Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 3 September 2008
Page: 4447

Senator FISHER (4:15 PM) —I rise to speak on this matter of utmost public importance: the dire situation facing Australia, the Murray-Darling Basin, the communities who rely upon and live along the Murray-Darling Basin and, in particular, the people of my home state of South Australia who live on or near the Coorong and the Lower Lakes. We know that the situation facing these communities and the country is dire and, sadly, it becomes direr daily. Yesterday we learned that this past winter had been the fifth driest in the last 155 years and that the situation facing the lower basin was the worst since records began in 1892. The Murray-Darling Basin Commission’s Chief Executive, Wendy Craik, was very frank when she said:

We’re continuing to establish new records that we don’t particularly wish to establish.

Yesterday we learned that monthly inflows for August were less than one-fifth of long-term averages for the system. Yesterday we also got Minister Wong’s departmental submission to the Senate rural and regional affairs committee in relation to the reference inquiring into the situation in the Coorong and the Lower Lakes. That submission played down the option of lifting fresh water to save the Lower Lakes and the Coorong. That submission indicated that any release of water from either the Menindee Lakes or the Snowy system could take water that may be needed, apparently, for critical human needs next year. That submission indicated that the volume of fresh water needed to replenish the Lower Lakes is simply not available at this time—dire indeed.

I have seen first-hand the dire circumstances facing the people of the Lower Lakes and the Coorong. I have travelled and visited with members of the communities in Goolwa, Milang, Narrung and Meningie—I have seen some of their circumstances first-hand and I have heard just some of their stories—to see what the lack of water is doing to the people and the communities. I visited with Brendan Nelson, the Leader of the Opposition, as he too wanted to listen to and to hear from the members of the community about the impact that the lack of water is having on their daily lives—or what used to be their daily lives—and the sorts of things that they think could be done to help them through. In that context, I have met with community members, tourism operators, farmers and irrigators and discussed what they think could be part of the next step. I have heard stories of people paying thousands of dollars to truck water in to water their stock and to keep their stock alive. I have seen elderly people, people like our mums and dads and our grandparents, struggling to pipe water across dry flats, struggling with pipes across muddy flats to get drinking water. I have seen tourism operators who cannot operate with such low flows and I have heard from third, fourth and fifth generation farmers who are in many cases likely to be forced off their land unless something is done.

This is a crisis that not only affects those who should be at what should be the water’s edge but today is not; it is a crisis that extends beyond those immediate communities to the communities who feed and service those who should be at the water’s edge. If the farmers leave the land, then ultimately so do those who help farmers—for example, vets in the case of dairy farmers. If tourism operators leave, what happens to those who service the tourism operators’ operations? Without support, it is very clear that the people of the Lower Lakes and the Coorong are likely to survive what could well be the departure of swathes of their population.

Part of what is needed for the Lower Lakes was reflected on by opposition leader Brendan Nelson in April this year. He talked about help for the communities of the Lower Lakes, help for local people, help for local businesses and local communities in consultation with those local people and local communities: local help, local self-help, driven by local people. Help for local people, driven by local people. What do we have instead? On a national level we have this thing called a COAG agreement, which of course is not an agreement. It is an agreement in name only because any premier can walk out at any time. It is an agreement, presided over by the Rudd government, which does not deliver a national plan or national management of the Murray-Darling Basin in any sustainable way. It does not involve a referral of powers. It leaves the Murray-Darling Basin states beholden to the whims of the states. And it does not deliver any water; it stagnates water and takes it out. It stagnates water because nothing will happen until 2011—2009 is likely to be too late, let alone 2010 or 2011. And, worse than that, it allows the taking out of water that was not being taken out of the system before the COAG agreement was struck. For example, the Goulburn to Melbourne pipeline effectively sees upwards of 100 gigalitres of water a year being flushed down Melbourne’s toilets at the expense of others.

On a broader level we have Rudd government inaction. We have a Rudd government watching water. We have a Rudd government failing to act on the three key stages of moving the Murray-Darling Basin system forward—that is, failure to bring water back in in an organised and strategic way, failure to plan to reallocate that water once it is brought back into the system and failure to force their Labor colleagues, as part of ending the blame game, to better collect— (Time expired)