalition and the government are not prepared to support amendments that seek to ensure their health.

Question negatived.

by leave—I move Greens amendments (4), (5) and (11) on sheet 5629:

(4)    Schedule 2, page 293 (after line 7), after item 45, insert:

45C  Subsection 21(1)

Repeal the subsection (not including the heading), substitute:

        (1)    The Basin Plan (including any environmental watering plan or water quality and salinity management plan included in the Basin Plan) must be prepared so as to provide for giving effect (to the extent to which they are relevant to the use and management of the Basin water resources) to:

             (a)    relevant international agreements; and

             (b)    the Australian Ramsar management principles as prescribed by section 335 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999; and

             (c)    plans and strategies developed for implementing commitments under relevant Agreements in accordance with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 including but not limited to:

                   (i)    any management plans for a Ramsar wetland under section 328 or section 333 of that Act; and

                  (ii)    any recovery plan or threat abatement plan prepared by the Commonwealth under Chapter 5 of that Act or any recovery plan or threat abatement plan developed by a State or Territory; and

                 (iii)    the China Australia and Japan Migratory Birds agreements and any wildlife conservation plans under section 285 of that Act.

(5)    Schedule 2, page 293 (after line 7), after item 45, insert:

45D  At the end of paragraph 21(2)(a)

Add:

                 (iii)    the need to take precautionary measures to anticipate, prevent or minimise the causes of climate change and mitigate its adverse effects; and

                 (iv)    the need for sustainable management, conservation and enhancement of sinks and reservoirs of all greenhouse gases including biomass, forests and oceans as well as other terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems; and

                  (v)    the need for adaptation to the impacts of climate change including appropriate and integrated plans for water resources and agriculture; and

(11)  Schedule 2, page 301 (after line 1), after item 69, insert:

69A  At the end of section 55

Add:

        (4)    A water resource plan must be prepared to give effect (to the extent to which they are relevant to the use and management of the Basin water resources) to:

             (a)    relevant international agreements; and

             (b)    the Australian Ramsar management principles as prescribed by section 335 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999; and

             (c)    plans and strategies developed for implementing commitments under relevant Agreements in accordance with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 including but not limited to:

                   (i)    any management plans for a Ramsar wetland under section 328 or section 333 of that Act; and

                  (ii)    any recovery plan or threat abatement plan prepared by the Commonwealth under Chapter 5 of that Act or any recovery plan or threat abatement plan developed by a State or Territory; and

                 (iii)    the China Australia and Japan Migratory Birds agreements and any wildlife conservation plans under section 285 of that Act.

These amendments ensure that existing environmental agreements and commitments can be incorporated into the Basin Plan and be consistent with the Basin Plan. The amendments seek to ensure that Australian Ramsar management principles—for example, as prescribed by the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act—and other plans and strategies are in fact integrated so that the Basin Plan and this act work in an integrated manner with the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The amendments ensure that the Basin Plan and the water resources plan are consistent and give effect not only to the relevant international agreements but also to plans and strategies developed by implementing those commitments under the EPBC Act. I reiterate that these amendments are recommended by scientists and those experts in environmental protection who believe that, while there are provisions in the existing Water Act to attempt to integrate these, it does not sufficiently integrate both the provisions under the EPBC Act and requirements under international conventions to ensure Ramsar management of these wetlands, of which there are 17 in the basin. We do not believe that there are sufficient mechanisms in the current Water Act to ensure that that happens, so we have sought to improve the Water Act by ensuring better integration between the Basin Plan and such environmental agreements that we are signatories to.

8:40 pm

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Water Resources and Conservation) Share this | | Hansard source

We certainly recognise Senator Siewert’s intent in terms of the international agreements and the Ramsar requirements. But, again, having listened very carefully to the senator and taken all of those things on board, we are not convinced that the potential for those possible unintended consequences will arise, and therefore we will not be supporting the amendments.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

The government is not going to support these amendments. I ask Senator Siewert and her party to consider this issue: there is a call for more independence in the authority, but by these and other amendments that the Greens are moving they are in effect seeking, via legislation and via this Senate chamber, to be far more directive and prescriptive in relation to the authority than the existing act. I invite the Greens to consider the consistency of a position which on the one hand says, ‘We want the authority to be more independent of government or whomever,’ but on the other hand seeks far more prescriptive provisions in the legislation around what the authority is to do.

Our strong view, which was our election commitment, is that the independence of the authority is important. It is clearly against legislative and policy criteria as set out in the act. We have concerns about seeking to prescribe certain matters by legislation—and I am not only talking about the current amendments but a range of others that have been moved by Senator Siewert. Senator Siewert anticipated my response—she said, ‘I know that the act already has these provisions in it,’ and at section 21(1) it does already reflect relevant international treaties. Section 20 of the act provides that a Basin Plan must give effect to relevant international agreements, which include the Ramsar convention and a range of other conventions and international agreements, some of which Senator Siewert referred to. Other relevant conventions can be prescribed by regulation. Obviously it is not the case that we need to reproduce the words of any particular convention, or part thereof, in order to give effect to it.

8:43 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Given the minister’s comments, I need to check that in fact the authority will pay due regard to Australia’s international obligations for Ramsar management and various strategies and documents that are developed—conditions, for example, that are imposed under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. I presume that the minister is not being so broad with the independence of the authority that the authority does not need to give due regard to other laws of this land and other obligations that Australia has for implementing its Ramsar, CAMBA and JAMBA commitments. There is a whole list of those. I presume that the minister does not mean the authority has such independence that it can feel free to ignore those obligations.

8:44 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I refer Senator Siewert—and I will not use the page numbers because I am using the House of Representatives bill and others seem to be using the first reading bill and the page numbers seem to be awry—

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Water Resources and Conservation) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Nash interjecting

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

It does include some things. Clause 47 of the bill, Senator Siewert, amends 21(3) and adds:

; and (c) take account of the ecological character descriptions of:

(i) all declared Ramsar wetlands within the Murray-Darling Basin; and

(ii) all other key environmental sites within the 18 Murray-Darling Basin;

prepared in accordance with the National Framework and Guidance for Describing the Ecological Character of Australia’s Ramsar Wetlands endorsed by the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council.

8:45 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the minister for her answer but ask her this. I am presuming that she means by the level of independence that the authority has that the authority will have to give due regard to all of Australia’s various international commitments, including JAMBA and our CAMBA agreements and also any conditions that are put on any projects under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, for example, and any other relevant legislation.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator, I think I have already indicated the locations in the act, in particular in relation to sections 21 and 20, which make reference to this, and I have just given you the addition of subparagraph (c), from memory. I would also refer you to the definition of ‘relevant international agreement’ which is contained in section 4 of the Water Act:

“relevant international agreement” means the following:

(a)  the Ramsar Convention;

(b)  the Biodiversity Convention;

(c)  the Desertification Convention;

(d)  the Bonn Convention;

(e)  CAMBA;

(f)  JAMBA;

(g)  ROKAMBA;

(h)  the Climate Change Convention;

(i)  any other international convention to which Australia is a party and that is:

     (i)  relevant to the use and management of the Basin water resources; and

     (ii)  prescribed by the regulations for the purposes of this paragraph.

8:46 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

My concern still goes to the comment you made about the level of independence of the authority. Quite clearly, as you pointed out, there are a number of documents and conventions and a number of international agreements and pieces of legislation that the authority will be required to give effect to. So I fail to understand why we cannot provide further clarification of the environmental agreements that the authority needs to take into account and give effect to. When I raised this issue, you said it binds the level of independence of the authority. I am concerned that is the way it is being seen, rather than the authority being required to ensure that they implement a range of other environmental agreements as they come into effect.

8:47 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I was making the point about not just this amendment but, more broadly, the Greens amendments, some of which are, in our opinion, significantly prescriptive at the same time as you have amendments whereby you seek to expand the independence of the authority. That is our view. You do not share it, and I accept that. I do not think I can assist you any further. I have referred you to all the relevant provisions that I have been advised about in the context of this discussion in relation to ‘relevant international agreements’ and I have indicated our view as to why these particular amendments are unnecessary and ought not be supported, a view which, on this occasion, I understand the opposition shares.

8:48 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank you for that clarification; I appreciate that. Can I confirm that, therefore, under the various provisions—those that are already included in the act and those that are subsequently being amended, such as in clause 47 of the bill, which amends section 21(3) of the act—recovery plans that are abatement plans prepared under chapter 5 of the EPBC Act or any recovery plans that are prepared by state and territory governments will in fact be given effect to by the authority.

8:49 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator, obviously the authority will have to comply with the law. I am not sure that I can assist any further on that.

Question negatived.

8:50 pm

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Water Resources and Conservation) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I, and also on behalf of Senator Siewert, move amendments (1) and (2) on sheet 5622 revised 3:

(1)    Schedule 2, page 294 (after line 2), after item 50, insert:

50A  At the end of section 21

Add:

Basin Plan not to permit taking water for additional uses outside Basin

        (8)    The Basin Plan must ensure that no water is taken from Basin water resources for use outside the Murray-Darling Basin unless, prior to 3 July 2008, water would have been taken from Basin water resources for that use.

Note:   3 July 2008 is the date the Commonwealth, the Basin States and the Australian Capital Territory entered into an intergovernmental agreement on Murray-Darling Basin Reform.

        (9)    The Basin Plan must not permit:

             (a)    the construction or operation of water infrastructure; or

             (b)    work in the nature of a river flow control work;

if the primary purpose of that construction, operation or work is to enable water to be taken contrary to subsection (8).

Note 1:  water infrastructure is defined in section 7(3).

