Senate debates

Monday, 2 December 2019

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Murray-Darling Basin

3:27 pm

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Agriculture (Senator McKenzie) to a question without notice asked by Senator Hanson-Young today.

I asked questions in relation to the fiasco that is unfolding throughout the Murray-Darling Basin. We know that the Murray-Darling Basin has been plagued by scandal after scandal, incidents of water theft, corruption, mismanagement and maladministration. And, of course, the government knows that these things are becoming more and more palpable and that they have to act, which is why, in August this year—some four months ago—the water minister announced that Mr Mick Keelty would act as the inspector-general for the Murray-Darling Basin to investigate these issues. We all welcomed that, yet what have we seen? Nothing. We know that the inspector-general is carrying out a number of meetings, but he has no powers to act. There is no legislation to give the inspector-general the powers and the terms of reference for him to do his job. What this shows is that it is all lip-service from this government when it comes to the people living along the Murray-Darling Basin—those communities that are relying on the river—and of course, those downstream, who desperately need to make sure this river is managed fairly, properly and sustainably. Where are the investigation powers to ensure that the inspector-general can get in there and sort out what is going on? Where are the referrals from the inspector-general to a national corruption body, a corruption watchdog or an integrity commission? These are the things that the government promised would happen, yet we have none of them. There are no statutory powers for the inspector-general, so he's got no ability to do his job, and there is still no anticorruption body to which he could even refer issues of corruption and maladministration.

Many, many people from diverse stretches of the Murray-Darling Basin—smaller farmers and irrigators, those who live in the communities that rely on a healthy river and, of course, those who are in the lower ends of the system who are struggling in what is a mismanaged river system—are calling out for a royal commission because we can't trust the government to clean up its own act, to clean up the act of the states who have been behaving badly and to make sure that this is all done in a transparent manner. We can't trust the government. We can't even trust it to put in place an inspector-general with the powers to get the job done.

While the government thought that all it needed to do was make an announcement—put out a press release—and give somebody a title and that would be okay, we are not fooled. We are not fooled at all. The government is up crap creek without a plan for managing the Murray-Darling Basin. It's got no idea what it's doing and it's got no ability to deal with the corruption, maladministration and water theft issues that have happened. What we have now, in the midst of a drying climate, is more and more people with their backs against the wall. Just outside, on the front lawns of Parliament House, is gathered well over a thousand people who are demanding that the government take serious action on the Murray-Darling Basin. They are sick of the lip service and sick of the broken promises. At the very least, this government should have put in place some powers for the fellow they want and said, 'We'll clean up the place for him to be able to get on and do it.' Yet today we had the minister saying in response to my questions that we'll have to wait until at least Autumn next year. So by the time this has been put in place we might be looking at 12 months down the line from the first announcement. That shows that the government is not taking at all seriously the plight of river communities and the very serious concern of those watching who are concerned about the sustainability of the river system.

Let me point out that this isn't about farmers versus the environment. This is about those who act corruptly and those who are making a motza out of running this system badly versus everybody else. It's corporations versus community versus river communities versus the environment. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.