Tuesday, 26 June 2012
Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Amendment (Scheme Enhancements) Bill 2012; Second Reading
The Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Amendment (Scheme Enhancements) Bill 2012 is noncontroversial because it is basically what we want to do, which is to have greater water efficiency. Over a number of years a range of states have had pieces of legislation with the federal government over the top of those. It has been very confusing. We have tried to remove that confusion and we entirely support the government on this.
Madam Acting Deputy President McKenzie, you are looking wonderful tonight. You are a flash bit of kit in this chamber, there is no doubt about you.
It is noncontro. Roll with me on this. It is good to try to get a piece of streamlined legislation so that the federal government basically enacts the decision of the COAG council of ministers so that what they agree to we then enact. It is quite simple. This bill will allow the Commonwealth minister to determine the changes to the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Scheme without changes being required to the states' and territories' legislation.
The WELS Scheme was a proud achievement of the previous coalition government. In 2005 the coalition government created the world's first national scheme of its kind to provide for water efficiency labels on shower heads, washing machines, toilets, dishwashers, urinals and taps. These labels give consumers easy to understand star ratings, as I am sure Senator McLucas would understand, and water consumption information on the water efficiency of different products. The bill amends the WELS Act to allow the Commonwealth minister to determine more of the scheme's details, particularly those relating to the registration of products and cost recovery. This differs from the current position in that some aspects of the scheme, such as the five-year period for product registration, cannot be changed without changing nine sets of legislation. The minister will make changes by disallowable legislative instrument, the terms of which must be agreed to by a majority of states and territories.
If this bill is passed, and I suspect it will because it is noncontro, it is expected that the minister will make a number of changes to the WELS Scheme, including revising registration fees to meet the cost recovery target of 80 per cent that is recovered from industry. Further amendments are proposed in the bill to the enforcement provisions of the WELS Act. Civil penalty provisions have been added to provide a more cost-effective enforcement—and might I say that civil penalty provisions are the way that we are going forward now. It is in regard to the onus of proof. I remember looking into the bill and the onus of proof scheme basically means that instead of having been presumed innocent, and having us prove you are guilty, you have got to prove yourself to be innocent. It is a good position and I am sure many of your advisors would agree with me on that—I can see them nodding profusely.
Civil penalty provisions have been added to provide a more cost-effective enforcement response. The bill will also apply a strict liability to more provisions because it is currently difficult to prove intent in relation to breaches of the act. For example, previously, not labelling a product required having to prove intent and that was rather difficult. Some other changes of an administrative nature have been made, including removing the requirement for gazettal of registration decisions and instead requiring decisions to be published on the WELS website, and providing for further reviews of the operation of the WELS Scheme at five-year intervals.
The coalition supports this bill as it builds on and improves a successful scheme that was introduced by the coalition. It is a shame, however, that this government's water policy is not as noncontroversial as this bill. The biggest water issue—and I know, Madam Acting Deputy President McKenzie, that you will be interested in this—facing this nation is the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The government's management of this plan has been an utter debacle. They released the plan in late 2010; they walked away from it within weeks. A few months later, the head of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority had to resign.
The government has now managed to alienate every state government in the country on this issue. This puts at grave risk any chance for Australia to achieve a successful outcome of this reform. Every water policy in this country has had the support and cooperation of Australia's federal structure of government. I remember the great reforms we got from The Living Murray agreement—969 megalitres of water went back into the Murray-Darling Basin.
There are clear limits on what the Commonwealth can achieve in water policy as it does not have powers over land use and water infrastructure which are absolutely essential for good water policy management—just like what we have with taps and urinals because that is good water policy management. We must have good water policy on urinals. I have been worried about urinals for years and years because urinals are to do with water. Also, we must look at what is happening at other things that may or may not have been flushed down the urinal by Labor Party policy pertaining to the Murray-Darling Basin. When the coalition were last in government, great strides were made in water reform without the rancour and turmoil that have marked this government's term. One can see that the WELS Scheme is a great example of what can happen when you go about things in a diligent manner because you get a bipartisan outcome, which everybody is happy with—unlike the Murray-Darling Basin scheme.
