Tuesday, 16 February 2021
Matters of Urgency
Climate Change: Water
I inform the Senate that, at 8.30 am today, 27 proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate that the letter from Senator McKim proposing a matter of urgency was chosen:
That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:
The need for the National Party to be stripped of the federal water portfolio, due to their refusal to accept the science of climate change, particularly in light of the Productivity Commission's draft report into the National Water Reform which found that climate change is threatening Australia's water security, clean drinking water and food supply.
Is the proposal supported?
More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today's debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.
I rise to contribute to this important debate today. Last week the Productivity Commission released an interim report into the National Water Reform. This is a damming assessment of the state of Australia's water supply and water security. But, of course, the Productivity Commission, being the economically conservative body that it is, has taken a very rational approach to what is a looming crisis right here in Australia. The Productivity Commission has nailed the issue: climate change—a warming climate, more extreme weather events and the destruction of our environment—is putting our water at risk within our rivers, our treatments, our water catchments and the water supply for our towns and our cities.
When the Productivity Commission raises such important issues, you have to turn and wonder who is in charge. We know who is in charge of Australia's federal water policy. It's the National Party. That's because, of course, the deal that was done to form the Morrison government was to ensure that the water portfolio was given to a member of the National Party. Think about this: the party who doesn't accept the climate science and doesn't even believe that we need to do what the science is requiring—to reduce pollution to tackle climate change—is in charge of the very important portfolio that is impacted most by the drying climate. The National Party with their head buried in the sand on climate change—
is putting Australia's water supply at risk.
Australia's water security is threatened by climate change, and it is hanging in the balance because of the climate denialism inside the National Party and of those at the helm of Australia's water policy.
The Murray-Darling Basin is in crisis. It is oversubscribed. The extraction levels are so big that there is not enough water in the system the keep all of the users sustainable. There's not enough water in the system to keep the river flowing from A to B. In fact, we have towns right now in New South Wales, like Wilcannia, that don't have enough water to drink. Of course, this issue gets worse and worse not just because of the drying climate but because of those further upstream who are allowed to siphon off water that would have run into the system when it rained.
So on one hand we've got climate denialism overarching in the National Party and in this government, and then we've got a corrupt system of mismanagement of the scarce amount of water that is there.
We've got cotton farmers in the north harvesting floodwater. Meanwhile towns further downstream don't even have enough clean water to drink, let alone to irrigate crops. I tell you what: you can't eat cotton, and you certainly can't—
The National Party over here in this corner are carrying on because they know the truth. They know that there is not enough water in the Murray-Darling Basin to ensure that towns, small farmers and the environment can survive, because they, of course, have allowed their political interests to siphon off, to harvest and to take all of the water so that the rest of us are left with nothing. Now we hear from the Productivity Commission that this is going to be made even worse because of climate change. If we want to get this right, if we want to secure Australia's water supply, we've got to get rid of the Nationals in running this portfolio. If Mr Morrison as Prime Minister is serious about the future of this country, he has to dump the National Party in pulling the strings on Australia's water supply.
An honourable senator interjecting—
Do you Greens want it? That would be great, because the Greens solution is to just add water. That's all the Greens can think about when it comes to managing our environment and managing our waterways: just add water. Miraculously it rains, and Wilcannia's got water. I wish I could make it rain and I wish that we could stop taking water and still feed ourselves and still clothe ourselves. Would that not be good, Senator Patrick? The same can be said for your irrigators, who are fantastic irrigators. South Australian irrigators are very good. New South Wales irrigators are good. We need our irrigation industry. We absolutely need our irrigation industry. It underpins our agricultural production and it underpins our regional communities and our regional economies. And it's these communities and economies that have been absolutely devastated by the 'just add water' approach that the Greens cling to time and time again.
