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Monday, 21 June 2004
Page: 30879

Mr ADAMS (1:25 PM) —Today we are presenting to the parliament the final report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry's inquiry into the provision of future water supplies for Australia's rural industries and communities. The committee has been meeting for 18 months or more. It became very unwieldy and went rather too long so that, although there are some good recommendations to finally come out of it, most of them have been superseded because of a further study being undertaken by the Senate, the fact that the states are considering the whole issue through COAG this week, and other decisions made by government as this inquiry was being held.

It should have been a fundamental report, one that considered the whole role that water plays in our lives, as one of the four elements of life that also include earth, air and fire. But it has been left in the hands of sectorial interests and therefore the report has become marginalised in its final discussion. It also concentrated heavily on the Murray-Darling system at the expense of a broader, more inclusive discussion on water use and cost in Australia.

When I presented a dissenting report as part of the interim report, it was because I believed the direction of the study had been hijacked and it was being used as a political football. We had heard from some 60 scientists, well known in their field for understanding the issues involved, and there was an enormous amount of work undertaken to develop the ideas. Yet some committee members seemed to be only interested in hearing from two who had different views. So I would dispute the fact that the findings were hurried or piecemeal in their presentation, or that the data was incomplete. I doubt whether one could present a `complete' report on such a fundamental issue, as the parameters would change over time anyway.

It was and is important to start the process of introducing the additional water to the Murray-Darling system to allow increased environmental flows; quite frankly, we should get on with it. All this pussyfooting around to appease a handful of people is not getting us anywhere. I expect this report will be another to gather dust in the archives of parliament as this government shelves another important issue in the too-hard basket and will not face the decisions that need to be made.

That said, the report itself has some very good information. It has considerable amounts of data from all over Australia, not just from the states that are interested in the management of the Murray-Darling. It is a shame that it probably will not have a more careful consideration by the federal government to actually do something about the recommendations. I thought that the information that was presented to the committee was very thorough, and much of it could certainly form the basis of an overall water strategy in the future. From my point of view, I would really like to see the take-up of some of the recommendations that are more general, like the water tank policy, the cost recovery of water in urban environments and helping small communities upgrade their water supplies. This makes more sense, really, in many of the other electorates, like Tasmania, than worrying about the Murray-Darling.

But for now I would like to thank the committee secretariat, particularly Ian Dundas, Alex Olah and Bill Pender, as well as Marlene Dundas and Jeannie Brooks. They have put in enormous amounts of work and time putting together the hearings and then putting the findings into a report. Thanks to my colleagues for participating in the committee. Let us hope that in the next one we take on we can be a little bit more cohesive and dispassionate in the roles and work of the committee. It is, after all, our opportunity to do bipartisan work in the interests of parliament as a whole. I support the report.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—Does the member for Forde wish to move a motion in connection with the report to enable it to be debated on a future occasion?