Senate debates

Wednesday, 30 March 2022

Statements by Senators

Aged Care, Murray-Darling Basin

1:15 pm

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

It's been over a year since the royal commission into aged care handed down their report. One of the recommendations of that report was that we should have nurses in aged-care facilities 24/7. It's a very simple idea, and most people can absolutely understand the necessity of such a recommendation.

Unfortunately, since October, the government has simply not dealt with this at all. In October I introduced an amendment to the government's Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response No. 2) Bill to get this crucial recommendation actioned immediately. And what happened? The government stopped the progression of their own bill, because they were of the view that I had the numbers in the Senate to pass my amendment to finally help people in aged care by having a nurse available 24/7. That is an absolute disgrace—the government holding up its own bill to avoid implementing a very sensible recommendation of the royal commission.

We know the aged-care system is in crisis. You don't have to listen to me; the Prime Minister has conceded that. Only recently, we had to send the Australian Defence Force into our aged-care facilities to deal with part of that crisis. Because the government hasn't pushed this legislation, I've tried to work constructively with the minister. I've had a conversation with the minister and I've even conceded to him that, whilst my bill seeks an immediate introduction of the requirement to have nurses in aged-care facilities 24/7, I've said to him, 'I'm quite happy if we roll this back to the exact recommendation of the royal commissioner.' I offered him that. I said, 'Your bill going through the Senate is an important bill. It makes important changes and it has the support of the Senate. I'd like to help you get that through, and all I'm asking you to do is put in exactly what the royal commissioner recommended.'

The response from my negotiations with the minister was to offer me a review. A review! We've just had a royal commission into aged care and the minister wants to do another review, looking into one of the recommendations. That is a slap in the face for every person in aged care and every person who has a loved one in aged care. Any suggestion that my amendment is at odds with the recommendations of the royal commissioners is just simply wrong.

Today we're going to have a guillotine motion. That's foreshadowed by the debacle that happened in the chamber just before senators' statements. I foreshadow that, when we next rise to deal with a time motion with a list of 20 bills, I am going to seek to amend that to put that bill—the Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment (Royal Commission Response No. 2) Bill—on the list because this is too important. We cannot ignore what is happening in our aged-care facilities. Ageing is a privilege; it shouldn't be a punishment, but that's exactly what is happening right now. The government could be acting, but they're refusing to.

This parliament is about to come to its end without having taken any serious action in relation to the aged-care royal commission recommendations. It's a disgrace and it's a great disservice to all of our loved ones in aged-care facilities.

I wish to switch to another topic, which is the Murray-Darling Basin. I was up at Tolarno Station a few weeks ago, seeing the wonderful water flowing down the Darling River, but I don't want all of that water to drown out the failure that is the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The history of this, very simply, is that we get something like 32,000 gigalitres of flow into the Murray and, on average, we're taking out 13,600. That number is decreasing because of climate change. Everyone recognised that we needed to do something about this, and so we started off on a journey to come up with what is now known as the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The whole purpose of the plan was to return some of that diversion to the river. Originally, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority came up with a scientific range of 3,900 to 7,600 gigalitres, except that was politically wound back to a lesser recovery of 2,750 gigalitres. South Australia wasn't having any of it, so they negotiated a change to the Water Act's section 86AA, which returned an additional 450 gigalitres to the river.

What were the key measures? Buybacks were one of the key measures to get water back. We also had supply measures, or SDL projects, and we had the efficiency project, which were designed and supposed to get us the 450. Where are we at? In buybacks, we've actually bought back 2,106 gigalitres, and that's the most efficient way to get recovery. We've got 36 SDL projects, of which only 15 are completed. Of the 605 gigalitres we expected from that part of the plan, we've only recovered 280 gigalitres. The Productivity Commission reported in 2018 that there was huge risk in these projects, and they're absolutely right. Now even the government concedes that six of those projects are likely not to render any return. One of those is the big one at Menindee Lakes. With regard to the efficiency measures—the 450 gigalitres—guess how much water of the 450 has returned for South Australia. It is two gigalitres. Nine years into the plan, two gigalitres is all we have managed to find. It's a mess, and I haven't even started talking about things like the flood plain harvesting that's occurring in northern New South Wales and Queensland and the cotton that's now sprouting on the Murrumbidgee.

As the plan comes to its proper conclusion in 2024 and we have to deal with a failed plan that hasn't recovered even the politically manipulated number, we're going to need strong advocates. South Australia's going to need strong advocates in this place. Sadly, we look at what happened with the South Australian election. Although no-one knows who she is, we now have a One Nation representative in the Legislative Council in South Australia. My really big concern is that at the next election One Nation may well have a representative in the Senate representing South Australia. I can tell you that, when that happens and we have to deal with the closure of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which is a failure, this Queensland-led party will be backing big cotton and big irrigators from Queensland all the way. That's a huge danger to South Australia, and South Australians need to understand that that's what they're staring down the barrel of if indeed One Nation gets someone up in the Senate representing South Australia.