I want to remind this chamber what our communities have given in the name of the environment, and it goes way back. Let's talk about the early nineties, when communities in Victoria and New South Wales gave up their right to some water in the name of the environment, with the very first environmental water allocation, the Barmah-Millewa forest allocation. They gave that water up with no compensation. Then again, in the late nineties, the cap on diversions was put in place, and again our communities gave up water, with no compensation, in the name of the environment. Fast forward to the 2000s and we got a National Party minister, and good on him—John Anderson did the right thing. He recognised water as a property right. He developed the National Water Initiative, which the Greens are now holding up as the doyen for water reform. Thank you, National Party. If it weren't for the National Party, that water initiative would not have been signed in place, and the Productivity Commission report wouldn't exist. So thank you to the National Party for that. That is not the only reform the National Party have led.
My colleague and friend Senator Patrick over there doesn't believe that the National Party have taken any steps when it comes to water compliance, and that could not be further from the truth. It was the National Party in New South Wales that implemented the Natural Resources Access Regulator, which is now held up as the compliance cop on the beat in the basin. The National Party has led the way in developing modern telemetric technology to apply to on-farm water storage so that we can measure what we manage when it comes to water. We in New South Wales and Victoria have had telemeters and compliant meters for years, since the early nineties. In fact, in my area of Murray Irrigation, we have had volumetric caps on our entitlements and metered take since the sixties. People down at the south end of the system stand on a soapbox and try to claim purity, when, in their districts, up until two years ago, they were allowed to take water with no water in their account. They were the only jurisdiction left in the Murray-Darling Basin that, even under National Water Initiative compliant entitlement regimes, were allowed to access water when they didn't have it in their account, effectively manipulating the market, going into the market after the fact, when prices were cheaper, instead of, like every other state in basin, having to have a positive account balance. Imagine that—it's like having water on a credit card. It should not happen and, thankfully, South Australia have taken steps to amend that—congratulations to them. But I remind other South Australians who stand on a soapbox and point the finger: don't throw stones in glass houses.
I also want to remind people that the Greens hold this up and say the Nationals shouldn't have the portfolio because they deny climate change. I've never denied climate change. My colleagues don't deny climate change. But you can't make all policy—
Honourable senators interjecting—
But let's look at this. They say that because blaming someone like the Nationals for being denialists is good for their constituents. But their constituents don't bear the brunt of the reforms that have been done over years in the name of the environment. Those regional communities have been put through the wringer and are still living in perpetual uncertainty about what water regime they will be living under and whether there will be enough water remaining in their region to enable effective, efficient and affordable water management. You can't do it alone. Let's talk about the progress of water reform and what it has actually cost. Forget about the cost to the taxpayer; what about the cost to our communities? In the Edward-Wakool system, 50 per cent of their water entitlements have been recovered in the name of the environment. Imagine trying to run a store and being told you're only allowed to put 50 per cent of your stock in that store, but you've still got the same costs and the same overheads. It doesn't work.
The dairy industry in the Murray region, which includes Victoria, has been decimated by water reforms since the 2000s, and it is ongoing. It has declined by 40 per cent since the turn of this century, during the peak of the water reform frenzy. While our remaining dairy farmers are absolutely pulling their weight and keeping Australian dairy going, there is no doubt that they are in pain. Our rice industry, the most water-efficient rice industry in the world, is on its knees because of the impact on the water market that water reform has had. This is the water market that the Productivity Commission says has significant net benefits. I'm not saying the water market is a bad thing, but look at the cost of reform. We can't keep exporting our problems. We cannot say, 'Just grow rice overseas.' Should we grow rice in Third World countries, which need to feed themselves, or grow rice in countries that use triple the amount of water, which is a precious resource everywhere in the world? Should we grow rice overseas, where they may or may not use child labour, where their chemical regimes are far more questionable than Australia's? No, we've got to take responsibility for our own nation and our own production. I also remind people that rice growing can be turned off and on, so think about that next time you're choosing between rice milk and almond milk when you're ordering your latte. Almonds use more water than rice per hectare every year, without fail. Rice can be grown when it's wet and not grown when it's dry. Rice is the perfect crop for our variable climate.
Finally, if we want to talk about climate change—seriously, water reform and climate change—let's talk about the Lower Lakes. Let's talk about the impact of rising sea levels on the barrages and the Lower Lakes.
