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Monday, 14 September 2009
Page: 6394

Senator BERNARDI (2:41 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Wong. Is it still the government’s policy, as the minister has often stated, that the fastest and best way to save the Murray-Darling Basin is to buy up water licences?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —We have a very clear plan in the Murray-Darling. First, it is to take over planning across the basin—and we have done that. We have established the Murray-Darling Basin Authority which is undertaking the first ever basin-wide plan based on science, something that never occurred under those opposite. That will result in the first ever scientifically based cap, limiting the amount of water that we can take out of basin rivers. It is the first time in Australia’s history that this will be applied.

The second thing we are doing is investing in infrastructure and irrigation. The reason we are investing in irrigation is that it is important for food security. It is important also because it is about recognising that we live in an era when we are likely to see less water. I know Senator Bernardi’s views on climate change are well known, but we have a recent report, from memory called the SEACI report, which includes collaboration between the Bureau of Meteorology—and I am coming to your question, Senator Bernardi—

Senator Bernardi —Mr President, I rise on a point of order on relevance. I asked the minister whether it was still the government’s policy, as the minister has often said, that the fastest and best way to save the Murray-Darling Basin is to buy up water licences. The minister has not mentioned water licences once.

The PRESIDENT —Order! I consider that the minister is answering the question. I draw the minister’s attention to the fact that there are 44 seconds remaining to answer the question.

Senator WONG —It is interesting that as soon as one mentions the term ‘climate change’, Senator Bernardi has to jump to his feet and interject. We know it is such a difficult issue for him. The third thing we are doing is investing in water purchase. We are spending an unprecedented amount. From memory, some $2.1 billion over the forward estimates has been budgeted for in order to purchase water to return to our rivers. And whilst on this issue, it is interesting to note that those opposite remain completely divided between those who say to South Australians that they want to purchase more, and those upstream who want us to purchase less. (Time expired)

Senator BERNARDI —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given all the speeches that the minister has made about the benefits of buying up water licences, why has the government now cancelled 400 buyback applications from Murray-Darling Basin irrigators that have met the government’s buyback application timetable?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —It is very simple. As a result of the 2008-09 water purchases tender becoming fully subscribed, many offers to sell water had to be rejected. I just remind those opposite that they opposed water purchase. That is what a number of your members say. Senator Bernardi, if you want to come in here—

The PRESIDENT —Address your comments to the chair.

Senator WONG —Through you, Mr President, if Senator Bernardi wants to come in here and criticise us for not purchasing enough, I suggest he ought to talk to members of the National Party, such as Senators Joyce and Nash, Dr Stone and various others, including I think Mr Cobb, who have said that we should not purchase water. You should have the honesty and strength to go down to South Australia when you attempt to play politics on this issue, and say to them, ‘We cannot get this position up in our party room’.

Senator Heffernan —Mr President, I want to raise a point of order on relevance about the accuracy of what is being said.

Government senators interjecting—

Senator Heffernan —You learn something if you listen. This government recently bought Booligal station for its wetlands and the wetlands are on the property next door. They bought the wrong property. The wetlands are on the property next door.

The PRESIDENT —Order! There is no point of order. Senator Wong, you have three seconds remaining to answer the question. You have finished answering the question?

Senator WONG —Yes.

Senator BERNARDI —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Once again, given that the minister has said that the best way to save the Murray-Darling Basin is to buy up water licences and that 400 irrigators had met the government’s application timetable, what will the Labor government do to rectify the injustice caused to the irrigators who missed out or is the cancellation of these applications further evidence that the government has no effective plan for the future of the Murray-Darling?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —As I said on that issue, regrettably that program was fully subscribed. That is the reality, even recognising the changes that were made as a result of dialogue with Senator Xenophon. I am asked what the government will do. As at 30 August, just on this issue, the government—leaving aside investment and the historic changes on planning—has purchased some 545 gigalitres, worth $840 million. That is a 545 billion litres of water entitlement that was never purchased under you. The reality is that those on the other side have no credibility on this issue. They did nothing in government and even now they have no policy.