The National Water Initiative was agreed to and, under it, it was clearly and frankly recognised that there will always be a trade-off between achieving economic, social and environmental outcomes. The government's approach is to wish this trade-off away. Even now, we hear that the government is telling some that it cannot do what it would like to do on water policy because the Water Act puts the environment first and everything else second. What we had before was that we all believed, the Labor Party believed, that we would have an equivalence between social, economic and environmental factors. What we have now is backed up by Professor Judith Sloan and by Professor George Williams, a former Labor Party candidate. Not to be parochial, we also got Professor John Briscoe from Harvard University, Massachusetts, United States of America—where I will be in a couple of weeks time. He said when he had a look over it that the Water Act is an environmental act and if we do not come up with an environmental outcome, the Greens will bring down the Labor Party and destroy them. I want the Labor Party to survive, because I think they are a great party. They are a party of Curtin and Chifley. I think they have done some incredible things for this nation that we are so proud of.
Yes, big things. Keeping our nation from being invaded was a massive issue. I am extremely proud of the statues we have down the road that show Curtin and Chifley as they are walking back to Parliament House. That is the party I recognise as the Labor Party, and the party, might I say, that my grandfather voted for. He was a strong member.
He was. That party is not the party that I see represented now. But I do believe there are people in the Labor Party who can take it back there. But they have to come to the fore. They have to reclaim this thing. Do not swing with the people from the manic monkey cafe of inner suburban nirvanaville. Go back and talk to the people, the working class who wear the reflector suits, who go fishing, who believe in their nation and are proud of this nation. If you talk to them, you are going to give us a challenge. Where you are now, you are going to look like the Burghers of Calais, that Rodin sculpture you can see outside the national art gallery. You are going to be destroyed. That will be great for us, but it will be terrible for our nation because there will be nothing left of you. It happened in Queensland, so do not think it will not happen to you.
It will happen to you because the longer you wait, the worse it gets. The closer you get to annihilation, the more it turns into an issue. The Australian people do not respect you. If you try to repent at the last minute, they will not respect you, so you have to fix it up now. I know you have that in motion, so get it moving and fix it up.
The National Water Initiative was agreed to and, under it, it was clearly and frankly recognised that there will always be a trade-off between achieving economic, social and environmental outcomes. The government's approach is to wish this trade-off away. Even now, we hear that the government is telling some that it cannot do what it would like to do on water policy because the Water Act puts the environment first and everything else second. This is something we have been saying all along. Reclaim the 2.1 million people who live in the Murray-Darling Basin. They are an exemplar of the people whom you want to vote for you. If you look after them, you are looking after the outer suburbs. Show how you would respect their views and you will get the respect of a much wider constituency.
Under the coalition government, we recovered 823 gigalitres for the environment in the Murray-Darling Basin. That was achieved through programs like the Living Murray Initiative. Cooperation between local communities, irrigation operators, state governments and the Commonwealth government was the foundation of schemes. Unfortunately, the government have failed to heed the lessons of these approaches and have embarked on a course of explicit confrontation with state governments and local communities. You cannot get anywhere with water reform unless you get the local issues right. Take the WELS reform. These are great reforms because everybody is on board with it. The retailers are on board with it. The consumers are on board with it. Local governments are on board with it. You have to start from the ground up. That is where the hard work that I know people such as Senator Farrell and Senator Polley are capable of. They are very capable people.
If you start at the local level and build up, you will always get your program through because you absolutely are able to deal with the inconsistencies and the ructions that can happen. But if you try to start with it from a macro level and then enforce it on the micro, you just end up with a massive fight. You have that on the carbon tax and you are going to get it with the Murray-Darling Basin scheme. You cannot do it that way. It is a lot harder starting from the micro and building to the macro. It requires a lot more work. But it is the only way it ever succeeds. Politics is about hard work, but you cannot have macro decisions enforcing the micro because the macro thinks that the micro does not know what they are talking about, so the luminous orb of the illuminati will be enforced down onto the micro. They will just knock you for six every time. A person in the local community knows far more about the Murray-Darling Basin scheme and how it affects their community than someone who lives on the blue carpet and lives in an inner urban seat. Likewise the retailer in the shop knows what is going to sell. Star ratings sell; it is going to work. Build from the micro, work to the macro and you stay in government for longer than six years, which is what the current crowd will stay in for.