Senator Patrick, if you would like to take away the dams, congratulations; you bring that argument upstream and—
Senator Patrick interjecting—
Senator Patrick, I am not saying got rid of the barrages; I have never said that. What I am saying is that the barrages as they currently exist and operate will be compromised by rising sea levels thanks to climate change. The conversation needs to be had about how we manage the Lower Lakes and the barrages to address that instead of just looking upstream saying, 'Just add more.' It has to stop.
Any Australian listening to this would despair and reach the conclusion that the Greens and the National Party can't be trusted with water policy. Listening to Senator Davey's account, she speaks with some authority, I think, on questions around southern New South Wales and the rice industry, and I respect her contribution in that area. The truth is the National Party's administration of water policy, though, has let the people in the southern part of the river system down. The truth is that the National Party is institutionally incapable of administering water policy at the federal and state level in a way that deals with the environmental questions in the river, that deals with the water usage questions for agriculture and, in particular, deals appropriately with the rights of native title holders along the river.
I listened carefully to the Closing the Gap report yesterday. I have to say I was horrified again by one particular political party's approach to those issues, but I guess I will save that for another day. I was considering as I was listening to the Closing the Gap report what that meant for water policy in western New South Wales, because the issues around the gap are nowhere more apparent than in the way that we deal with water, particularly water in New South Wales.
Aboriginal communities and corporations own just 0.1 per cent of the more than $26 billion worth of water entitlements in the system. I travelled to these communities. I visited Wilcannia during the drought, where the Barkindji people have lived next to the river for millennia. Life expectancy for Wilcannia men is 37.5 years. I visited the Brewarrina fish traps, believed to be the oldest human structure on earth. They should be a national monument; they are 10 times as old as the pyramids. They were bone dry. I visited Walgett and talked to local health services. When the town runs dry, and it was dry then, the consequences for people's health and kids' health is catastrophic—drinking less water, bathing less frequently, eating less nutritious food. It is a town that already has endemic health issues concentrated in the town's Aboriginal communities. While I heard the refrain from those senators in the National Party that we just needed it to rain, the truth is the arrival of rain has not solved these problems. In January, Menindee's water supply, its drinking water, turned green. A thick slime now covers a third of its surface. That is despite the fact that north-west New South Wales has received twice as much rain as 2018 and 2019 combined.
Water management is a complex set of problems but what it requires beyond the framework is a rigorous approach to compliance, to dealing with corruption and to dealing with powerful lobbies and interest groups, because the truth is that the people who have missed out under the national stewardship water policy are farmers all along the river. It is the environment that has missed out, it is the people in the towns who should have good, decent jobs coming out of Australian agriculture and it is certainly native title holders or prospective native holders along the system.
Last week, the New South Wales Irrigators Council found that inflows have almost halved over the last 20 years, consistent with climate change projections. That availability will get worse. The Nationals don't have a plan for water and no more evident in that is—
Senator Canavan interjecting—
I will take the interjection from Senator Canavan. Build more dams—these jokers have not built a dam for decade after decade after decade. Putting aside whether or not that would be a good idea, there are plenty of private sector, unregulated dams out there, but you guys haven't built a dam. There is big talk about the dams. In every regional newspaper, there's always some joker from the National Party saying, 'We're going to be out there; we're going to build a dam.' But do they ever build one? They announce and they never deliver. Over and over and over again, these characters sell out the people of country New South Wales and country Australia.
It does invite, I think, a broader consideration of the issues facing Australian agriculture. A political movement that once purported to represent country-minded thinking has become a political front for a very narrow set of interests. With the big questions about Australian agriculture, as we rebuild from a record drought, now is the time for a big debate about building a stronger future for Australian agriculture. This year, the national cattle herd fell to 24.6 million. Australia's sheep flock fell to 66 million, the lowest level since 1905. And these characters mumble about nuclear power and building dams, but they have no substantial solutions.
