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Tuesday, 16 September 2008
Page: 24

Senator HUTCHINS (3:09 PM) —The issue that has been raised today is one of great importance, as we are all aware. Indeed, last week Senator Fisher and I, along with others, were involved in an inquiry over two days—here in Canberra and then in Adelaide—into the Lower Lakes and the Coorong. We received a number of submissions from government bodies and individuals about what should happen to that part of South Australia, where that water should come from and whether or not seawater should be put into these areas where there has not been any water for some time.

One of the things that struck me about our inquiry—I understand that Senator Fisher will be speaking shortly, and she may well agree with me, as I am sure Senator Heffernan will, too—is that we need to try to depoliticise this issue and make sure that we have a solid policy base from which to proceed. Senator Fisher would agree with me that that is not necessarily occurring with the opposition at the moment.

Senator Fisher —You’re the government. You do something

Senator HUTCHINS —There are people in the opposition who clearly know what needs to occur. If you listen to some of the things that that maverick senator, Senator Heffernan, says—despite some of the other things that he says—he makes a lot of sense in a number of these areas.

The one thing that clearly comes out in all this is that if there were more water in this Murray-Darling system it would be used. But the fact is that we have not had sustained rainfall for some time. There are many communities in these areas that are very frightened about their future. That is why I say that this should be depoliticised. As we saw only last week—and Senator Fisher would agree with me—one of the minor parties, and I am talking about the National Party, took opportunistic shots during the inquiry. They took any opportunity to try and scare people and came up with bandaid solutions, or tried to pull magic out of the sky to make available water that is not there.

I say to the opposition: the water is not there. We are being confronted with issues that I am sure none of us would have wanted to have to deal with. But the fact is that there is no water. If you listen to some of your senior colleagues—

Senator Fisher —There is no water, but you are taking water out and sending it to Melbourne.

Senator HUTCHINS —I will sit down and listen to you in silence.

Senator Fisher —Do not acknowledge me, then.

Senator HUTCHINS —We have some very difficult demographic decisions that are going to be forced upon us in the next few years. I do not think that any of us like it. You cannot come in here with a South Australian badge on or a Queensland badge—

Senator Fisher interjecting—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Fisher, I note that you are down next to speak in this debate, so I suggest that we listen to Senator Hutchins in silence.

Senator HUTCHINS —We have to come in here representing the Commonwealth of Australia. This is an Australian difficulty—an Australian problem. It is no good saying, ‘They are taking water from us up here and they are transferring it here.’ It is no good saying, ‘They are stealing it from New South Wales and they are not giving it to the Queenslanders.’ I am sure that even Tasmanians would like to get into the act just so they are not ignored.

This is a very serious issue. People are very frightened. Their futures are at stake. They are demanding of the Commonwealth government and of the Commonwealth parliament some serious leadership in this. People should not come in here and say, ‘They are stealing water from the Murray and giving it to Melbourne,’ and ‘They are stealing water from the Murrumbidgee and giving it to South Australia.’ We have to come in here and act responsibly, particularly—and I say this to Senator Fisher—the major parties. You would recall, as I do, the opportunistic actions of the Greens last week. They had to be checked by the CSIRO the next day. There are plenty of people out there who are going to exploit this for political reasons. It is up to us in the major parties to make sure that that does not occur.