This approach is not going to work over the longer term. The test for the minister, the Hon. Tony Burke, will be whether he can work with all state governments to get an outcome from this process. At the moment, we have a plan that has cooperation between levels of government built into its DNA. Without the support of the states, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan becomes more difficult to implement because the plan calls for states to both operate the system and develop the detailed environmental watering plans. You cannot get an environmental watering plan or a Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The states are going to be the ones who have to kick in the dollars to make an environmental watering plan work. The states do not want to kick the money in. They decided to extract themselves from the process, and the whole thing became mindless and defunct and now does not work. For instance, chapter 7 of the plan calls on state governments to write the environmental watering plans, which will tell the government where the water needs to go. It is the best place to undertake this task, due to the existing expertise. They must remain engaged to ensure the best outcomes for the states and the system as a whole.
Labor has failed to outline a water recovery strategy for the basin. The government has spent $1.8 billion in water buybacks, but just $430 million on investments that will deliver water into the basin. For every one litre of water that has been saved through infrastructure, five litres have been taken out of the community through buybacks. You know and I know, Madam Acting Deputy President, that the water that comes from buybacks is the water that destroys communities. I know that Senator Farrell knows that and I know that Senator Polley will probably know that as well, although she is from Tasmania and probably does not have to deal with this.
We want the working families of the Murray-Darling Basin to be maintained and to exist in the longer term. I know that Senator Farrell wants that as well, but he cannot do that by removing the mechanism of commerce. He cannot do that because it is not just about the irrigators. It is also about the people who have bought a house for $300,000—maybe that is a cheap house. They went to the bank. They borrowed the money. All of a sudden we find the commerce in the town has been ripped away and therefore the house which was worth $300,000 is only worth $150,000. That person who, in the scope of things as far as urban Australia is concerned, is probably poor—poorer than they are—and made poorer by a stupid decision to rip the economic rug out from underneath them. We cannot let that happen.
If we are smart about this, we can come to an outcome without destroying these people's lives. They are the people we have to be worried about. We get so worried about yelling and screaming across the chamber—calling Dougy 'Lord Douglas' and all that sort of stuff just to stir him up—but we have to remember that these decisions affect real people's lives and we have to make sure that we look after those lives. We are not going to do that if we keep buying water back, rather than doing the hard work of trying to get the micro right and the environmental works and measures in place, so that we can save the water and let water go down the river for South Australia.
We can do that if we are diligent. If we work hard, we can do it. If we work lazy, we cannot. I am open in saying on the record that I am prepared to work with Minister Burke and to work hard to get the outcome. I want an outcome; I want a result. I want to get a positive result that deals with this problem, but I do not want to unnecessarily hurt people whom I have never met in some street in Mildura or some street in Griffith. I do not want to hurt them, because it is not right. They did not buy this ticket; they should not have to pay for it.
In the current Basin Plan more than 1,000 gigalitres remains unallocated and resides in shared allocation buckets. Communities throughout the basin cannot plan and invest in the basin with this uncertainty hanging over them. Worse, under this plan the minister says that the amount of water recovered could go up or down. I do not know what that means. If you have a plan that goes up or down, you do not have a plan. We have been arguing for decades on this. People want a resolution, but they do not want a minister giving the Greens another window to campaign for 7,600 gigalitres and that is what Senator Hanson-Young wants. That is destitution. She does not have to deal with this; she does not live there. I live in the Murray-Darling Basin. I might be the only senator who does; I am pretty sure—
But I live on the Murray. I can throw a stone from my front yard into the river, into the Murray-Darling Basin. I cannot throw it into the Murray. I would be up there with Clive Lloyd if I could throw it into the Murray. This is something we can work on together. Let us take the nexus of this issue. The WELS Scheme has worked. We are about to have a piece of legislation that will go through tonight without argument—we will work with the government. We can do that on other pieces of legislation if we just realise that between the Labor Party, the National Party and the Liberal Party we have the numbers to do good issues. If the Labor Party wants to look after the Greens then we have a complete split.