Note 2:  river flow control work is defined in section 8 but has a meaning affected by subsection (10).

      (10)    For the purposes of this section, river flow control work has the meaning it would have if paragraph 8(2)(b) were repealed.

(2)    Schedule 2, page 318 (after line 32), after item 162, insert:

162A  At the end of Part 12

Add:

257 Prohibited water infrastructure operations

        (1)    An infrastructure operator must not:

             (a)    construct or operate water infrastructure; or

             (b)    undertake work in the nature of a river flow control work;

if the primary purpose of that construction, operation or work is to enable water to be taken from Basin water resources for use outside the Murray-Darling Basin.

Note 1:  infrastructure operator and water infrastructure are defined in section 7.

Note 2:  river flow control work is defined in section 8 but has a meaning affected by subsection (3).

        (2)    Subsection (1) does not apply if, prior to 3 July 2008, water would have been taken from Basin water resources for that use.

        (3)    For the purposes of this section, river flow control work has the meaning it would have if paragraph 8(2)(b) were repealed.

These amendments by the coalition quite simply amend the bill so that the Basin Plan does not permit taking water for additional uses outside the basin. I think this is an area that has had a particular focus—certainly over the last few months at least, if not longer—on the issue of building the pipeline to take water from the Murray-Darling Basin for urban water use in Melbourne. A number of witnesses have certainly raised this issue, not only through the inquiry process but out in the communities and throughout industry as a whole, noting the complete stupidity of putting in place a pipeline to take water out of the Murray-Darling Basin when, from what we can see, the intent of not only the Water Act 2007 but also the Water Amendment Bill 2008, which seeks to amend the act, is to ensure the future sustainability of the Murray-Darling Basin. Perhaps I could make a couple of comments about the water savings currently available through the buyback process that the government are undertaking, and we have seen recently figures on this provided to the Senate, through the estimates process. All this does relate very clearly to the building of the pipeline and the taking of the water, because it will give a contrast in terms of what the government are doing with their focus on water savings in the basin.

The intent of the government with the $50 billion plan was to buy back entitlement of around 34,000 megalitres of water. It became apparent after some negotiations that it could not go through to completion and there looked to be only 22,000 megalitres of water available to that entitlement. As recently as four or so weeks ago, senators were given to understand that only 9,000 megalitres of that entitlement had moved onto the register and, of that, only 849 megalitres were real water allocation. The reason I raise that is that it is particularly important to compare and contrast that to the 75,000 megalitres of water that will be taken from the basin for urban water use in Melbourne. If I may just add to that point: there is no restriction on requirement for usage of that water for Melbourne once that water is taken from the basin.

We have heard quite a deal of discussion around critical human needs. It is not only critical human needs that that water can be used for in Melbourne; it can be used for anything that the state government chooses. I know that the minister will say that this water is going to come from water savings, and that has been very clearly stated to quite a great extent not only by the minister but by other members of the government. It is very apparent that, if there are any savings to be made in the Murray-Darling Basin, those savings should remain within the basin.

Much work has been done to ensure that we retain water in the basin. Indeed, the minister would say that the buyback process is the quickest form of getting water back into the system. We actually disagree with that, because we think water efficiency is by far the most important way to get water back into the system. The minister talks consistently about water savings in the basin, which is why we find it incomprehensible that the government would not agree to an amendment to this bill that will require water savings to stay within the basin. That is essentially what these amendments require.

The amendments are specifically targeted to ensure that no water that has already been taken out for a purpose prior to 3 July can be taken out from that point. The simple objective is to ensure that we do all we can to reach sustainable levels in the Murray-Darling Basin. Also, the social and economic impacts on the communities that are going to have their water removed as a result of the bill have not even been determined by the government. That has not even been looked at. I would put forward that that is one of the most crucial things that the government should be turning its mind to when looking at taking water out of the basin. I am sure that the minister will come up with a number of arguments as to why it is okay to suck 75,000—

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

How about your hypocrisy?

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Water Resources and Conservation) Share this | | Hansard source

I had not mentioned the word ‘hypocrisy’. Maybe I should just jump on that. I had not got to hypocrisy yet. Thank you, Minister. I was getting to that: the hypocrisy of the government in what it is doing by bringing this bill into the Senate and then allowing potentially 75,000 megalitres a year to be sucked out of the basin for Melbourne’s urban water use. I might add that Melbourne is allowing around 400 gigalitres of stormwater to run off into the ocean and is doing absolutely nothing about it. So while they are not doing all they can do to ensure their own sustainability, the minister is quite happy to support the taking of that water out of the Murray-Darling Basin. Perhaps I am misguided in my intent, but what we are trying to do with the Murray-Darling Basin is to make it sustainable for irrigators, farmers and the environment—right across the board—so that there is a balanced and fair share of water.

Having recently travelled from one end of the basin to the other, I have seen the enormous amount of work that irrigators and communities are doing to ensure that they do all that they can in terms of efficiency and sustainability. When they are going to those lengths to do all they can to make the basin sustainable, I can only agree with the overwhelming outcry from these communities right throughout the basin over the agreement to take 75,000 megalitres of water a year out of the basin. I would call on the minister to listen to those communities. I would say that, in her quieter moments, the minister probably agrees with me, given the amount of work she is doing to keep water in the basin. The government wants to allow that amount of water out of the basin each year when, as so many of the witnesses to the inquiry said, the basin is in crisis—they used various words. It seems absolutely—and I use the minister’s own word—hypocritical that the government should be doing that.

8:58 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

These amendments are both opposition and Greens amendments. The government’s position is not only hypocritical but it also stumps me. We are collectively, as a community and as a nation, spending a vast amount of money—and I must say that the Greens agree with spending that money—on buying back water so as to get to a situation where we get as much water as we can back into the system. We have invested over $3 billion in the past to buy back water. We are investing over $6 billion in infrastructure development and in restructuring to try to improve irrigation efficiency, all of which is focused on ensuring that water goes back into the system.

At a time when we are doing all that we can to return water to the Murray-Darling system—when we need every drop of water—Victoria, instead of contributing its share back into the system, seems to think it is acceptable to carve off 75 gigalitres. And that is the water that actually goes into the pipe to Melbourne; it does not include losses to the system through a failure to return water to the groundwater in the system. So in reality we are talking about way over 75 gigalitres. Collectively we somehow think it is okay that 75 gigalitres of water is put in a pipe and taken out of the system to feed Melbourne, which, as has been highlighted in the second reading debate today, chucks 400 gigalitres of water into the bay. It does not make sense.

I heard Senator Feeney in the chamber getting stuck into the opposition, and he did not leave out the Greens. He said I was talking about an additional 75 gigalitres, that it is really only water that is in the system anyway and that it is savings. Everybody else’s savings are going back into the system. The water that is being saved by efficiencies in Victoria should be going back into the Murray-Darling Basin system. The approach that says, ‘We will have efficiencies and, unlike everybody else, whose savings are going back into the system, we will take that water and send it to Victoria because they cannot get their act together in terms of water efficiency, water conservation, recycling and the use of the stormwater that is going out into the bay,’ does not make sense. All that water should be returned to the river.

When the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport was in Adelaide—and I see senators here who represent South Australia, including Senator Wong, on the other side of the chamber—we had a fair old whack at South Australia because Adelaide was not making enough effort to wean itself off the Murray. But at least it had started. While we have one Australian capital city trying to wean itself off, albeit a bit too slowly, we have Victoria trying to put itself right onto the Murray. It does not make sense. It is all very well for the Commonwealth to wash its hands, like Pontius Pilate, and say, ‘We assessed the route of the pipeline to Melbourne and we have put some conditions on that.’ What it did not assess was the impact of taking 75 gigalitres of water out of the basin and piping it down to Melbourne.

The Commonwealth also says, ‘We’re not paying for the pipeline.’ But the Commonwealth is going to pay Victoria a billion-dollar bribe so that it will sign on to the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement and the IGA. In effect, it is helping to pay for this water because it is paying Victoria a hell of a lot of money to get as yet unspecified returns. The figures that Victoria gave for the potential efficiency savings out of Food Bowl phase 2—because this is Food Bowl phase 1—are back-of-the-envelope calculations about how much water is going to be saved.

I feel I am in the twilight zone again because we are moving amendments with the opposition, which is what we did with the Safe Work Australia legislation. We are moving these amendments with the coalition because we do not believe it is appropriate that that amount of water be taken out of the system and piped down to Melbourne. Not only that, but it became obvious during the inquiry that if this water is to come out of the existing allocation to Victoria then that water will not always be available. Given the variable climate and drought scenarios that increasingly we are facing, this pipeline in fact could sometimes be dry. They are spending an awful lot of money to pipe 75 gigalitres—sometimes 75 gigalitres—of water down to Melbourne.

The Commonwealth has refused to engage with this other than on a very cursory level in terms of the conditions under the environment protection act and the route of the pipe. Not only that, but even before some of the conditions required by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Mr Garrett, had been met—for example, an audit of any potential efficiencies carried out by Victoria—and despite the fact that the Victorian Auditor-General has already disputed the so-called water savings, the pipeline has been built. Communities and farmers are being arrested for trying to stop this stupid extraction of water from a system facing crisis. While everybody is trying their hardest to get water back into the river, Victoria is busily taking it out. The communities of the Murray-Darling Basin have an absolute right to be very angry that, while they are making sacrifices and finding savings, their hard work is being undermined by people in Melbourne sucking water out of the system.