The government has set the goal for Australian agriculture to be exporting $100 billion by 2030. The government set that goal because the National Farmers Federation set that goal. That is a good goal for the National Farmers Federation to have. But the question has to be asked: is it the right goal for the country? In truth, it lacks ambition. The truth is that Australian agriculture has continued to fall down the global value chain. It's fine for the National Farmers Federation to set an objective for farmers about farmgate prices and volumes, but the truth is we should be having a big debate in this country. If we're really interested in the people who live and work or want work in country towns, we should be focused on a debate about creating value in Australian agriculture, about adding value and about food manufacturing. Where are the National Party on these questions? They are nowhere.
In terms of climate change and agriculture, where are the poor old National Party? They are nowhere. The party that purports to represent the communities that will be most affected is nowhere on climate change policy—it's completely missing. Net zero emissions have been endorsed by every key agriculture body. Poor old Mr Joyce, the member for New England, said:
… a net-zero emissions policy would destroy any hope of expanding Australian farming. If the Nationals supported net-zero emissions we would cease to be a party that could credibly represent farmers.
Well, here is what the peak body for cattle farmers said in their Red Meat 2030 plan:
We will play our role in reducing Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by extending our existing commitment to carbon neutrality by 2030 … across the supply chain.
The National Farmers Federation are there; everybody in agriculture is there. Where is the National Party? Nowhere. They have already ceased to have any claim to credibly representing Australian agriculture or Australian farmers.
We will bring to the next election a credible platform in agriculture. This parliament should be debating the big issues about the future of Australian agriculture. In no small part, one of the key issues facing Australian agriculture is the lack of research in Australian agriculture. Research funding in Australian agriculture has collapsed year after year after year. The small increase in private funding for research is completely dwarfed by the collapse in government funding. And guess who's in charge of government funding for Australian agriculture? The truth is private sector research delivers short-term benefits, but public sector research into the big challenges for Australian agriculture delivers long-term benefits, and you would think that the National Party have nothing to do with the government. There is a complete collapse in research funding for Australian agriculture, and those guys, again, are nowhere to be seen.
So if you've got an interest in the future of the river system, if you've got an interest in sustaining communities along the river and sustaining Australian agriculture along the river, if you've got a concern about the future of Australian agriculture and lifting it up the value chain and increasing jobs in country towns, don't go to the National Party for solutions.
I rise to speak on the matter of urgency today, which goes to concerns about the National Party ever doing much about water.
Let's go back to the start of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, where sensible decisions were made to introduce an act to manage the Murray-Darling Basin and to do so in a manner that established what the sustainable level of take was by the best available science—the best available science. A 726-page document was produced by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority showing that the right number in terms of the amount of water we had to recover was somewhere between 3,900 gigalitres and 7,600 gigalitres. Of course there was debate about how much uncertainty we were going to allow in the recovery of water to make sure the river was healthy.
Unfortunately, there was political interference from the Nationals. In fact, one of the people suggesting those numbers were wrong is the current Interim Inspector-General of Water Compliance, who is on record saying, 'No, it shouldn't be 7,600, it shouldn't be 3,900; it should go even lower. It shouldn't even be 2,750,' which is ultimately what the political number was. He wanted it to be 2,100. He's on record suggesting that it be 2,100 gigalitres. This is the inspector-general who is a former New South Wales deputy premier, a National Party member, appointed by a National Party minister in this government. What does that do for confidence in the plan?