I have said openly that I am prepared to work with Minister Burke. I have shown tonight on a piece of legislation that is my shadow portfolio that I am happy for this to go through. I want it to go through and without problems. We have worked on other issues, such as the National Water Commission—even though that was highly debated. So we can get to an outcome. I want to get there on the Murray-Darling Basin because I do not want to hurt people. I can make a big man of myself by screaming no and doing showdowns, but I do not want to do that. I want to make sure that we get to an end, but if the Labor Party sides up with the Australian Greens with their own agenda, which is to destroy the Labor Party. We had the Australian Greens once—they were called One Nation—and they wanted to destroy us. Do not let them destroy you.
Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President, and it is a pleasure to see you in the chair. Can I say as I rise to speak and congratulate you on that role. It is also a pleasure to follow Senator Joyce in speaking and to have heard some of his remarks and commentary, particularly about the process of Murray-Darling reform and the example that this legislation can set in that regard. I too want to touch on some of those issues.
On the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Amendment (Scheme Enhancements) Bill 2012, I would like to reflect briefly that, yet again, in this couple of weeks, I rise to speak on a bill that is, as they like to put it, 'time managed'. 'Time managed' is of course a euphemism for applying the guillotine and, to be frank, it is preposterous and ridiculous that this bill is being time managed. It is lunacy that it has come to this for a piece of legislation that enjoys bipartisan support, that is relatively noncontroversial, that makes some sensible changes and that is, of its nature, legislation that you would expect to go through quite simply in a noncontroversial debate in this place without the need for these types of extreme measurements.
It is not my fault, it is not my problem, that the government wants to make a fool of itself, that the government wants to expose itself, in conjunction with the Australian Greens, for having such contempt and such disregard for democratic processes that it is happy to rack up the statistics on the number of bills that it guillotines through this place. But it does show all those opposite for being hypocrites. It does demonstrate the hypocrisy inherent in all of those who have railed against the application of guillotines and the curtailing of debates in the past, in all of those who, especially when the coalition briefly held a majority in this chamber, talked about how that majority was abused and how outrageous it was that guillotines were applied—and Senator Polley is nodding. Yet, Senator Polley, this government has guillotined far more bills in the life of this Senate than the coalition ever did when we had a Senate majority.
The Labor Party, together with the Greens, have thrown out the window any semblance of regard for process of debate here. This example is just sheer lunacy, as I said before, because it should never have needed this. If the government had managed the chamber as you would expect a government of the day to manage this chamber, this bill would have appeared on a non-controversial list, there would have been a couple of speeches of not particularly great length from each side and it would have all been dealt with in a relatively simple way. But, no, the government have to decide that they, with the Greens, can exercise some brute force, can force this chamber to consider everything they want, when they want, how they want, under the terms they want. When you take those steps it elicits a reaction, and the reaction is that you get to sit here and listen to us give speeches on these topics because you have decided these things will be dealt with in a certain manner. Well, there are consequences for everything we do in life. This is the consequence for the government of deciding to set up this ridiculous process—a ridiculous process where bills like this that should be dealt with in a relatively seamless way will probably take longer than would have otherwise been the case. But that is the government's choice; that is their foolish choice. They may want to reflect on their worth as legislators for making these foolish choices, but I guess in the end the Australian public will make that decision for them in terms of why it is they have taken this ridiculous approach not just with this bill but with other bills that genuinely warranted sensible debate in this place and that could have been improved had the proper legislative processes been applied as we have come to expect.
As I said, this bill is an eminently sensible bill. The coalition welcomes this bill. It provides for some improvements to the operation of the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Scheme, the WELS Scheme, which relates to how water is used and, most importantly, how water is saved for various products. The operation of the scheme aims to conserve water by reducing water consumption. It aims to better inform consumers about the water efficiency of various products and to promote the adoption of more efficient and effective water-saving technologies. These of course are all admirable goals.
