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Thursday, 28 October 2010
Page: 1108

Senator FISHER (6:06 PM) —As the Chair of the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee it was good to have tabled the Sustainable management by the Commonwealth of water resources report in the Senate the day before the Murray-Darling Basin Authority released its guide to the draft plan to the plan. I want to thank the secretariat of the committee, who worked long and hard to help the committee deliver this quality document. It is interesting to note that both the coalition and the government were able to agree on the report contained in this quality document. We were unanimous in the recommendations we made.

Given the release of the authority’s guide to the draft plan to the plan the subsequent day, there are some interesting recommendations. In particular, there are recommendations that suggest consultation by government, by authority, with communities affected. There are recommendations that suggest tracking, evaluation and monitoring of impact of water buybacks, recommendations that recommend in the strongest terms that there be a community impact statement each and every time a community is to be or is affected by the buyback of water, and recommendations that there be consideration given to some sort of structural adjustment package for those affected by water reforms. All of those sorts of recommendations were agreed between the coalition and the government. Despite that, the very next day the Murray-Darling Basin Authority released the long-awaited guide to the draft plan to the plan, which spectacularly ignored any sort of consultation and spectacularly ignored any sort of social and economic assessment, and focused purely on environment issues.

How is it that it has taken this Labor government until the past week or so to recognise the folly of its ways, with the Prime Minister, during the election campaign, saying, ‘We will implement carte blanche each and every thing that the MDBA says and recommends,’; Minister Burke saying that it is not for the government to interfere in the MDBA processes and iterations; Minister Crean saying that in fact it is for the parliament to determine—and now the government is hoisting the MDBA out on a limb and acting as if the government always expected the MDBA to take into account social and economic factors? And why on earth has the MDBA not done so? It is an unforgivable state of affairs and it is a great shame that the Labor government was not able to take more note of the policy zombies on the back bench. If I can pay my colleagues on this committee from the Labor Party a compliment, I say to them that as policy zombies they actually could have suggested to Labor’s frontbench a few things that might have prevented the debacle in which we now find ourselves on the MDBA and more generally. I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.