We think it is appropriate to make these amendments to stop any new allocations of water from the basin because the basin cannot afford them anymore. The Greens later will be moving an amendment that also seeks to ensure that extraction of water from the basin is gradually further reduced. We know that it is going to take some time, but this amendment specifically deals with new extractions. We commend these amendments to the Senate. If Victoria will not make sensible decisions, it is abundantly clear that the Basin Plan needs to have provisions in place that do not allow further extractions. The Commonwealth needs to take leadership on this issue. There should be no further extractions outside of the basin. It is time to draw the line. In fact, it is way beyond that time; we may already be too late.

9:07 pm

Photo of Mary FisherMary Fisher (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the amendment. Previous speakers have talked about the hypocrisy of the construction of the north-south pipeline. It is not just hypocritical; it is plain wrong. The good people of Melbourne are unwittingly being used as the political fodder in this equation in the sense that the good people of Melbourne are like the good people of Adelaide—they are water wise and they want to do the right thing with water. Like Adelaide, Melbourne has choices in sourcing its water. Melbourne has choices in terms of better collection, storage, use and reuse of water, as has Adelaide. Capital cities must exercise those choices and leave the Murray-Darling Basin and its precious resources to those communities who have far less choice in accessing their water sources.

The north-south pipeline cuts through all of that. It was a politically expedient decision, as indicated by other speakers, to buy Victoria’s cooperation in the COAG process. Centres that are not part of the basin simply should not be able to draw upon the basin. We will talk later in this process about the necessity to gradually wean off reliance on the basin those urban centres that are outside the Murray-Darling Basin or not situated along the River Murray yet continue to rely on it for significant proportions of their water use. Once constructed, this pipeline will continue to be utilised to water the good citizens of Melbourne. It is wrong, and this amendment should be supported.

9:09 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I indicate my strong support for this amendment. Senator Siewert is right: we need to draw a line in the sand, and it needs to be drawn here and now in relation to this project. I would like to commend the work that the Plug the Pipe group have done in raising the profile of, fighting for and being relentless on this issue in their pursuit of getting a good outcome for their communities and indeed for the Murray-Darling Basin. In particular I commend Ken Pattison, who I have got to know quite well in recent times, and his very dedicated group of people that have been working on this issue of getting the facts out there and raising public awareness not just in their local communities and not just in Victoria but across the nation.

I want to put some questions to the minister. I appreciate that the minister is not here, but I will just put these on the record. I referred in my second reading debate contribution to a number of statements—

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Temporary Chairman, I rise on a point of order to say that the minister will be here very quickly. Unfortunately she just had to bolt for a second. She has not run away.

Photo of Mark BishopMark Bishop (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There is no point of order.

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I was not in any way suggesting that of the minister. In fact I flagged to the minister the areas in which I would be raising questions, so I just want to make it clear that there is absolutely no suggestion that I have any criticism of the minister whatsoever about this. I did have a brief discussion with her previously.

Can I just retrace what I put in my second reading debate contribution with respect to this bill. Victoria’s own Auditor-General, Mr Des Pearson, has been critical of the project—the north-south pipeline, or the Sugarloaf Pipeline, as it has been called—and he has cast doubt over the anticipated water savings the project will yield. In his report Planning for water infrastructure in Victoria, released on 9 April 2008, he concluded that the level of information provided to the community on water supply projects has been inadequate and needs to be improved. Specifically he noted:

… the processes used to develop the Victorian water plan fell short of the standard the Department applied when developing the white paper and the Central Region strategy.

He further criticised the Victorian water plan for:

… widely varying levels of rigour around the plan’s costs and expected water savings benefits.

My question to the minister, given the criticisms by the Victorian Auditor-General, the very trenchant criticisms of this project and the criticisms as to the lack of rigour around the plans, costs and expected water savings benefits, is: what role can the Commonwealth play to ensure that there is a real level of rigour? Reflecting on the criticisms by the Victorian Auditor-General in terms of the water savings asserted by the Victorian government, given this report by the Victorian Auditor-General, what positive, constructive role can the Commonwealth play to ensure that there is a level of accountability with respect to the assertions made by the Victorian government as to anticipated water savings?

9:13 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to echo Senator Nash’s and Senator Siewert’s support for this amendment moved by the opposition and the Australian Greens. This is a very principled amendment. It is an amendment that does draw a line in the sand and say ‘enough is enough’ when it comes to additional extractions from the basin system to go elsewhere. It says, ‘No more can or should be accepted.’ The clear line that the Australian Senate should be driving home tonight is that some things just do not make sense.

This amendment is a principled one that would apply as equally to any other proposal. If there were a proposal to hook Sydney up to the Murray-Darling system, or to hook Perth up to the Murray-Darling system or, had Adelaide never been connected, to hook Adelaide up—

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What about Hobart?

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

or to hook Hobart up, with all their plentiful water supplies in Tasmania, this amendment would apply equally to all, because it says enough is enough. But of course it is being driven by something that makes no sense at all, and that something is one particular act—the north-south pipeline, or Sugarloaf Pipeline. That makes no sense at all, as has been so well articulated by a number of my fellow senators already.

There are many people who are passionately opposed to this. As Senator Xenophon did, I acknowledge the Plug the Pipe coalition and, particularly, Chris Harrison and Ken Pattison, who are in the gallery tonight. I acknowledge that they have travelled to attend the Senate committee hearings both for the inquiry into the Coorong and Lower Lakes and for the inquiry into this bill. They lead opposition to this that is not just based in the Goulburn Valley region; it stretches far beyond that through much of Victoria and through much of the Murray-Darling Basin. That opposition is driven by the basic understanding of anyone who has looked at this—that is, that it is just simply wrong. It is the wrong thing to be doing to put another major urban centre on the teat of the Murray-Darling Basin system at this critically important time.

Yes, the objective is that it is achieved from savings. As I said in my speech in the second reading debate, I hope very much that those savings are achieved, because it is important to the river system overall that the infrastructure savings that we on this side are very passionate about—from all sorts of projects, including the Food Bowl Modernisation Project—are achieved and that we do save the thousands of megalitres of water that can be saved from more efficient alternatives. But the proposal to share those savings—a third to the environment, a third to the irrigators and a third being piped off to Melbourne; the 75 gigalitres—is just madness. It is just total and utter madness.

A far better proposal—a proposal that would mirror the plan laid down by the coalition government at the outset of the whole national approach to managing the Murray-Darling Basin—is the fifty-fifty plan, whereby there would be some 50 per cent for the environment and 50 per cent for irrigators. That plan would actually see more water going back into local irrigation communities in the Goulburn Valley. It would ensure that they are able to sustain the levels of production that they would hope to and that they are able to do more with less, and it would see more water going into the Goulburn River and the Murray River and ensure that we actually get better outcomes.

The big question is: what about Melbourne? Well, the question for the government is: why not help Melbourne and Victoria find some alternatives? Why not actually do as the government are doing in other places—for example, in Adelaide, where they have offered funding to help with the building of desalination plants, and where they have offered support to help with other groundwater storage and capture? Why not pursue other alternatives? As Senator Siewert mentioned, 400 gigalitres of stormwater flows out each year from Melbourne. Why not help capture some of that and reuse some of that instead of building a pipeline to take 75 gigalitres away? Why has the minister not picked up the phone and called Premier Brumby or any of the Victorian ministers and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got an idea; how about we do something other than this pipeline—let’s think about alternatives to building this pipeline’? They are the questions that need to be answered. Having already put a billion dollars on the table, why can’t they, if need be, find a little bit more—though I cannot understand why it would be necessary—to find an alternative to secure Melbourne’s long-term water supply that does not require building this pipeline?

The minister made reference today to the CSIRO’s sustainable yields report, and she has made reference to it a number of times since its release yesterday, saying that it demonstrates the enormous challenge the basin faces going into the future and that it demonstrates how important it is going to be for us to do more with less throughout the basin. Surely it also demonstrates that building this pipeline is the wrong thing to do, that, if we are about securing more environmental flows and if we are about securing our irrigation industries with the maximum amount of production potential, we should have a system that secures Melbourne’s supply without the need to build this pipeline. With that, I endorse the amendments and look forward to the minister explaining how and why this can be justified.

9:19 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very pleased to get the opportunity to stand up and point out some of the extraordinary hypocrisy that has spewed forth from the other side of the chamber in this debate. I want to go through this very carefully because, frankly, there are a lot of inconsistent views and inconsistent positions being put by the opposition on this.

The first point I would make is a very important point—the opposition know this but, in their haste to try to play a bit of politics with this, they are avoiding it—and that is that the federal government is not putting any money into this project. The project which is being funded is the second stage of the food bowl project. The second point I would make really shows that the Liberal opposition are driven by politics and not by policy on this issue. I do note that, even though they profess to have such a position predicated on looking after communities in the basin, I do not think we have had a Victorian senator from the Liberal Party speak. Perhaps they can explain what their views are about water supply for Melbourne and that they are very happy to not take water from this pipeline.

But let me just make a few points. Hypocrisy No. 1: the Liberal Party in Victoria have said they will use this pipeline and the water it transports. So let us understand this. In this debate in the federal Senate, you are trying to play politics with this because you think there is something in it for you—notwithstanding the fact that you know that, if this amendment gets up and is retained, this would undermine the IGA. You know that. You are prepared to play politics with the Murray-Darling, just as you did for over a decade. But your colleagues in Victoria will use this pipeline and the water. If you were really serious about this issue, you would ensure that the Victorian Liberal Party refused to support this project, but you cannot deliver that and you know that. So that is hypocrisy No. 1.

Hypocrisy No. 2 goes right to the heart of Mr Turnbull’s bill. When was the food bowl project first announced by Premier Bracks? It was 19 June 2007. Who was in federal government then? Someone remind me. Was it Kevin Rudd? I do not think so. Who was the minister?