Of course, the Nationals are not concerned about lawfulness when it comes to the river. I'm a little bit surprised that Senator McKenzie—'Senator McKenzie SC'—hasn't stood up, having won lots of High Court challenges, and tried to contest what Bret Walker SC said in the royal commission! And that is that the plan is unlawful. It's unlawful because of the Nationals' interference in determining what the appropriate SDLs ought to be. Having got a plan, having got an unlawful plan, they still want to take more water from the river. The National Party says, 'Let's pray for rain.' It's not about that. We know what the rainfall is. We know the in-flows are reduced. The problem is you're taking too much water. Funnily enough, Senator McKenzie pretends to represent irrigators. I've been to the southern river—
Senator McKenzie interjecting—
Well, you might live there, but what about the people who are there who can't take water as it goes past because there's no water coming down—
So we have a situation where the National Party talk about rain, blaming it on rain. It's not about rain; it's about taking too much water. Some of them think that we're letting the water roll down to the Murray mouth and then letting it go out to sea. Let me read what Richard Beasley said in his recent book: 'Several people involved in agriculture in the other basin states and some of the politicians they support consider any water that flows out of the Murray River to be an exercise in irrigating the Southern Ocean. These people are idiots.' I think he got it right. Imagine a river that runs into the ocean—imagine that! Unfortunately the Nationals don't even understand that. They don't even understand that, in order to have water that is not saline and is useable in irrigation, you've got to have a healthy river system. But, no, they continue to take, take, take. And they continue to stand in the way of the execution of the plan, making silly water purchases that don't actually return anything to the environment and paying twice the tote odds. The National Party have corrupted the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. (Time expired)
I'll tell you what we won't take, Senator Patrick, through you, Madam Chair: we will not take the carping from a South Australian senator, because it is our people and our communities in the heart of the Murray-Darling Basin who have paid the price for the complicit arrangement between South Australian senators in this chamber and the other place. It is our people.
The Murray-Darling Basin is an area that spans four states. Two million Australians live in the Murray-Darling Basin, and it is vastly productive in terms of food and fibre production. You know what you can't do for these two million people and their communities and industries? You can't keep them employed or keep them sustainable and prosperous without water, without a triple bottom line approach to irrigated agriculture.
What we have done, as a political party and a movement very proud to stand up for these people and these industries, is actually bring their concerns. You pretend to bring their concerns, Senator Patrick. You don't know their concerns, Senator Hanson-Young. But we live in these communities, and we're proud to bring their concerns here and to be reformers around water policy and to deliver for our communities.
We are the political party that actually put people into the triple bottom line. Remember the triple bottom line? It was supposed to be about humans, the environment and the economy. Well, you only hear about one side of the triple bottom line from the Greens and from Centre Alliance these days—oh, actually, you'd probably throw South Australia in there as well. When you want to know why there's no water in the Murray-Darling Basin, it's because it's all heading south.
As I stand here today, this chamber has done over 10 Senate inquiries into the Murray-Darling Basin, because it's not working. The great plan concocted with a number pulled out of the air—that number is a political solution with no science to it—which has been prosecuted in estimates and in Senate inquiries ad nauseam over the last decade, is actually ripping apart rural communities in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.
When we talk about why the National Party holds this policy, it's because we understand the implications of the policy intent. We have to deal with the outcomes. It was National Party ministers who decided to decentralise the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, so the people making decisions and implementing this plan actually had skin in the game. They weren't bureaucrats in Canberra, far away, not understanding how their policy decisions and their implementation decisions were impacting real people, kids at school and the future sustainability of our communities.
We are actually very proud to have been the political party that introduced the 1,500-gig cap on water buybacks. That's good policy. We actually prioritised water infrastructure projects over this casual disregard of coming into rural communities and buying back water from willing sellers. Remember 'willing sellers'? They were actually drought affected farming communities and families that had been there for generations who had no other options. And there was the devastating impact of the Swiss cheese effect of those water buybacks in our communities. But you weren't even here when this was happening, but what has occurred is absolutely horrific and there are the channels that have had to close et cetera as a result of that.
You know what? It's the National Party that decided to conduct an investigation, Senator Patrick, into the socioeconomic impact of the plan on our people. Heaven forbid that the National Party actually calls government to account and asks for an assessment of how this Labor-Greens policy is impacting the people and the industries that the Murray-Darling Basin flows through. It's the National Party that delivered a 605-gig reduction in water recovery to the southern basin through a package of 36 projects. It's the National Party that got the Productivity Commission report done. It's the National Party that protects water security, clean drinking water and food supply through a raft of measures, including the Murray-Darling Communities Investment Package, which is amazing.
