Thursday, 25 July 2019
Questions without Notice
My question is to Senator McKenzie, representing the Minister for Water Resources, Drought, Rural Finance, Natural Disaster and Emergency Management. Australia's population has grown by five million, or 25 per cent, since 2007. During this 12-year period, the price of water has increased dramatically, causing hardship for rural and regional communities. This hardship could have been avoided if the government had invested in water security and not become the single largest owner of water in the Murray-Darling River system. The federal government owns 28 per cent of all water entitlements in the southern basin of the Murray-Darling, which means droughts there are experienced earlier and more intensely than would otherwise be the case. This scale of water ownership cannot be justified when the government is unwilling or unable to prepare a detailed water management plan for Australia. What is stopping you from taking the necessary action to reduce immigration until we can create nation-building water projects like the hybrid Bradfield scheme or like?
There was a lot in that, Senator Hanson. The question I heard asked was what I was going to do about reducing immigration levels. I'm not responsible for immigration policy in this country, and neither is the minister I represent. I'm very, very happy though—
Thank you, Senator Hanson, for the clarification. I'm more than happy to go to the question around what we in the Liberal-National government are doing around nation-building water infrastructure. We are getting on with the job. We're building new water infrastructure to meet the needs of regional Australia. We've committed more than $3.3 billion in funding, through the $1.3 billion National Water Infrastructure Development Fund and the $2 billion national water infrastructure loan, to build dams, weirs and pipelines. Our government has already committed more than $990 million through the fund to co-fund the construction of 21 water infrastructure projects, with a total construction value of about $1.98 billion. Funding is flowing to build projects in your home state of Queensland, as well as Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania.
These vital water infrastructure projects will increase water availability to our job-producing agricultural regions and will create more than 4,600 jobs and provide access to more than 45,000 megalitres of new, secure and affordable water. Our investments in these projects will guarantee new and affordable water for regional Australia into the future and unlock the economic potential for new and expanded agriculture right across regional Australia.
In addition to bringing new water infrastructure, the government's providing more than $119.5 million for 51 studies to get water infrastructure projects off the drawing board, including more than $59 million for Urannah Dam, Emu Swamp Dam, Hells Gate Dam and Big Rocks Weir. (Time expired)
The separation of water ownership from land was brought on by the Howard government in 2004, but it has created a double-edged sword as anyone can buy water as a commodity and then hold that water in dams, year after year, while regional communities go without. Why have we allowed 20 per cent of groundwater and 15 per cent of water licences to come under foreign ownership in Australia? And I'm relating my question mainly around the Murray-Darling Basin.
Thank you, Senator Hanson. On behalf of the minister responsible for water and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, Minister Littleproud, I am confident that our government is doing everything it can to ensure that the environment gets its entitlement of water while the socioeconomic security is maintained for the communities that you and we want to see grow and prosper. That is why our government, in conjunction with state governments of the basin—
You're going to the ownership of the water licences. Obviously, that has been an issue raised by many stakeholders throughout the basin and that is why the minister responsible, Minister Littleproud, has actually requested the ACCC to conduct an inquiry into water-licensing holding arrangements, which is being conducted as we speak. I'm sure you, like us, want to see the results of that inquiry as soon as possible.
Thank you. As I said before, the government owns 28 per cent of the water in the Murray-Darling Basin. If foreign ownership of the water is to the extent of 12 per cent of the groundwater and 15 per cent of licences, will the government then take back that water allocation from the foreign ownership and give it back to the communities—
We want a transparent approach—an accountable approach—to how the water within the basin is actually accounted for so that all Australians can have confidence that, yes, our environmental assets are getting the water that we all agree they should, but also, importantly, that those communities and those irrigators actually have water that they need to sustain everyday living and, indeed, productive agriculture capacity throughout the basin.
That is why, for the 450 you were talking about, we actually instigated a socioeconomic test with a range of criteria to be assessed and agreed before any of that water can be recovered.
Senator Hanson, obviously, water licensing is the purview of the state governments within the basin. I'm sure they'll look at the ACCC recommendations into water-licensing arrangements and water-purchasing arrangements very closely, and then that will form some of their— (Time expired)