The bill is born out of the WELS scheme and the review in particular that the Howard government put into place when this scheme was first established back in 2005, with the passage of the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Act. The act set out objectives around the conservation of water supplies, the provision of information and the adoption of efficient and effective water-saving technologies. It required a five-year review. That review was conducted and has provided the types of recommendations that are contained in the bill that is before us tonight. Back in 2005 when the Howard government took this very important initiative of putting in place the WELS Scheme, it was the first scheme of its kind providing for the star-rating water efficiency labelling that we see today when purchasing dishwashers, washing machines and fixtures and fittings, amongst other things. It was an important reform because it provided simple, clear information to consumers which helped them to select the most efficient products.
Efficiency is something that we are all concerned about today when it comes to household information. It is certainly something that those on the other side of the chamber should be very concerned about, because at a time when water, gas and electricity prices are soaring and will soar even more thanks to the government's carbon tax, star-rating labels that can help consumers to make informed decisions about the relative running costs of different products are more critical than ever before.
We all know that with the introduction of the carbon tax in just a few days households will be paying more for their electricity, their gas and, yes, for their water. Water utilities, which are major users of electricity to pump water across urban areas and townships and the like, will of course pass those costs through. In South Australia, the home state of the Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water—our home state—SA Water, the provider of water services to most South Australians, faces a direct carbon tax liability in excess of $6 million. That $6 million will of course be passed through to all South Australians on their water bills. So they will pay more for every drop of water that every South Australian uses because of the Labor government's carbon tax. That is a pretty simple equation to understand and it is why it will be more important than ever before for South Australians to have the type of information that the Howard government's WELS Scheme sought to provide them about efficiency of the products they choose to purchase. So we will see water prices rise not just for urban consumers, who might be worried about the types of products covered by this program, but also for many irrigators. They will end up paying a lot more for water as well.
One of the great ironies when it comes to water efficiency and the operation of the carbon tax is that the carbon tax will penalise Australia's most efficient irrigators more than it will the least efficient irrigators. Why is that so? Because the irrigators who are most efficient when it comes to the use of that scarce and finite resource are those who have invested in the highest cost forms of service delivery, either for the system of piping and pumping water or for drip-feeding type systems for their individual irrigated lands. The least efficient are those still using gravity fed open channel systems and flood irrigation systems on their properties. How do these stack up in terms of energy usage? They stack up with a very stark contrast. At the system level it is pretty clear that those who pipe and pump water pay enormous electricity costs to do so, whilst those who use gravity fed open channels pay no electricity costs to do so. Those who on their farms and properties use drip-feed irrigation practices have individual pumping costs that come with that, yet those who use flood irrigation practices often have very low pumping costs. So the carbon tax will actually make water efficiency for farmers a harder goal to achieve. That is the idiocy of the government's policy. They have implemented an arrangement where one of the government's policy objectives, namely the carbon tax, will operate in conflict with another of their policy objectives—namely, achieving water efficiency on farms.
I will use another example of the types of costs that will be incurred. The Central Irrigation Trust in the Riverland region of South Australia, for just one of their pumping stations, has an electricity bill of up to $400,000 per annum. They will, of course, face the 18 per cent price increase for power coming down the line in SA. As a result of that, the costs that they pass through to all of those irrigators in the South Australian Riverland districts will be greater and will ultimately flow through into higher food prices and produce prices for all South Australians.
So I do understand the importance of water efficiency. It saddens me that, although the government may be doing the right thing with this bill and doing the right thing by ensuring that this bill makes more efficient the operation of a scheme that provides households with greater information about how they can be efficient water users, in the end other government policies and in particular the carbon tax will make it harder for water users and especially irrigators to achieve the type of efficiency that they should.
Senator Joyce reflected a little on Murray-Darling Basin reform. I think it is important to again look, as he did, at a scheme that has worked well, that has been rolled out well and that dates back to the Howard government, as this scheme does, and compare it with another program of Murray-Darling Basin reform that was also initiated by the Howard government but that has gone so far off the rails under the Rudd and Gillard governments. There is indisputably a real crisis of confidence throughout the Murray-Darling Basin about the state and progress of basin reform at present. Whether it is upstream or whether it is downstream, you struggle to find people who agree with the approach taken by the government. They may have polar perspectives in many ways, but they very vehemently disagree.