We've strengthened governance of the plan through our particular ministers. I think it's absolutely fantastic that we've got an inspector general who's lived in the basin, who has a lived experience of what this is like. We make no apology for being the party the people in the Murray-Darling Basin choose to vote for. They don't vote for the Greens. If the Greens' policies were so fabulous for the basin communities, why don't they hold a single seat, state or federal, in any single basin community? Do you know why? Because your policies only float in a couple of places: Brunswick in my home state of Victoria and the CBD of Sydney.
We halted water buybacks and chose to invest in on-farm efficiency to help farmers deal with the impacts of a changing climate and seasonal variations. They are on the front line. They are changing practice every day in response to the high price of water because the South Australian and New South Wales state governments will not stop developments in the southern region of the basin. That's what the National Party is calling for: stop those thirsty almond tree developments which are driving the price of water up. The National Party is also calling to split the compliance functions of the MDBA away. I am very proud to be Senate leader of a party that takes its role in this place seriously and whose water ministers take their role seriously to perform and reform this area, which is so crucial.
We are focused on delivering a triple bottom line. It's a pity the Greens and the Labor Party are no longer interested in putting people at the centre of their policy. You're very happy for people to vote for us to come here; it's about time you started remembering that food and fibre production in this country is reliant on the human beings who till the soil in the communities we represent.
I rise today to speak on this urgency motion. Again, I'm speaking on an urgency motion drafted by the Greens to, as we've seen before, essentially trigger the Nationals into delivering this type of performance art we've seen in the last couple of speeches. The truth is it is a difficult motion to be directed at the Nationals. I think it takes out what is important about this debate. But we do know—fair enough—the Nationals try to pick and choose when they're in government and when they're not. I don't live in some of these communities that people have spoken about today. I'm not down south in Adelaide or down in southern New South Wales, but it is an issue that deeply affects people in regional Queensland. I know from living there that the Nationals like to run around and talk about the things that they care about, but, when they come down here, they forget to do the work to get the policies delivered. They're very good at turning up with some corflutes and some petitions, at getting media to come along and at talking about the things that they're going to do because they're in the National Party, but, when they come down here, they're part of the Liberal-National Party and they make sure that they are part of a government that continues to mismanage water and environment policy and all the things that actually matter to the people that they say they represent.
This productivity report slammed the Morrison government's management of water, and that's because it takes a commitment to deliver not just to your constituency but to everyone who relies on water. You can't deliver a policy that is just about delivering applause to yourself when you get back to where you're from. You've got to deliver a policy that supports everyone who relies on water and that acknowledges the very real impacts that climate change is having on our environment in our rural regions and the impact that it is having on the very communities that the Nationals say that they represent.
Some of the big economic impacts in the regions and the rural areas are some of the things that the Nationals and Liberal government refuse to deal with and refuse to put a plan in place to deal with. In the water minister's own electorate, there are towns that have run out of water. I'm not talking about a couple of weeks where they had to be restricted in the way that they were using water. They are trucking water into the water minister's own electorate, and they have been doing that for years. For over 12 months now, water has been trucked into the water minister's own electorate, and yet this report shows—
Honourable senators interjecting—
Those communities in southern Queensland who have run out of water deserve to be part of this conversation. They deserve to have a local member and a minister who will not just turn up for the photo op but will actually deliver when they come down to Canberra, because right now that is not what is happening.