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

They are quiet over there now.

Photo of Mary FisherMary Fisher (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a bit boring.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I will take that interjection. Senator Fisher says ‘a bit boring’, and some people might say aspects of her government were boring, but that is really up to her if she wants to criticise them. Who was in government then?

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It starts with T.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

Who was the minister who two months after that brought forward the very act we are amending?

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The second letter is U.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Sterle’s interjections are difficult at times—

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

He is not in step.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

No, he is very funny, I think. That is why it is difficult. He is one of the few people who are actually funny in this place. Two months after Premier Bracks announced this project, Mr Turnbull brought forward the Water Act. Was there a provision in it which prevented Food Bowl 1? No. Was there a provision that said, ‘We are so worried about the basin we are going to make sure that the Victorian project does not proceed’? They could have done that then before the Victorian Liberal Party said, ‘Actually we are going to use it even though people don’t like it.’ Did he put a provision in the act which prevents it? No, he did not. So maybe next time when you come in here or go out to communities and start to lecture people about why this is so bad, you could be upfront and honest about your complete failure, in the state party, in the state parliament and in the federal parliament, to ever have backed the words and the rhetoric with deeds. That is the hypocrisy, that you come in here and you say these things but you know you would not do anything different, you never did anything different and your colleagues in Victoria would not do anything different.

A number of other issues have been raised. I think Senator Siewert described our involvement as cursory. I say, Senator, on the involvement the federal government has in this project, that I think you might have been absent from the chamber when I pointed out we are not funding this project; it is Food Bowl 2 that is being funded, and I think you are aware of that. But Minister Garrett’s decision making was not cursory under the EPBC Act. He is a minister who takes his accountability under that legislation very seriously. He has put in place as the decision maker a range of decisions and conditions of the approval, which is really the only legislative involvement he has with this project. They essentially ensure that Melbourne only receives a share of water saved through the Food Bowl Modernisation Project and that independent audited reports—this goes in part, Senator Xenophon, to your issue—of the savings achieved are undertaken. It is also a condition that savings allocated to the Living Murray—that is environmental water, water for rivers again—may not be allocated to Melbourne and that water designated as an environmental reserve must be maintained. In other words, this is about protecting environmental flows, about ensuring that through the Commonwealth’s involvement, which is as an EPBC Act decision maker, the conditions require the auditing of the savings, the reporting of those and the safeguarding of environmental water. So, with respect, Senator Siewert, and I know in this debate we can all say things at times, I do not believe it is cursory and I do not think that is a fair assessment of Minister Garrett’s decision.

Senator Birmingham—this is another one of the hypocrisies tonight—was saying, ‘Why don’t you do something about Melbourne’s water supply?’ As I understand it, Senator Birmingham is a moderate who then lined up with Mr Costello, but maybe I am wrong. Mr Costello was the Treasurer who said that the Commonwealth had no role in urban water. I thought that was your party’s position, that you had no role in urban water. We, on the other hand, went to the election with commitments on urban water. And guess what? They were commitments that we will deliver on and are delivering on, commitments that were funded through the budget: a billion dollars for urban water desalination, the stormwater harvesting fund—

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Why don’t you do something for Melbourne out of that money?

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Birmingham, you can interject all you like. You said I should just pick up the phone and try and cut a deal. We actually think there is a process here. This is an election commitment. The process is there for states and other levels of government to make application about. But, unlike you, we think the Commonwealth has a role in urban water, and we had two lots of $250 million election commitments which we also funded through our first budget. So the hypocrisy from a party that did not believe prior to the last election that the Commonwealth had a role in urban water lecturing others about the need to have a role in urban water is pretty extraordinary.

The next point I would like to make is in relation to the scope of, essentially, a prohibition. I made the point in the second reading summing-up, and it may be that senators were not aware of this, but there are a range of pipelines and channels which already move water out of the basin. The most obvious are to Adelaide, Manheim to Adelaide, Morgan to Whyalla, Swan Reach to Stockwell, Murray Bridge to Onkaparinga, and Tailem Bend to Keith. I could list a whole range in New South Wales as well for you, Senator Nash, and you would probably laugh at some of my pronunciation, but I could give you a list of the very many pipelines and channels moving water out of the basin in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, and even in Queensland.

It is the case, as I read this amendment, and I might be wrong, that, if, for example, the salinity levels in terms of the current off-takes for Adelaide’s water supply were too high or if there were other reasons in water quality—and of course none of us want this to happen, but I just make this point because of the politics that is being played here—and we were in a position where the South Australian government and the federal government had to look at moving the current off-takes, it is quite likely that that would be prevented by this amendment. So what are the criteria—Adelaide okay and Melbourne not okay? Not if it is John Brumby? The reality is that a lot of politics is being played on this issue.

As I said, when it comes to water, people should judge the Liberal Party not on what they say but on what they do. They come in here and say a lot about Food Bowl, but what they did in government was to not oppose it, to not amend this act. What they do in their state Liberal Party is accept that they are going to use that pipeline, but what they say in here is a different issue. Everybody in this chamber knows—and I do not count the crossbenchers in this because they have a consistent position on these issues—that those on the other side, the alternative government, by playing politics with this issue put the bill at risk. If they press and insist on this amendment, they know that they put the bill at risk. They are playing political games with this, just as they have played with the Murray-Darling Basin for over a decade.

9:31 pm

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Water Resources and Conservation) Share this | | Hansard source

I will just add a few further comments. Perhaps, colleagues, we have hit a nerve, judging by the initial response we got from the minister around this amendment. I would like to add one point, in placing further comments on record about the intimation from the minister that we on this side are playing politics with this pipeline, that what we are putting forward in an amendment to ensure that the water cannot be taken out of the basin is playing politics. I would suggest to the minister that every single one of those communities affected by this pipeline going ahead is not saying that we are playing politics. I would say that every single one of those farming families, and other families in the communities that rely on that water, do not think we are playing politics. I would say that every single person that is affected in the Murray-Darling Basin, and all of those other people, perhaps from the other states, who are not even affected but can realise the stupidity of this pipeline going forward, does not think we are playing politics. Perhaps if the minister actually ventured out to a few rural and regional communities occasionally they would tell her that the opposition is not playing politics with this issue.

The minister has an opportunity here to agree to this amendment. She has an opportunity here to make sure that this—as my colleague so perfectly put it—wrong pipeline stops. Do not listen to what the minister is saying around playing politics and all the hyperbole; the fact is that this pipeline is in place to go ahead and the minister, by agreeing to this amendment, has the power to stop it.

9:33 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to ask the minister a number of questions in relation to what she said about the independent audited reports under the EPBC Act. Could the minister elaborate on the extent of that audit and who would carry out such an audit? Given the criticisms by the Victorian Auditor-General as to the robustness or otherwise of the water savings, I would be grateful if the minister could also walk the Senate through the processes involved in determining whether or not the water savings in this project are real.

9:34 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Xenophon, I have some information here. I have to be frank with you—the issue is in Minister Garrett’s decision. I have a background note here. As a caveat to what I am about to say, I am not sure these are the exact words of the condition. So I will give you these words and then we can give you further information if it appears that this is summarised in any way. Part 4 of what I have in front of me reads as follows:

The person taking the action—

that is EPBC Act language—

must provide by August each year an annual report on the compliance with these conditions, including the results of all EPBC listed surveys and environmental monitoring undertaken, independent audited reports of water savings achieved and the amount of water allocated for extraction, any adaptive management, any remedial actions taken and the effectiveness of measures implemented to mitigate the impact on EPBC listed species.

I may not be able to get you confirmation tonight, Senator, if those words are not correct, but I will attempt to do so. That is what I have here.

9:35 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I am grateful for that response but, as I understand it, the minister’s role is after the event in the sense that there will be an audit of whatever water savings are achieved—if there are any water savings achieved—after the event, and the criteria for the audit are restricted to the matters which the minister must consider, such as the impact on listed species. In addition to the matters that I have raised, can the minister clarify, in relation to the water savings, how the audit process will be undertaken, what the nature of such an audit will be and, further, whether it will consider the matters raised by the Victorian Auditor-General as to the assertions made by the Victorian government on water savings, which were the subject of quite trenchant criticism by the Victorian Auditor-General in his report of April 2008?

9:37 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Xenophon, I am not sure I have all the officers here for the EPBC division, for obvious reasons, but what I can indicate is this: as I understand the advice to me, it is not permitted for there to be an increase in diversions and what is permitted is a diversion from savings, so not a net increase. In relation to conditions, I can read you the whole of what I have. The preamble says that it is to protect EPBC listed species. Then there are five paragraphs that I have here. It states the Melbourne water extracted to the Sugarloaf Pipeline must be:

(a) not more than 75gl in any one year;

(b) not more than 350 megalitres per day—

and there is some discussion about daily pumping rates—

(c) met only through controlled pre-ordered releases from Melbourne’s share of the water savings allocated to it pursuant to any bulk entitlement issued under the Water Act;

(d) sourced from savings not allocated to Living Murray or Water for Rivers; and

(e) zero if the necessary regulated releases are for the maintenance of environmental flows or materially deplete water stored in Eildon Weir that is designated as being an environmental reserve.

Part 3 says that all water savings taken from the Goulburn River must be sourced from projects that comply with the requirements of the EPBC Act 1999. And then part 4 is the words I listed previously:

The provision by the person taking the action—

that is, the proponent—

of an annual report on compliance with these conditions, including the results of surveys, environmental monitoring undertaken, independent audited reports of water savings achieved and the amount of water allocated for extraction—

et cetera.

