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Wednesday, 23 May 2007
Page: 100

Mr WINDSOR (4:21 PM) —The subject of today’s matter of public importance debate is: ‘The government’s failure to address the problems confronting working families while spending vast amounts of money on its own political survival.’ I do not think there is any doubt in the community’s mind that the extravagance of government advertising—at many levels of government, not just the current Commonwealth government—is well out of hand and really does need to be addressed. But today I would like to refer to the problems of farming families—in particular, the government’s absolute incompetence at coming to grips with water issues in this nation and the incompetence of the member for Wentworth, the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources. If the Prime Minister wants to maintain any credibility in terms of the water debate, particularly within the Murray-Darling system, he has to look very closely at what the member for Wentworth is doing in his ministerial capacity. The people I am talking about, in the Murray-Darling system, particularly those who have received allocations of water—admittedly, under the state systems in the past—are under threat from government policy on water. The incompetence of those who are suggesting they have some control over this debate is coming through very clearly.

The member for Longman has just said, ‘Let’s not go back to 1994.’ I would like to go back to 1995 and 1996, when the national competition policy arrangements were put in place. There were certain things said in relation to water, particularly in 1996, which the Commonwealth took some charge of. One of those things was to establish a national approach to water policy. Certain competition payments were made available through the normal processes; if the states met certain objectives and achievements, money would flow through the national competition payments arrangements.

A couple of other things were suggested at the time, including that, as part of the flow of that money, a recognised water market would be put in place and property rights would be recognised as part of that process. The money would flow from the Commonwealth to the states if those particular objectives were met. Those objectives have not been met, but the money has flowed. My office has done some work on this. The current arrangement being talked about is a $10 billion plan. There are no details, but there is a plan worth $10 billion. My office has looked at the money that has flowed to the states in the last 11 years. It comes to $8.9 billion—paid through the competition payment arrangements, the National Water Initiative arrangements, the Natural Heritage Trust arrangements, the National Action Plan for Water Quality and Salinity and a whole lot of other intergovernmental agreements, including catchment blueprints et cetera. Not one extra litre of water has been put into the Murray-Darling system.

The Prime Minister and the minister, the member for Wentworth, are suggesting that we need a massive investment to solve the problem. You have had the capacity to do it through the national competition arrangements for 10 years, and now you are asking those irrigators and water entitlement holders out there to trust you when you have had the capacity to rein in the states over that time.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—The member for New England needs to link his ideas back to families.

Mr WINDSOR —I think there has been incompetence over 10 years. The Deputy Speaker has asked me to bring this back to working families. There are working families out there who have been neglected by this government for 10 years. Their property rights have not been recognised and a lot of their rights have been removed. The cash that has come from the Commonwealth government has gone through the states, and that has allowed the states to rip these people apart. The Commonwealth is now suggesting that it wants the power to rip the other arm off them. I think that is incompetent, and it does affect the survival of farming families. Anybody who suggests that that is not incompetence at a high level really has to look at the policy mix that has come out of this place. These people in the Murray-Darling system are not pawns. They are people who have worked hard, and they are having their body parts ripped off them by an incompetent minister. He has no understanding of basic water mechanics and soil science, no understanding of the difference between a water aquifer and a watertable, no understanding of the various caps between groundwater and river water systems and no understanding of the interconnectivity between groundwater systems and river water. Yet he is the one who is telling the Australian people that the Commonwealth needs to take control of the Murray-Darling system so that it can put in place something that is good for the nation.

I think that is an absolute disgrace. If you need proof of that, look at what is happening with the groundwater systems in New South Wales—and you are well aware of this. The Commonwealth and the states came together with $50 million each to create an adjustment package, a compensation package, for people who had their entitlements taken away because the groundwater systems were assessed as being overallocated. They agreed to do that and a compensation package was put in place. What has this government done to those people now? It is effectively ripping them off again. The government did not tell them about the agreement. The intergovernmental agreement is under the Commonwealth solicitor’s name. The agreement that was put in place suggests that when these people receive the compensation it will be treated not as a loss of a capital asset but as income in the year of receipt.

The Prime Minister’s office is on record in the Canberra Times as saying that that is the way that water entitlement holders will be treated in the $10 billion water document. We have the Prime Minister and the minister running around Australia saying, ‘Trust us.’ I am with Steve Bracks on this. I think he is the only one displaying any sense. It would be a futile and stupid arrangement for the states to get out of their responsibilities on water allocation and give them to a plan when there is absolutely no detail. Mr Deputy Speaker Causley, I think you would be fully aware of why the New South Wales Premier wants to get rid of it. He wants to get rid of it not for any particularly good reason but just because he is sick of it. He wants to give it to the Commonwealth government so that it can have all the problems.

I think there are a number of issues there that display a great deal of incompetence and that will do a great deal of harm to Australia’s working farmers and their families. To spend all this money on advertising, which is going on at the moment, and then to rip 47 per cent in tax off these people whenever they do receive that income is a despicable act that should be addressed. For two years this has been going on. The Prime Minister has said—and I can pull the quotes out if I need to—that he believes that it should be treated as compensation. A Commonwealth solicitor wrote the agreement between the state and the Commonwealth. He is privy to that. He knows it very well. The Prime Minister and the minister said that there were no documents relating to it that could be obtained. I used the Freedom of Information Act and received a truckload of them for the New South Wales government. There is complicity in this.

Most people within the government would be well aware of the circumstances that these people are going through. The groundwater issue needs to be addressed. It spreads across six groundwater systems in New South Wales and it is destroying the morale of those people affected. There is no detail. Freedom of information will not show anything. There is nothing out there; there was no detail at the start. For anybody—including the minister or the member for Wentworth—to suggest to these people, ‘Just trust us on this,’ is a very strange way to go about your business. I encourage the people in New South Wales in particular, especially water users, to be very distrustful of what is going on now because they have been through a process before where this very government, with its capacity to enforce the property rights rules, did not do a thing. That has been raised a number of times over the years and every time—whether it is John Anderson, John Howard or Johnny-come-lately—someone says, ‘We’ll fix it up in the next catchment blueprint arrangement.’ These people are sick of being told that. They want it fixed now. For the Commonwealth to display any credibility, that particular issue needs to be addressed. (Time expired)