I want to note that the Productivity Commission's advice is very important. It is crucial. It says:
The overarching goal of the National Water Initiative remains sound but should be modernised through reference to adaptation to climate change and recognition of the importance of water in the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
That is imperative—that our First Peoples are part of this conversation. That's not what the Nationals come here to talk about. They do not see this as something that affects every single person living on every single piece of land in Queensland, New South Wales and down south to South Australia. They see this as something for them to have in the cabinet room but to do nothing with. (Time expired)
I rise to contribute on this matter of urgency, and I thank my colleague Senator McKim. May I remind everyone in this chamber: no-one owns water. Nobody owns it. If anything, you've stolen it. You've stolen the water. No-one owns the water. You can't look after it. It's a mess. You are stealing it. This country, the earth, is our mother, we say. You have to look after your mother, okay? If you don't, bad things will happen. The water, to our mother, is the blood that runs through her veins. You would know that, Senator McKenzie. You're a mother and you know how important it is to protect and respect your mother. That's how we should be looking at water. I know that's difficult for you to understand, Senator over there with the face happening—
I apologise and I take that back, but it is very close to my heart that a bunch of white people are talking about owning water and water rights and the monetary value to water. It's absolutely disgusting. It's disrespectful. No-one has mentioned First Nations people except for the Labor Party over here, and I respect that. Water, to us, is life. It is life. For our people, water is our songlines. There are stories to every waterway in this whole country. There is a story about why they meet up to one another and how important they are to the people who have been on that part of the country for thousands and thousands of generations. I'm not going to sit here and listen to a bunch of white people telling me that they know more about the water in this country than the people who have been here for thousands of generations. Water is not about money. Water is about life, your children's lives, and it is fundamental to our people, to our survival. This continent has been our peoples' ancestral home for over 70,000 years. Our peoples' relationship with the inland waters, rivers, wetlands, sea, islands, reefs, sand bars and seagrass beds is part of who we are. This is why Article 25—you Nationals over there might want to listen to this, because you could put it in some of your writings—of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People says:
Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.
Who's looking after our water for future generations? Certainly not this lot. For all of us but particularly for our people, water is far too important to be left in the hands of the climate-denying Nationals, who can only think of water as a resource to be exploited for greed and total mismanagement.
The coal-loving minister for resources, Keith Pitt, himself dismissed the climate warning issued by the United Nations by saying, 'Grand statements are quite simple to make.' He's so triggered by anyone calling him a climate denier—and we see the other reactions today—that he even requested a parliamentary inquiry into lenders and insurers blacklisting companies linked to coal and gas producers. You have to wonder who the Nationals are actually for these days, because they're not even looking after the farmers. Farmers and traditional owners are joining forces. They know that not even the Nationals are protecting their interests; they're better off working with us. Farmers already know that climate change is costing them. Water is too important to be in the hands of climate deniers who have no respect for or understanding of water. They should never be in a position to make decisions on such a sacred resource. That will do.
My point of order is that there's a speaking list. The next speaker is not here. I'm next on the list. I have no problem with Senator Canavan going after me and taking that last five-minute spot. You should check with the Clerk, but I should be the next person who gets the call.
The convention in this chamber—and the standing orders—is to rotate the call. My understanding is this is an informal, agreed list. Given Senator Roberts isn't here and the call should come to this side of the chamber, it should be Senator Canavan who gets the call.
On the point of order, I'm going to rule on the basis that the list has fallen apart during the course of the session, because we haven't got Senator Roberts here. So I'm going to call Senator Canavan as he was the next person on his feet.
I note that we are not taking any more time for the Nationals than was agreed. Senator McKenzie did cut her time. We're not seeking at all to deny other senators their appropriate times.
I want to add quick thoughts on this motion and particularly something that I don't think has been mentioned during this debate: I, as an Australian, am incredibly proud about what we have built as a nation in the Murray-Darling. There's been very little mention of the hard work, the pioneering effort that went into building the dams and the farms that actually feed us today, providing 40 per cent of our nation's food. We would really be in serious trouble—in as much trouble as the early settlers—if we didn't have the Murray-Darling here in Australia. We should recognise the sweat, the toil and the desperation that many people before us went through to get that to happen. I heard Senator Patrick say before, 'Let's just get rid of the dams,' as if that would mean nothing for the rest of the country! How would we feed ourselves? How would we be able to provide for other people in this country?
I think it's very important that we mention and recognise that some of the key things we want to achieve out of the management of the Murray-Darling is the production of food and the creation of viable rural communities that are not constantly under the threat of having their economic base pulled out from under them.