9:39 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Could I just get some further clarification from the minister. I know the minister said earlier that stage 1 and stage 2 of the Food Bowl Modernisation Project do involve Commonwealth funds, but I would have thought that stage 2 is in a sense contingent on or linked to stage 1 with respect to that. That is a preliminary question I will put to the minister.

There is a fundamental problem here in that the role of the minister for the environment under the EPBC Act is constrained—it looks at this after the event. What happens if the audit process says, ‘We haven’t achieved these water savings,’ and there are no net water savings but the project is already up and running? The water going into Melbourne will presumably have a critical human needs status by virtue of it actually going into Melbourne.

I do appreciate the information you have provided to date, Minister, but the other issue is: how will the audit operate? What is the audit process? Who will it be conducted by? Will it be relying on information provided by the Victorian government or by Victorian government instrumentalities, or is it something that can be independently and robustly assessed by the Commonwealth or by an organisation or authority delegated by the Commonwealth in the context of an audit process?

9:41 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I will take these sequentially. On the first point, maybe I have not made myself as clear as I could have, Senator Xenophon, about the EPBC Act provisions. As I understand it, Minister Garrett is seized of a statutory obligation and has certain statutory powers pursuant to that act once a referral is made. Once he is seized of those powers he can then impose conditions that are contemplated by those powers under the act. I do not have anything in front of me which limits the audited water savings to the issue of listed EPBC species or other such limitations. If I am wrong on that, I can correct that at a later stage, but nothing before me suggests, nor intuitively does it make sense, that once he has those powers to make those decisions and make those conditions he would have to constrain them in the way you seem to be suggesting. That is the first point.

On the second point in relation to the independent audited reports of water savings, what I read out to you simply makes that statement. I am sorry, Senator Xenophon, but I have lost my train of thought.

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Water Resources and Conservation) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Nash interjecting

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

You reckon you might do better, Senator Nash? I can go to the third issue, which I think was Food Bowl 2. I have been asked about this. There is obviously a difference between a project that the Commonwealth funds and a project that the Commonwealth is the decision maker on pursuant to a statutory power. What I have indicated publicly in relation to Food Bowl 2 is that we will have a proper due diligence process in relation to that project. We are very aware of the importance of applying an appropriate and rigorous due diligence process to any project that is funded through the Water for the Future project. Does that assist, Senator Xenophon?

9:44 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

It assists, but I would like some more assistance. The minister has raised the point that the minister for the environment is not constrained to look at the impact on species, for instance—

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

There is nothing in front of me.

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Sorry, I will clarify that: there is nothing in front of the minister in relation to that. But the point I was raising was that this whole process is looking at this after the event. In other words, there will be huge implications for the Murray-Darling Basin in terms of water being taken out of the basin. The audit process is after the event; it does not look at the issues of concern that the Victorian Auditor-General, Des Pearson, raised in his report of April 2008. So that is the first step. Rather than bombarding the minister with half-a-dozen questions, perhaps we should deal with them one at a time.

9:45 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I thought I had done all right with the bombarding, Senator Xenophon, but clearly not. I do not want to get drawn into this specific one because those are matters that would be for Minister Garrett, but generally the proposition would be that, if an EPBC Act approval—a decision—is made with conditions, under that act, as I understand it, such approval could be revoked if the conditions were not met. That is, if the proponent or other person were obliged to undertake certain activities that were a condition of the approval, they could be in breach of that approval and there would be a range of remedies under that act which would apply.

I have sought to be as helpful as I can. The officers I have here from the department are not from the division that deals with EPBC Act approvals. That is Minister Garrett’s area. If you want further information on that, I would have to get those officers here. These are officers who deal with the Water Act, the water bill and related matters. There is a separate approvals division of the department.

I also have a question for Senator Nash. In terms of the point I made before, if there was an issue with the existing off-takes for Adelaide’s water supply which required some construction to move, is it her understanding that the amendment she and Senator Siewert have moved would prevent such action from being taken to secure Adelaide’s water supply?

9:47 pm

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Water Resources and Conservation) Share this | | Hansard source

My understanding of what we were moving was certainly to ensure that the water currently within the basin stays within the basin. It is quite clear and quite simple. I would suggest that of course there is recognition of the events that happened prior to 3 July—of some taking of water from the basin—but quite clearly and simply, from that point in time, no water is to be removed from the basin.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

With respect, Senator Nash, that does not help. Adelaide is not technically in the basin. As we know, it is reliant on the Murray River, but it is technically not in the basin. If the Murray Bridge-Onkaparinga off-take had to be moved because salinity levels at Murray Bridge got too high, is it not the case, Senator, that your amendment would actually not permit the state government to do that in order to secure Adelaide’s water supply? I think the answer is yes.

9:48 pm

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Water Resources and Conservation) Share this | | Hansard source

I think the Senate would understand that the intent of the amendment recognises very clearly the water needs that are already recognised in terms of shifting water out of the basin. Indeed, the amendment would allow the movement of the water currently being taken out of the basin. The intent is very clearly not to allow additional water to be taken out of the basin from 3 July.

9:49 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In support of Senator Nash’s comments: if the minister were to look closely at the amendments, she would see that they go very much to the use of the water and that a use of water that currently exists or that existed prior to 3 July 2008 when the IGA was entered into would continue to be permitted. Quite clearly, that is why these amendments have been worded in the way they have, to reflect that uses for urban centres prior to the government signing the IGA with all of the states and territories in the basin would be able to continue. I think the minister is trying to fly a flag of fear on this one, but it does not stand up. She is obviously trying to create a distraction from the real issue. The real issue that we are looking at here is about putting a new city onto the basin. We are not arguing about whether or not Adelaide would be continued. The intent, as Senator Nash said—and, I am fairly confident, as the wording of this suggests—is to allow Adelaide to continue to have the secure water supply it currently has. It would, however, protect the basin from being raided by the Victorian government.

To that end, whilst we are throwing questions at the end of answers, can I add to Senator Xenophon’s questions whether you are getting additional advice from those responsible for the EPBC Act and Minister Garrett’s decisions. The questions I have relate to the volume and priority of water for extraction from those savings into the pipeline. Specifically, what volume of savings have to be made for the 75 gigalitres to be extracted? Does the 75 gigalitres for Melbourne get priority over savings for irrigators or the environment, or is it shared equally depending on what volume of savings is made? Indeed, is Melbourne perhaps ideally at the end of the three parts of that equation? Minister, I look forward to some clarification.

9:51 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

That was a valiant attempt by Senator Birmingham, but I think it is absolutely unclear as to whether or not these amendments would in fact prohibit the sort of remedial or emergency work—

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

You can shake your head, Senator Birmingham, but I am sure that there are many lawyers in the world who could make that argument. These amendments, at best, you could assert—

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Perhaps you’d like to propose a way to fix it, then.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

If I could finish, Senator Birmingham. I know you are getting a bit tetchy because your little political game is not looking as good. You might actually be putting something up that means that Adelaide, if it made a decision that it needed to shift the off-takes, could not, in relation to a project that your Victorian Liberal colleagues want to use the water of. I know that is embarrassing and I know it is embarrassing that Mr Turnbull did not move an amendment to stop this, but I cannot help that. What I can do is respond. I have given the chamber information in relation to Minister Garrett’s approvals. I have undertaken—because I do not have those officers here tonight—to provide Senator Xenophon with information. If necessary, I can table a copy—I will check on the appropriateness of it—of the approvals and the conditions associated with that. I think, however, that anybody who is listening to this can understand what game is being played.

It is the case, Senator Xenophon, that the assessment of this project, in terms of how the Commonwealth might approach the assessment, would not be the same if we were to be funding it. That is very poorly expressed. If we were funding a project, we would take a different view than Minister Garrett has to take under the EPBC Act. So that is the case. I am simply making the point that he has put in place a range of conditions which are designed to safeguard the environmental water component. They are designed to ensure that Melbourne, insofar as is possible, only receives a share of the water that is saved through the modernisation project. So those are the conditions that Minister Garrett has imposed, and I will provide the detail of those when I am able to. In relation to this amendment, I am not sure I can assist Senator Birmingham any further on this point.

9:54 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have another quick question for the minister. The minister stated a couple of times that she believes this amendment would undermine the IGA—the intergovernmental agreement entered into by the Commonwealth with the states and territories and the basin jurisdictions. In evidence to the Senate inquiry undertaken into this bill, Dr Horne, from your department, was asked some fairly specific questions about this issue. He was asked:

Is there anything in the IGA or agreements leading to this bill or within this bill that actually requires the north-south pipeline to be built?

To which he replied, ‘Not at all.’ He was further asked:

Or the Commonwealth to support or facilitate the building of the north-south pipeline?

His reply was, ‘No, not at all—nothing at all.’ Given his fairly emphatic responses that there was nothing requiring support for this pipeline from the Commonwealth, or nothing particularly in the IGA that required the building of this pipeline, why is the minister so emphatic that this amendment is a danger to that agreement?

9:55 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

As the senator knows, there is a distinction—and he knows this but he is happy to play more games—between the Commonwealth being obliged to fund any part of a project and the Senate moving, in the context of a bill that is reliant on referral powers, something that effectively—

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The questions weren’t about funding.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

If I could finish, Senator Birmingham.

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

If you could answer the question.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, and I am responding. There is a distinction between that situation to which you referred that is included in the Hansard and amendments which are specifically aimed at ensuring that particular project cannot proceed. You have at least been honest about that. Senator Nash’s contribution was quite upfront. These amendments are aimed at stopping that project. You have not explained how you are going to deal with all those issues. So, if you want to play that game, Senator Birmingham, you can. I think people will continue to look at the fact that the Victorian Liberal Party propose to use this pipeline and that in government you did not move this amendment because you knew it would not be the responsible thing to do.

