Senate debates

Thursday, 25 November 2021


South Australia: Water

5:40 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to speak about the Eyre Peninsula desal plant saga. I have talked about this in the chamber, so I'll just give the chamber a brief update. Back in 2008, the South Australian government recognised that there was a water security problem on the Eyre Peninsula, and one of the solutions to that water security issue was a desal plant. As so often happens, an announcement was made and nothing happened for well over a decade. A couple of years ago, the state government allocated $99 million to put the desal plant at a place called Sleaford, to the west of Port Lincoln. Unfortunately, that particular location has proven difficult from a technical and engineering perspective. As a result, the $99 million that was allocated goes nowhere near the cost required to establish the desal plant.

Earlier in the year, I FOI-ed a report that had been prepared on the Uley South Basin, which is where Port Lincoln and the Lower Eyre Peninsula get a lot of their water from. That report basically says that we've been taking between 3,000 million and 6,000 million litres of water out of the Uley South Basin and it's not sustainable. That's left us in a place where we've got an emergency. SA Water, in response to that emergency, have just allocated Proper Bay and Boston Bay. As anyone who's been to Port Lincoln would know, when you look out from the foreshores at Port Lincoln you're looking out onto Boston Bay. One of the things you see about Boston Bay is that it actually looks like a lake because there's land just about everywhere you look, because of the islands. It's an area that doesn't circulate water very much, so it's not a good place to put a desal plant and, indeed, it interferes with important fishing industries in Port Lincoln. What's the remedy for this? It can't go there. It cannot be allowed to go there. But SA Water are snookered because there's no more money being allocated by the state government to solve the problem.

In the last fortnight, I wrote to the finance minister and said that we need to approach this not as an emergency but as a vision for the Eyre Peninsula. When it comes to putting a desal plant in the right location, we need a vision that looks to the future, that looks 50 years ahead. We need to look to the mining industry, the graphite industry, the agriculture that's on the Eyre Peninsula, the space industry and, of course, the communities. Water is the lifeblood of many communities and many industries, and we need to think about that as we think about the future of the Eyre Peninsula. I go back to the Morgan-Whyalla pipeline, which was established back in the 1940s—between 1940 and 1944—and cost somewhere in the order of $250 million, funded by the federal government. It was a vision without which we would not have places like Whyalla and we wouldn't have water running through the top of the Eyre Peninsula. What's required here is a vision, and that will require federal assistance.

The people of Port Lincoln are at their democratic peak in terms of power, because we're four months away from a state election and six months away from a federal election. But do you know what the state government have done? In response to a well-organised protest in Port Lincoln, the state government have said: 'You've got to stop. Let's shift the decision a year from now so we can reconsider the data.' But really we know how it works in politics. That's a ploy. The state government are shifting the decision point to after the election. The people of the Lower Eyre Peninsula need to be absolutely aware that that is what this is: a political ploy. We need to get an announcement out of the South Australian government that says that the desal plant will not be in Boston Bay. We need that announcement prior to the state election or, simple, you do not vote for the state Liberal Party, and you do not vote for the federal Liberal Party in the seat of Grey when the federal election finally arrives.