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Wednesday, 20 October 2010
Page: 968

Mr SECKER (4:24 PM) —I note at the outset that the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities and the Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency are asking for bipartisanship from our side of politics on the basis that the Labor Party have always been bipartisan on this issue. I recollect otherwise. In fact, I asked the Parliamentary Library to find out how the vote went on the original legislation. On 14 August 2007, when the Labor Party were in opposition, when it came to the vote on the question ‘That the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question’—in other words, that the wording of the motion goes back to its original form—the Labor Party voted in the negative. There were 73 ayes and 52 noes. Interestingly enough, the current environment minister was absent from that vote, so he may have been a bit lucky on that occasion. But I think it is a bit disingenuous of the government to now ask for total bipartisanship and understanding from us when they did not do the same for us in the first place. So let us first get out of the way the fallacy that Labor have been bipartisan on this issue.

I come from South Australia, and I have always known that there is a need for a sustainable river system. In fact, probably before the minister was born we in South Australia started doing the work to make the river system more efficient. When man landed on the moon, we in South Australia were putting pipes in so that we would not rely on channels. We started this over 40 years ago. In South Australia we have become world leaders in water use efficiency—our efficiency is up to 98 or 99 per cent, which is world-class standard—and we have achieved that because we have worked on it for over 40 years. We realised long before anyone else in Australia that we needed to replumb the system, so that is what we did. One of my New South Wales colleagues was actually quite shocked that under the plan we in South Australia have been treated exactly the same as the other states—that is, we face a 26 to 37 per cent cut depending on whether we are required to return 3,000 or 4,000 gigalitres to the system, according to the basin plan report. I will come back to that figure later.

In South Australia, we certainly recognise that requirement, but in being treated the same as the other states we think we have been treated unfairly. It is not just me who thinks we are being treated unfairly; the Labor member for Makin in a speech to parliament yesterday said exactly the same thing. I refer members to that speech, because I think it was quite measured and sensible. The Labor Premier of South Australia also believes we have been treated unfairly, as does Senator Nick Xenophon. I think that is a legitimate argument, because we in South Australia will have no more capacity to replumb to get those cuts. We have already done it, Minister, so we have not got that capacity, and we have not been rewarded for the more than 40 years of good work we have done in our state. I accept that we do need a sustainable river system, but under the Howard plan we purposely allocated twice as much for infrastructure as we did for buybacks, and it seems to me that the lazy politician’s answer of ‘Just buy back; spend the money’ is what the previous government did during their term. I hope they change their mind on this, because that is not the only answer. You will not have a balance if you do not spend twice as much money on infrastructure as you do on buybacks so that we can use our water better to get more crop per drop. We need a greater focus on replumbing the system.

We in South Australia do not care if that money is spent in Victoria, New South Wales or indeed Queensland or the ACT, because we know we will be better off with a system which does not recognise state boundaries. We in South Australia will be better off for it, so we think that is the way we need to go. We were very disappointed because we set aside $400 million or so for the Menindee Lakes reconstruction. I believe Labor promised that before the 2007 election and it has not happened. Unfortunately, we are now in the situation where it is pretty hard to do those works under nine meters of water. It is going to be a lot more costly, so we missed an opportunity. We need to make sure that we spend the money on infrastructure.

I also want to come back to this figure of 3,000 or 4,000 gigalitres. There is a concern out there because people have not been convinced by the science or seen the scientific background to say that the need is for 3,000, 4,000 or 7,600 gigalitres. That may well be the case—I do not know. I have not seen the scientific knowledge that has been put down as the basis of the reason why we have to go for those figures. I very well remember six or seven years ago when the Murray-Darling Basin Commission was promoting 1,500 gigalitres—not 3,000, not 4,000, not 7,600 but 1,500. In fact, the then executive officer of the Murray-Darling commission said we ‘probably could not handle any more than that right now’. We have to make sure we get the science right. I also remember six or seven years ago when the Wentworth Group were talking about 1,500 gigalitres. It is very important that we get this figure right, because there are a lot of communities out there scared that they are going to be decimated—and I accept what the minister is saying, that it is only a guide to a plan, but people are concerned about their futures and they are rightly emotional at the moment. That is the thing that we have to deal with, because every member in the Murray-Darling Basin—well, there are no Labor members in the Murray-Darling Basin. I was very disappointed when the new minister got up. You gave a contribution which, as usual, was reasonably sane and sensible but you only had eight members from the government behind you.

Mr Burke —Really? I’ll talk to the whip about that.

Mr SECKER —I think you should talk to the whip about that one because it is unfortunate, but it shows that it is not really an issue for Labor. It might be for the minister, but it does not seem to be in the ethos of the Labor Party, unless you are from South Australia, to believe that we have to actually do something about the Murray-Darling Basin.

Dr Stone interjecting

Mr SECKER —I went to the meetings. Of course, like anyone, you get attacked: ‘What are you doing about it?’ But I will try to stay sane and rational about the whole basin plan. I know it is a tough decision. I know these are tough reforms, but we cannot stop. But we do have to take into account the social and economic results of any possible changes.

I have to say I was very disappointed to learn in Senate estimates yesterday that apparently consideration was not given to those issues until the day that the report was released. I think that is appalling, because section 20 of the act clearly says they have to take account of the socioeconomic problems that may result from this. So I am really concerned that we have got this far and we do not have all the information. I am not going to blame Rob Freeman or Mike Taylor. I think they are very good public servants and I know they are doing their best under pretty tough conditions, and I know they are going out there and talking to people. There is a lot of anger and they are dealing with it as best they can. But we need to have all that information so we can make rational decisions about whether we need 1,500, 3,000 or 4,000 gigs returned to the river and whether we can spend a lot more on infrastructure, which was the original plan of the Howard government—the $10 billion plan. That was on the basis that there would be the same amount of food produced because you could produce it with less water. That was the basis: that the gigalitres you lose in buybacks is returned to the growers. That was a very sensible plan. I still believe it is the best plan and I hope the government is still committed to it. (Time expired)