9:56 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Can the minister clarify that in the context of the audit that will be undertaken under the EPBC Act—

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I’m not doing this anymore. I can’t. I don’t have those officers here. If you want that information, I will have to give it to you later.

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I appreciate the minister’s interjection. It is a helpful interjection, but there are a number of matters there that I have raised in relation to the audit process that are of concern to me. I appreciate the minister’s candour that the officers responsible for the EPBC process are not available. Perhaps that information can be provided, in order to not delay the committee stage any further, by way of a briefing?

9:57 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

What information, Senator Xenophon, are you seeking? I want to be clear about what information is being sought here. Perhaps you can clarify that very specifically and, if you wish me to arrange a briefing, I can assure you that the government can arrange one on this issue.

9:58 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

If I can clarify: the nature of the audit that will be undertaken by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts under the EPBC process. Will that audit rely, for instance, on information provided by the Victorian government or instrumentalities, or will it be an independent process having access to sources of information directly? What sanctions are involved if the water savings that have been asserted by the Victorian government are not there, and can there be confirmation that this process is very much after the event—after the project has been completed—or that the water is actually flowing out of the pipeline?

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator, I have actually answered most of those. Either I have not made myself clear or there is some other reason why those answers have not been sufficient for you, but I think I have actually answered all of those. If you wish for a briefing, we will arrange it, but I am not sure I can assist you any further in the chamber tonight. Again, I make the point. You asked if the minister will undertake an audit. I specifically responded to that and said that it was a condition of the approval under the EPBC Act that an independent audit be undertaken. It is not the minister who undertakes that. This is the case in relation to EPBC Act conditions regularly. Senator Siewert would know, because she has asked me a few questions about various aspects of approvals. Conditions are, on occasion, imposed under that act. It is not the minister who goes out and complies with them. In general, it is the proponent who goes out and is required to comply with them. It is then assessed whether they have, in fact, done so.

In relation to the breaching issue, on my advice, if conditions are imposed, a subsequent failure postapproval not to comply with the condition would be in breach of those conditions and relevant action could then be taken pursuant to the remedies under the act. Given that this is a regulatory provision, I am reluctant to have a discussion in this chamber that is about a specific project and what happens if it is breached. I think it is proper in this place and in a briefing to have, if it is required, a general discussion about what failure to meet conditions could mean regarding enforcement or other remedies under the act. I suggest to you that we are getting into the question: ‘If this person failed this condition, what would Minister Garrett then do?’ In the context of the sort of regulatory provisions we are talking about, I am not sure that that is particularly helpful.

Question put:

That the amendments (Senator Nash and Senator Siewert’s) be agreed to.

10:09 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move Greens amendment (2) on sheet 5659:

(2)    Schedule 2, page 294 (after line 2), after item 50, insert:

50B  At the end of section 21

Add:

Basin Plan to provide for reduction in use in additional population centres outside Basin

      (11)    The Basin Plan must provide for a reduction over time in the amount of water taken from Basin water resources to meet the needs of population centres outside the Murray-Darling Basin.

This amendment relates to the reduction of water use outside of the Murray-Darling Basin. The amendment seeks to require the Basin Plan to provide for a reduction over time in the amount of water taken from the basin’s water resources to meet the needs of population centres outside of the Murray-Darling Basin. This is in the spirit of the amendment that we have just passed. We do not say, and would not even dream of saying, that we have to cut off extractions outside of the basin straightaway. What we are trying to do is send a message that we are seeking to reduce the extraction of water from outside the basin. As I said, the amendment does not seek to stop it straightaway, but we do think that it is important that population centres outside of the Murray-Darling Basin actually start to move towards better water conservation and efficiency to ensure that the water that we do save in the basin—the water that we buy back and the water savings that we make through water efficiency measures—is in fact kept in the basin. We think that this amendment sends a very clear signal to those centres and to all the users of those pipelines that Senator Wong outlined earlier. This amendment basically puts on notice all of the centres in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia that are taking water from the system that we need to reduce that use. Adelaide is slowly moving that way, and this amendment will ensure that that is actually given effect through legislation.

10:11 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Lest the minister was to get up and give another speech about hypocrisy tonight, I am pleased to indicate our support for the Greens amendment. I indicate our support because this is about being consistent in principle and in action. I indicate our support because we believe the objective that the Greens amendment seeks is the right objective. That objective is for the major population centres over time to become more independent of the River Murray system.

We have just passed an amendment saying that no new population centres should be added to the Murray-Darling system. We now believe that it is right and fair and proper to back up that first amendment with this one. This amendment indicates that those centres currently reliant on the system should over time ease and reduce that reliance. I emphasise very carefully the words ‘over time’. This is not at all about cutting off. Far be it from the minister to consider misrepresenting anybody in this regard. This is about a reduction in reliance over time to ensure that what Adelaide is trying to do, what the state Liberal Party in South Australia has advocated through alternative water security options for Adelaide, what, albeit belatedly, Premier Rann and the South Australian government have backed as well—

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

You do not want to take Ted Baillieu’s line on Melbourne water but you are happy to take the state Liberals’ line on water in South Australia—is that how it works?

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The minister wants to throw up all sorts of state lines at us. That is fine. The point I am making, Minister, is that the policy approach we are taking here is a very consistent one—from the previous amendment to this one. We believe that South Australia and Adelaide are heading in the right direction. We believe that this sends a signal that they should continue to head in the direction of greater reliance on sources other than the Murray-Darling system. We have faith in the independence and integrity of the people appointed to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to ensure that the right approach for the implementation of this is taken and that over time we do indeed achieve the right result—that is, greater independence from the Murray-Darling system of all cities that currently rely on it, as well as ensuring that no new ones are added.

10:14 pm

Photo of Mary FisherMary Fisher (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a senator for South Australia, I am very happy to support this amendment. As a senator for South Australia, I continue to support weaning Adelaide off the Murray. It is only responsible to aim at having those population centres that have water-sourcing choices, choices as to from where they get their water beyond the Murray, exercise those choices. For a city like Adelaide, when Adelaide is not even on the Murray, to continue to resort to the Murray for up to 80 per cent of the city’s water use in some years is a scenario that is inappropriate to be continued over time, given the current and future situations of the Murray-Darling Basin and the lack of choices that other communities in the Murray-Darling Basin have in terms of accessing their water. Urban population centres that are not on the Murray, such as Adelaide, should be weaned off the Murray, leaving the Murray for those who have little choice and less choice in terms of accessing water. This is the federal government’s opportunity to commit to assisting the state government to wean Adelaide off the Murray and indeed to set a target time within which that will be achieved. It is the right thing to do, and I support the amendment.

10:16 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

For the reasons articulated by Senators Siewert, Fisher and Birmingham, I support this amendment.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

The government does not support this amendment. Let us be very clear on what this amendment does. This is a requirement not simply that the government do what it is already doing; that is, assist urban communities to diversify their water supplies. This amendment is imposing, through this provision, a requirement on Adelaide to reduce its use of the Murray—so a declining cap on Adelaide and a declining cap on Port Pirie, on Port Augusta, on the Blue Mountains, on Ararat, on Bacchus Marsh, on Whyalla and on Keith.

We on this side of the chamber note there has been a bit more hypocrisy tonight from senators lecturing people about weaning. As I have said, the former Treasurer, Mr Costello, said under the previous government—and I do not recall Senators Birmingham or Fisher gainsaying Mr Costello—the Commonwealth had no role in urban water. We do not take that view. We put in our first budget $12.9 billion, including an additional amount in excess of $1½ billion focused very clearly on enabling or supporting the diversification of water supplies particularly for urban centres, towns and cities. I have already taken the chamber through those particular commitments, commitments which were never matched, to my recollection, by those opposite even during the election campaign. Certainly never were such programs provided by the previous government. It is the case that, in the face of climate change, we in Australia do need to diversify our sources of water. We have to become less reliant on rainfall and we need to look at options such as stormwater harvesting and using rainwater and grey water, as well as desalination and such techniques. That is why the government is prepared to work with state governments, local governments or other proponents to assist with that process. It is essentially retooling or reworking the way in which we currently use water.

It is very different to say we will work to do that while putting in place another direction. I remind Senator Siewert again of the independence of the authority. This amendment is another direction about what has to be in the plan. It is a demand, regardless of whatever other issues and facts might be relevant, that the plan has to essentially impose a declining or reducing cap on Adelaide and the other urban centres or towns or cities that I have mentioned. These are very different propositions. One is very much a legislative stick and the other is working with communities to try to prepare them for the challenge of climate change. We are prepared to do the latter. We are not prepared to support this amendment, for the reasons that I have outlined.

I am also advised there are some constitutional concerns as to this amendment. Obviously, this has the support of the Liberals and the crossbenchers. But I would ask the chamber to consider the wisdom of making this sort of proposition part of the legislation, rather than letting the authority, in the context of the plan, take into account the whole-of-basin approach that is in the objects of the act and in other provisions as amended in fact by a previous amendment in this committee stage.

Question put:

That the amendment (Senator Siewert’s) be agreed to.

10:27 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I foreshadow that I will withdraw Greens amendment (3) on sheet 5659, because we have covered the substantive issue in terms of the water-sharing regime. However, I want to clarify with the minister a point that was raised in the previous discussion about the water-sharing regime. This amendment sought to put an additional amendment in place in section 23 of the act that relates to the long-term average sustainable diversion limits for the basin. It states:

... for the water resources of a particular water resource plan area or for a particular part of those water resources may be specified:

…            …            …

(b) as a formula or other method that may be used to calculate a quantity of water per year; or

(c) in any other way that the Authority determines to be appropriate

I just wish to confirm the previous point that the minister made that that would allow for water shares to be considered if that were determined appropriate by the authority.