The government has lost the confidence of people throughout those communities. People have lost confidence in many different ways. The government has particularly lost the confidence of those who are in irrigation communities, those who fear for the future livelihood of their communities, by failing to deliver the type of program the Howard government outlined for the $10 billion that was budgeted for basin reform. The government has failed to demonstrate that it can deliver a program that prioritises water efficiency, that prioritises keeping farmers on the land so they are able to grow food and produce using the least amount of water possible whilst returning water to the environment.
The government has instead prioritised buybacks—buybacks undertaken in a very random and sporadic way rather than buybacks or other activities that could return water for environmental flows without having a negative, devastating impact on those communities. So the government has lost the confidence of those communities, in part because when it comes to water efficiency, when it comes to the way they have tried to help those communities with water efficiency, they have not provided the assistance required.
So we have a situation under this legislation where households in urban areas may achieve water efficiency objectives, but in rural areas where the government has promised to spend valuable money on infrastructure projects that could achieve water efficiency it just has not followed through. It has not delivered. Meanwhile, downstream an equal crisis of confidence has occurred. Part of it is the federal government's fault for not selling its policy effectively, for setting false expectations around what Murray-Darling reform might deliver for South Australia, for not making sure there is an understanding that the reforms in the Murray-Darling are not just about getting a healthy, sustainable environment but also about maintaining healthy, sustainable river communities. But also in part in South Australia the crisis of confidence is, to be fair, not the fault of this federal Labor government. It is the fault of the state Labor government and in particular the new Premier, Mr Weatherill. Mr Weatherill was put there with Senator Farrell's blessing. I acknowledge that fact. I hope that Senator Farrell will be able to talk some sense into Mr Weatherill as time goes by, because he is doing more than perhaps any leader in this country at present to destroy confidence in Murray-Darling reform. He is doing more than perhaps any other leader to seriously undermine and jeopardise the capacity of this federal Labor government to deliver for the Murray-Darling for the long term.
Mr Weatherill seems to have forgotten that he was the environment minister in the Rann government that signed up when Mr Rudd was Prime Minister to the historic reforms for the Murray-Darling in 2008. He agreed to exactly the process that is being undertaken to date. He seems to have forgotten that all six members of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority were appointed by this Labor government, three of them by Senator Wong when she was the water minister, his close friend from South Australia and factional ally. He seems to have forgotten all of those very salient points and, while it is actually an independent authority proposing this plan, he seems to be hell-bent on trying to argue that they are just a political body bending to the will of the eastern states.
I suggest that nothing could be further from the truth and that they are, in fact, a body grappling with a very difficult situation that is being made worse by the failure of the Gillard government to outline and enunciate a clear plan for the implementation of whatever basin plan the Murray-Darling Basin Authority comes up with, an implementation plan that demonstrates it can be done in a manner that minimises the impact on regional communities, keeps farmers on the land and maintains sensible food and produce production levels into the future.
While I may despair in many ways at the state of Murray-Darling Basin reform and just hope that Senator Farrell can use his factional influence over Mr Weatherill and his influence over Minister Burke to try to get this reform back on track and restore some level of public confidence, I at least do not despair tonight for the WELS Scheme. I recognise and support the amendments that are proposed. They will hopefully ensure the scheme operates as smoothly as possible, provides a streamlined approach to ensure prompt registration of products, avoids the need for too many amendments to supporting state legislation and provides clear civil penalties for the way any contraventions to the act are dealt with in future. This type of streamlined approach to these types of schemes is something the coalition supports because it makes regulation simpler, it is something we hope to see more of in the environmental space and it is why we have advocated a one-stop shop when it comes to land based environmental approvals that can reduce the extent of bureaucracy and duplications and ease the cost of doing business into the future.
I do hope that this legislation achieves the water efficiency outcome that it seeks to and that it builds on the success of the Howard government's WELS Scheme. I pay tribute to those who established that scheme—Mr Howard, John Anderson, Greg Hunt, Malcolm Turnbull and others—and pioneered water reform. I just hope to see more successes like it in the future.
As the director of a family company that actually sells and manufactures products that have a WELS marking on them, I am very pleased to be able to rise tonight to speak on this bill which is designed to enhance the WELS Scheme. As has been pointed out already, the WELS Scheme is about putting water efficiency labels on products supplies, from showerheads to washing machines, toilets, dishwashers, urinals and taps. Because of the WELS Scheme, manufacturing businesses have flourished in Australia in a way that would not have been possible without it.