The National Party Senate leader, Senator McKenzie, summed it up very well before. What the National Party have brought back to this debate is people. We have brought back people to the heart of this debate—people on a farm, people who are trying to keep a farm in their family over generations and people who own a cafe in Wagga Wagga. I think Wagga Wagga has the best bakeries in this country and beautiful restaurants. Those people deserve to have a future. People in the cities who want to eat all the food they see on MasterChef or the latest reality TV show are important as well. There are the Indigenous people of the system as well. It was the Nationals that introduced a $40 million fund to buy back water for Indigenous people. I have met many Indigenous people through the basin. They too want to develop their own farms and economic opportunities and potentially use water.
It's very important in this debate that we represent the whole country, from the rural community with the farmers to the dinner plate in the urban environment. It is the National Party that has representatives right across the Murray-Darling. Sometimes in this debate you hear people say: 'Let's blow up the barrages. Let's blow up Cubbie Station. Let's blow up Menindee Lakes.' We have to manage it as a system. There is not one single answer. There is not one thing you can do that will solve all of the issues. It must be balanced in a respectful way that puts people at the heart of this debate because ultimately we all have an interest in seeing a strong, viable and sustainable Murray-Darling that can continue to feed us long into the future.
I have no problems with Senator Canavan contributing to the debate on this urgency motion, but I notice he studiously avoided even mentioning the Productivity Commission report—that's the agency he used to work for before he came to the Senate. I also note that he made no comment at all about climate change, but he has been very vocal on the national stage in the last week. He said recently: 'Under no circumstances would I support any 2050 climate plan. Under no circumstances would I support climate action.' He also said that regional towns in this country, including in the Murray-Darling Basin, face 'complete destruction' under a net zero emissions policy.
Let me tell you why these towns will face complete destruction in the next 100 years. It will be because of the National Party and their climate denial. It will be because of this government. It will be because of record heatwaves. It will be because of drought, fire, flood and pestilence. We will lose more farmers to suicide. That's because this party that purports to represent farming in rural and regional communities in this country has completely let them down. They are in this place playing culture war games and playing politics.
What policy have they put up to help farmers? What policy have they put up to tackle climate change? Mr Littleproud in the other place this week said: '2050. Yes, that might work for us, but I want to see a plan first.' This is the guy who has the agricultural portfolio. Why hasn't he developed a plan? What has he been doing for the last five years that he has been at the helm? It begs the question: what have any of them been doing? The government have sat on eight years of climate inaction. They have ripped up every policy that was in this place to act on climate change, and they've cost farmers big revenue.
It's not only the costs that farmers face of climate inaction—and ABARES recently said that farmers have lost more than $1 billion because of climate change inaction. We know that removing the carbon price and the Carbon Farming Initiative has cost farmers big time. They could be selling their excess abatement credits in the UK market and the EU market right now at $50 a tonne. Instead, they're facing down the barrel of having to pay $50 a tonne of carbon for their agricultural exports. That's the genius of this mob.
Senator Thorpe's contribution in here was a very moving, beautiful contribution. Everyone in this chamber has been here, what, nearly two generations on this planet. I will take it we're all connected to our land, in our own ways. Two generations—maybe the odd MP or senator in this place might be in their third generation. Imagine being part of a culture that was here for not 20 generations or even 200 but 2,000—2,000 generations living on this land. If we can't learn from our First Australians about how to live in harmony with this land then we are totally stuffed. What have we managed to do in just eight generations? That's how long white people have been in this land—eight generations. What have we managed to do? We have managed to completely stuff the Murray-Darling Basin—millions of dead fish just last year. How easily we forget! Millions of dead fish, and no-one was more angered and appalled and saddened than farmers when they saw that. What else have we managed to do? Half the Great Barrier Reef is dead and so on and so forth. I would need another 20 minutes to go through how badly we have managed country since we arrived here, invaded this country and colonised it. I'm really peeved that these guys continue to come in here and act as though they care about farmers when they don't.
I'm very concerned that the Labor Party voted for this motion, since the South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill was very happy to appoint a National Party minister to the water portfolio. Do I need to get the vote recommitted?