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! There is far too much audible noise in the chamber. Would those who are conducting conversations please do it outside of the chamber.

10:29 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I am just observing that I have the National Party on my side at the moment.

Photo of Ron BoswellRon Boswell (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It would be about the first and last time.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

As Senator Boswell said, it is probably the first and last time. Senator Brown, you should be careful.

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Greens are over there; we are over here.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I am sorry, Senator Joyce, but you are actually on the same side as the Greens.

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Joyce, you are also not in your seat, and interjections are orderly—that is, disorderly. Very disorderly! Perhaps we will try again, Senator Wong.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

Some of us might say that that was a Freudian slip, but I would not; it would be too uncharitable. Senator Siewert, my advice is: yes.

10:30 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you. I withdraw Greens amendment (3) on sheet 5659.

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I move amendment (4) on sheet 5649:

(4)    Schedule 2, page 294 (after line 14), after item 52, insert:

52B  After section 26

Insert:

26B Trading and transfer of tradeable water rights

        (1)    The Commonwealth and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder are not subject to any restrictions on the trading or transfer of tradeable water rights in relation to Basin water resources.

        (2)    A State that imposes restrictions on the trading and transfer of tradeable water rights in relation to Basin water resources is not eligible to receive any Commonwealth funding under the National Water Initiative.

This amendment relates to the trading and transfer of water rights. This amendment precludes states that impose restrictions on the trading and transfer of tradeable water rights from receiving Commonwealth funding under the National Water Initiative. The Commonwealth and the Commonwealth environmental water holder are, however, precluded from the restrictions on the trading and transfer of tradeable water rights.

Essentially, this relates to the issue of the four per cent cap and Victoria’s trenchant opposition to the attempts by the Commonwealth to abandon the cap at the COAG meeting in July. I believe this is an important amendment in the context of ensuring that we have some transparency in the market and some trading and transferability of water rights.

10:31 pm

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Water Resources and Conservation) Share this | | Hansard source

I certainly recognise the intent with which Senator Xenophon has moved this amendment. But I raise the concerns that have been raised with the coalition by the irrigation community with regard to wholesale loss of water, particularly concerns about the lack of any structural adjustment funding to deal with arising situations, and indicate to the Senate that we will not be supporting the amendment.

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The Greens support the intent of this amendment, particularly given that I am aware that the coalition and, in fact, Senator Xenophon propose moving some community planning amendments and some restructuring amendments. In that context, I believe that this is an important amendment, particularly in the framework of the further amendments that we will be discussing in this chamber. I do support the intent of this amendment, and the Greens will be supporting it.

10:32 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I raise just two difficulties with this, apart from the obvious political one, which Senator Xenophon is aware of, in relation to this issue. The first is that this essentially bilegislative fiat seeks to impose the reforms that are currently the subject of reform through negotiation, collaboration and cooperation with the states. I would make the point, Senator Xenophon—and I am sure the four per cent issue was high in your mind when you considered this amendment—that it is quite possible that there would be fees or other charges or other restrictions well beyond that, including possibly some that apply in South Australia, which might well fall within the ambit of this provision. There would be different views from some irrigators in South Australia about that.

I have made it clear publicly that we do see an efficient and well-functioning water market as very important for reform. It is not an ideological position around markets; we actually think it is in the best interests of irrigators and their communities to ensure the water goes to where it is most highly valued. It is one of the ways in which the adjustment process can be managed and enables people to have choices about selling a portion of their water, investing or, if they wish to, choosing to exit the industry or invest in some other way. We will continue to work through the processes that are in place around these issues. I am advised that there are a number of policy and legal concerns associated with this proposed amendment.

The other point I would raise, Senator Xenophon—and it is possible you simply were not aware of this—is that I am not aware of any specific funding program under the National Water Initiative. That was an agreement reached with the states in 2004 but it is not currently the way in which Commonwealth funding for water is delivered to the states. So that is a technical issue in relation to the second part.

Question negatived.

10:35 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move Greens amendment (7) on sheet 5629:

(7)    Schedule 2, page 295 (after line 7), after item 59, insert:

59AA  Section 38

Repeal the section.

This amendment relates to exemptions from regulations, specifically to section 34 and subsequently section 38, which is ‘Regulations may provide for exceptions’. That actually gives effect to section 34 of the act, which is ‘Effect of Basin Plan on Authority and other agencies of the Commonwealth’. It says:

(1)  The Authority, and the other agencies of the Commonwealth, must perform their functions, and exercise their powers, consistently with, and in a manner that gives effect to, the Basin Plan.

There are a number of other provisions under that clause. Section 38, however, provides for exceptions to this. I would like to know from the government why the authority may be exempt from having to ‘perform their functions and exercise their powers consistently with, and in a manner that gives effect to, the Basin Plan’. Our amendment seeks to take out that exemption provision, so I am seeking clarification from the minister as to why the authority would be exempt from giving effect to the Basin Plan. I moved the amendment because I do not think it is appropriate that the authority be exempt from applying the plan.

10:37 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Siewert, just to make sure we are on the same page: you are seeking to repeal how to make regulations, which is currently under section 38. Correct?

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes. As it relates to sections 34 and 35, I moved amendment (7) rather than amendment (12), which relates to water resource plans.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I just make the point—and I am sure Senator Siewert is aware—that this provision is a regulation-making power. The Senate would still have its usual powers in respect of disallowance in relation to any regulations which were brought forward. The advice I have is that this really is intended to apply to an emergency situation or a situation where you had unforeseen circumstances—the example that one official has given me would be for dam failure. It enables a pathway for efficient administration of the act in emergencies and unforeseen circumstances. In terms of accountability and oversight, I make the point that this is a regulation-making power and the Senate would still have the opportunity in relation to any regulations tabled to consider them.

10:38 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the minister for her answer, as I was seeking clarification around this power. I appreciate that it is a regulation-making power and I appreciate the comment around it being a legislative instrument. I thank the minister for her clarification about the emergency provisions so that the Senate has an indication of why such exemptions would be provided for. Now that the minister has clarified the extent to which the provision would be used, I seek leave to withdraw amendment (7) on sheet 5629.

Leave granted.

10:39 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I move amendment (5) on sheet 5649:

(5)    Schedule 2, page 295 (after line 7), after item 59, insert:

59A  At the end of Subdivision D of Division 1 of Part 2

Add:

40A Failure to comply with Basin Plan

        (1)    If a Basin State fails to comply with the Basin Plan, the Minister must assess:

             (a)    the impact of that failure to comply on the shares of other Basin States in the Basin water resources; and

             (b)    the quantitative effect of that failure to comply on the Basin water resources.

        (2)    If a Basin State fails to comply with the Basin Plan, the Minister must by determination reduce that Basin State’s share in the Basin water resources by 10 times the quantitative effect of that failure to comply as assessed under paragraph (1)(b).

        (3)    If a Basin State, after the Minister under subsection (2) reduces that Basin State’s share in the Basin water resources, continues to fail to comply with the Basin Plan, the Minister must apply for an injunction against the Basin State under section 140.

This relates to the failure to comply with the Basin Plan. The amendment deals with basin states that fail to comply with the plan by enabling the minister to reduce their share in the basin water resources by 10 times the quantitative effect of that failure to comply with an interim Basin Plan. It also provides that the minister is to have the power to apply for an injunction against the basin state consistent with section 140 of the Water Act. The amendment ensures that there will be severe consequences for states who fail to comply with the Basin Plan and, as a result, jeopardise the management and wellbeing of the river system.

I am sure some of my colleagues may see this as quite draconian but, in a sense, we have had a situation where the cap was breached in previous years. There did not appear to be any sanctions, and I think it is important that there are appropriate sanctions in the context of ensuring that the plan is adhered to.

10:40 pm

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Water Resources and Conservation) Share this | | Hansard source

While recognising the intent with which Senator Xenophon is moving this amendment, the coalition believe that there is an understanding that, within the Basin Plan itself, this will be dealt with. Our belief is that it is rather too prescriptive, which will lead to unintended consequences, and the opposition will not be supporting the amendment.

10:41 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I have to concur with the coalition. While the Greens do support the intent of this amendment, we are concerned that it is far too punitive and find that we cannot support it—although, as I said, we do support the intent and the direction in which the senator is trying to head.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

For courtesy’s sake I wish to indicate the government’s position that we do not support the amendment. I share some of the concerns raised by senators previously, and I would also make the point that there are enforcement provisions under part 8 of the act which enable, for example, the authority to seek an injunction, if this becomes necessary, against a body or a person, including a state.

Question negatived.

10:42 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move Greens amendments (8) to (10) on sheet 5629 together:

(8)    Schedule 2, page 297 (after line 30), after item 62, insert:

62A  Paragraph 44(3)(b)

Repeal the paragraph, substitute:

             (b)    must adopt, in writing, that version of the Basin Plan.

(9)    Schedule 2, page 297 (after line 30), after item 62, insert:

62B  Subparagraph 44(5)(b)(i)

Repeal the subparagraph, substitute:

                   (i)    items 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 9 or 10 of the table in subsection 22(1); or

(10)  Schedule 2, page 300 (after line 13), after item 65, insert:

65A  Paragraph 48(3)(b)

Repeal the paragraph, substitute:

             (b)    must adopt, in writing, that version of the amendment.

