Tuesday, 24 November 2009
Questions without Notice
My question today is to the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Wong. I refer the minister to comments she made yesterday when she told the ABC that a call from scientists to return 700 gigalitres of water as environmental flows to the dying Lower Lakes and Coorong River system in our home state of South Australia would not be a responsible way forward. Given scientists have warned that the Lower Lakes and the Coorong will collapse if this action is not taken, does the minister consider doing nothing to be more responsible? Is it responsible to ignore the science?
What is irresponsible would be for senators from our home state of South Australia to argue for a position which essentially says that we will not draw any drinking water for Adelaide from the Murray River. The report recommends some 3,800 gigalitres be delivered to the Lower Lakes but fails to note that because of climate change and drought we are at record low levels. To get that amount of water, Senator Hanson-Young, would be more than all the water for six out of seven years—all the water that was diverted for drinking, farming and environmental purposes. That is what this would require. I absolutely stand by my proposition that it would be irresponsible.
Of course we are acting on the science. That is why we have taken over basin-wide planning. That is why we will ensure that this government will deliver what we said we would deliver, which is, for the first time in the nation’s history, a cap on extraction from the Murray-Darling Basin based on science—something no party in this chamber has previously delivered. We are acting on the science, but if we are going to talk about how we handle the extremely low levels of water that we currently are experiencing, particularly in the southern Murray-Darling, then we should get the facts on the table. I would say this to the senator: does she believe it is responsible for her to lobby for the imposition of a total ban on South Australian towns and cities—
Mr President, I rise on a point of order. The senator asked a question about the scientists and 700 gigalitres of water returning to the Murray Lower Lakes region. It has not been answered and it is not the place of the minister to be asking questions of the questioner.
This is the essential question: how do we conjure up this water when over the last three years we know we have been at one-fifth of the long-term average? Is the senator really suggesting that we should impose, as a matter of policy, a total ban on South Australian towns and cities, including Adelaide, from drawing water from the Murray?
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I note minister’s answer. Given the South Australian government’s recent moves in the last week to relax Adelaide’s water restrictions, in the time that the minister suggests to be the driest and toughest in terms of allocating water, does she perhaps suggest that this is a responsible move?
If the senator is not aware, water restrictions are not a matter for the federal government. They are matters either for the state or, in some states, for local government to impose. They are certainly not matters that the federal government deals with.
I want to come back to this issue of rejecting the science. Rejecting the science is a proposition that pretends not to notice that we do not have enough water. That is what rejecting the science is. Responsibly acting on the science is ensuring we have policies to recognise that we have a significant reduction in water, to impose a limit based on science and to purchase water and invest in irrigation savings to return water to the river. That is the responsible course of action and an action absolutely predicated on the science rather than pretending that we can simply conjure up water that anybody who looks at the facts knows is simply not there.
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I have listened to the minister’s answers and I guess the doublespeak coming from the minister is the same as the doublespeak coming from the minister over climate change—all talk and no action, all spin and no substance.
I am asked about doublespeak—or doublethink, I think, is the term. I suggest that doublethink is saying you want action on climate change but voting against it. Perhaps doublethink is being a Green and voting with Senator Fielding. Doublethink is being pro environment and voting with Senator Joyce to kill action on climate change. That is a real example of doublethink.