The star-rating scheme demonstrating water efficiency started in 2005. It is interesting to note that a then Liberal House of Representatives member, Mr Stuart Henry, is now the CEO of the World Plumbing Council. Mr Henry is a plumber by background and he very much understood the efficiencies that you could get within industry by developing a carrot-and-stick approach. Not only does this legislation set out to amend and improve the operation of the WELS Scheme but, probably as importantly, it develops new civil penalties to complement existing offences under the scheme and it also amends some of the existing criminal offences under the scheme.
It might seem odd that we have criminal offences in this area, but it is certainly something that we need to make easier for the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions and others to proceed with. I am very well aware of importers of products—particularly, in my experience, taps—which have a WELS star rating marked on them but are not WELS rated products. They are such good copies that until they are taken apart you do not know that they are not water-efficient taps. This of course creates very unfair competition for our local manufacturers, who cannot meet the costs of these people who are cheating on the water efficiency system.
Thank you, Senator Farrell. I am pleased that you will track them down—you now can do so. One of the problems that exists within our entire standards system is that of ensuring compliance. In many cases, the only way that compliance can be measured is when competitors and consumers report defects with the product and that leads people to understand that there is a standard not being met. We need this system to function well, not only because there is an overriding public interest in protecting the water supplies of not just urban Australia but all of Australia but also to protect manufacturers.
I am very pleased that the government, in this particular case at least, has seen their way clear to supporting companies that are doing the right thing and maintaining high standards. We need high standards in order to drive water efficiency in this country. We need to do it in a far more structured and sensible way than some of the rebate schemes aimed at improving efficiency in other areas, such as energy. They did nothing except distort the market and led to cowboy behaviour by people who have come into the industry late and ruined the industry for not only those who been there for many years but also for consumers and others. We only have to think of pink batts. That program was not just economically inefficient but disastrous in terms of the loss of life that was suffered. I commend the government for their enhancement of this scheme, which was initially developed by the coalition.
I rise to make some comments on the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Amendment (Scheme Enhancements) Bill 2012. As speakers before me have said, the bill allows the Commonwealth minister to determine changes to the WELS Scheme without changes being required to be made to state and territory legislation. The coalition government created the world's first national scheme of this kind, providing for water efficiency labels on shower heads, washing machines and other things of that nature. Other colleagues have covered very well most of the issues relating to the bill, so in the few minutes available to me I particularly want to give some attention to the issue of water efficiency.
It is ironic, colleagues, that having seen the government follow on from the very good work of the coalition in water efficiency in this area, comparatively we have seen a complete lack of understanding and attention to detail by this Labor government when it comes to water efficiency in the Murray-Darling Basin. The government has spent $1.8 billion on water buybacks in the Murray-Darling Basin but just $413 million on infrastructure investments that deliver water into the basin. I know that my colleague Senator Joyce has been doing an extremely good job leading the charge in this—
Despite the good senator's comments, water efficiency is precisely what I am talking about. With the kinds of water efficiency measures dealt with in this particular bill, Labor have followed on the good work of the coalition. I was merely contrasting that with the complete lack of attention they have given to water efficiency in the Murray-Darling Basin. For every one litre of water that has been saved through infrastructure investment in water efficiency, five litres have been taken out of communities through buybacks. It is ironic, colleagues, that here we have a bill before us that deals with water efficiency in a particular area and makes further adjustments in that area—an area in which the coalition led the way—and yet this government clearly has no idea or concept of the importance of water efficiency in the Murray-Darling Basin.
How stupid it is for this government to suck water out of the Murray-Darling Basin and out of these communities when so much more can be done through water efficiency and through investment in infrastructure and works and measures. Yet we see this government paying scant attention to that and indeed proceeding with projects like the Twynham buyback—$303 million of stupidity from this government. The water efficiency measures that will be taken as a result of this particular bill are welcome. The bill follows on from the coalition's good work in this area. But it is contrasted with the government's ineptitude when it comes to water efficiency in the Murray-Darling Basin.