These relate to modifications to the Basin Plan and reduce the number of times the minister can send the Basin Plan back to the authority to only once. This issue has been a concern for a number of organisations, as I understand it, and the concept has been subject to much discussion. The Greens have indicated that we are concerned about the way that the Basin Plan can be modified and the influence of ministerial direction.

We are seeking to amend these provisions of the bill to restrict, as I said, the number of times that the minister can send the Basin Plan back to the authority. We are concerned about the level of independence of the authority. The minister, I know, has thought that we have been seeking to tie up the authority and to limit its independence. We do not believe that the amendments we have been dealing with previously seek to influence the authority in any political manner but instead provide guidelines to the way the authority can or should be putting in place and developing the Basin Plan. We believe that it is appropriate to give the authority as high a level of independence as possible and seek to move these amendments in order for that to happen.

10:44 pm

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Water Resources and Conservation) Share this | | Hansard source

It is certainly the case that the authority does need to be able to perform the roles with which it is charged but, given the possible unintended consequences that we see might arise from these amendments, we will not be supporting the amendments.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

We do not support the amendments. Section 44 of the act does seek to strike the right balance between independence for the authority and government accountability. The minister’s capacity to give directions has been appropriately limited. The minister cannot give directions on any matters of a scientific or factual nature. Section 44(4) and section 175 of the act deal with this. In all cases—and this is the transparency issue and accountability issue—where the minister gives direction to the authority, the minister must table the reasons for such directions in the parliament and, in the case of directions relating to the Basin Plan, the minister must include reasons for not following the advice of the authority. The minister is also prevented from giving any direction to the authority in respect of any enforcement related action the authority wishes to take.

Question negatived.

10:46 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move Greens amendment (4) on sheet 5659:

(4)    Schedule 2, page 301 (after line 14), after item 75, insert:

75A  Section 64

Repeal the section, substitute:

                 The accreditation of a water resource plan under section 63 ceases to have effect at the end of the period of six months after the Basin Plan first comes into effect.

This amendment relates to the duration of accredited state plans. The issue very specifically here is the fact that, under the present agreement and act, the various state catchment plans and water-sharing plans do not have to come into effect until 2014 in the case of New South Wales and until 2019 in the case of Victoria.

As I said in my speech in the second reading debate, we do not believe that this is appropriate. We do not believe that leaving the implementation of or bringing in line water-sharing plans with the Basin Plan until 2019 is appropriate. That is 11 years down the track. Some of them may well in fact be encouraged to modify their plans before that date, but they do not have to. This amendment seeks to ensure that water-sharing plans, catchment management plans, come into line with the Basin Plan so that we can start implementing the Basin Plan much sooner than 2019. That is the objective of the amendment. We are trying to ensure that we have a Basin Plan that is able to be implemented throughout the basin consistently and as soon as practically possible.

We appreciate that there is a certain amount of time that is going to be needed to develop the plan and to consult adequately with the community. As I also alluded to in my speech in the second reading debate, there is a need to coordinate the buyback, the delivery of the infrastructure water efficiency expenditure and any restructuring funding that may become available and that is undertaken. That, we know, takes time. Consulting with the community takes time. We need to make sure that this Basin Plan is acceptable to the community because, when all is said and done, despite the fact that we—collectively, the Australian community—are investing $12.9 billion, it is the community that wears the brunt. It is the farmers who end up making the change, and they need to be on board with this plan as well.

So we appreciate that there is going to be some time taken to develop the plan, but we do not appreciate that it is acceptable that, in some catchments, the water-sharing plans will not be changed until 2019. We are supposed to be taking a whole-of-basin approach to this crisis. Different implementation under different scenarios over a period of time—between 2011, when the Basin Plan is to be completed, to 2019 when it is finally implemented in some catchments—is not a whole-of-basin approach. This amendment is intended to ensure that the various state plans and water-sharing plans come into line with the Basin Plan as soon as is practical after the Basin Plan is finalised.

10:49 pm

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Water Resources and Conservation) Share this | | Hansard source

At the outset I would like to say that I could not agree more with Senator Siewert’s view that farmers are going to have to be on board, on side and agreeable as we work through the Basin Plan. At the end of the day, they are an enormous part of ensuring that the sustainability of the basin is reached. With regard to this amendment, while I do recognise the intent with which Senator Siewert has put this amendment forward, the prescriptive nature, the time line and the potential unintended consequences that that may have preclude the opposition from supporting the amendment.

10:50 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I indicate my support for this amendment. In the absence of an interim Basin Plan to allow the minister to act urgently pending a full Basin Plan being prepared, this amendment certainly goes a long way in dealing with and acknowledging the urgency of making sure that the plan comes into effect.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

The government does not support this amendment. I want to make clear what is being proposed. Regardless of what we might think of these plans, these plans have been developed through different processes in each region, including in various regions in South Australia. Water users have made substantial investment decisions predicated around the time lines of those plans. For government to simply override these plans would, I think, be highly problematic. Particularly in the light of the exaltations in the Greens minority report—and Senator Siewert should be aware of this—about working with community, it would hardly be a way forward on what is a very substantial adjustment process. It would hardly be a way forward that worked with communities for us to simply override the plans that many irrigators have relied on in terms of their investments.

We do not shy away from the need to make an adjustment. That is why we are purchasing water. That is why we are rolling out investment in irrigation infrastructure, and it is why we are committed to the passage of this legislation and to the creation of a Basin Plan. But we have to recognise that it is an adjustment and we do have to put in place a range of policy measures to enable that adjustment to occur. We also have to recognise the need for some certainty in what are uncertain times, particularly in terms of the availability of water. We have to recognise where policy certainty is required in order to enable users to make that adjustment. So the government is consistent with the approach taken by the opposition when in government and is respecting existing state water resource plans. That does not mean we shy away from the urgent current task of reducing extraction from the rivers, which is the reason behind our purchase program and the reason behind our infrastructure program.

10:53 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

It is probably to be expected that neither the government nor the opposition would be supporting this, despite the rhetoric of needing to fix the Murray-Darling Basin because it is in crisis.

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

And it is urgent. We are to pass this legislation through this place because it is so urgent that we need to act immediately. We cannot afford to waste time debating amendments to try to improve this bill and the act because it is urgent that we act. It is so urgent that we act that we can wait till 2019 until we bring the water-sharing plans into line with the Basin Plan. Make no mistake: the Basin Plan will not come into effect until 2019, when these final catchment plans come into line with the Basin Plan. While the minister has tried to turn the Greens very strong comments and feeling for community involvement in the decision making and the restructuring of the basin, that does not mean that we have to endorse plans that are potentially—I will say that: potentially—unsustainable and are not consistent with a sustainable cap. How can we stand and say to the Australian community that we have to rush this piece of legislation through this place if we cannot ensure that the Basin Plan comes into effect as soon as possible? The government can engage the community in discussions about the future of the basin and still have a meaningful deadline for the implementation of the Basin Plan.

So both major parties think it is acceptable that the Basin Plan does not come into effect till 2019. Yes, the Greens do accept that it is urgent; we do accept the urgency for putting in place the authority and setting the planning process in place. But do not pull the wool over the Australian community’s eyes and say that that means we are going to get a Basin Plan that delivers any proper meaningful outcome in terms of ensuring that all water use in the basin is sustainable. Do not pull the wool over our eyes by saying it is urgent and we have to act with haste if in fact we are rushing so urgently that we may get there by 2019. In New South Wales it is 2014. It is not acceptable to the Australian community.

Yes, I do appreciate that we are spending $12.9 billion, but it is not being spent quickly enough. We are not acting with a sense of urgency. I remind this place that the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists has pointed out that we need to reduce consumptive water use by 42 to 53 per cent, and that seems to me pretty consistent with the dire warnings and the dire outcomes and predictions we got from the CSIRO sustainable yield project just yesterday. The minister very eloquently told this place about those dire consequences yesterday and today. Let us not pretend that we are rushing with all haste to try and implement a plan when we have got 11 years to rush this through. It is absolute nonsense. It makes a mockery of the comments that we have to do this urgently. The river is not going to be around in 2019.

10:57 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Climate Change and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank Senator Siewert for the courtesy of letting me make a couple of comments. I wanted to respond on this before 11, and I appreciate your showing me that courtesy. First, I am going to take you to something you said about the government saying we cannot afford to debate amendments. I have been in here debating amendments. We have never said that. The point I have made to the chamber is that we do want this legislation passed before the end of the year because we want the authority to be able to do the work under the act, as amended, that is required, including the sorts of issues that you have raised previously, and to get on with the very substantial task of preparing the Basin Plan. We are clear that we want this legislation through, but we have never shied away from the ability to debate amendments. As you know, the government has considered the views of crossbench senators in your various reports, as I hope you would have seen from the way in which the debate has been undertaken. So I think that it is not quite accurate.

First, in terms of urgent action, I recognise that this is not a Commonwealth takeover; this is a cooperative approach that has been negotiated with the states. We saw how effective a Commonwealth takeover was last year when it was announced in January and by the election nothing had happened. So talk about urgent action; we have to have urgent action and we believe the best way is to take the approach we have taken, which is to get an agreement to purchase water as the quickest way to put water back into the river and to roll out infrastructure and irrigation investments.

I would also make the point that I trust the senator understands how this amendment would be perceived in many of these communities. The Greens may well make a decision to support this amendment nevertheless and to put it forward, and you are entitled to do that. I am simply making the point that, if the position of the Greens is to engage and empower communities, as they have talked about in their report, that is not how many of those communities would take this amendment, for the reasons I have outlined. There may be other policy reasons to put forward this amendment, but I simply make that point.

Question negatived.

Progress reported.