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Thursday, 15 May 2003
Page: 14781

Mr HUNT (10:44 AM) —I am delighted to rise to speak in support of the Murray-Darling Basin Amendment Bill 2002. This bill comes in the context of a series of questions we raised about a national water strategy and the challenges facing all of those Australians involved in the consumption and use of water, whether it is for industrial, agricultural or domestic use. Let me start by giving an overview. When you look at Australia's annual consumption of water, approximately 70 per cent of that water is consumed in the rural areas of Australia. So, of the 100 per cent of water which is consumed for human related purposes, 70 per cent is in the rural area. This bill deals with rural and agricultural uses of the water which comes from tributaries to the heart of Australia's water management system: the Murray-Darling Basin. In addition to addressing the use of the 70 per cent of water, we also have to address the 30 per cent of urban water, and I want to turn my mind briefly to that before considering the ramifications of the bill.

Thirty per cent of Australia's water is consumed in the urban environment—a combination of commercial, parkland and domestic—and we find that there have been very poor developments in terms of understanding and managing that water. I have a clear belief that Australia needs—and I have argued this repeatedly—a national water policy. It needs a national water policy because the states have largely failed to carry out their responsibilities. It is not about transferring power to the Commonwealth but about the Commonwealth establishing a framework which would bind the states together and bring them to work to a common purpose.

A central element of that national water policy concerns the fact that annually we consume over three trillion litres of water through the ocean outfall process. In my own electorate of Flinders, the Gunnamatta outfall at Boags Rocks distributes each day 420 million litres of secondary treated sewage, less than 100 metres off the beach—153 billion litres of water each year. There are three consequences of that. Firstly, there is a local environmental catastrophe; secondly, there are health risks; thirdly, there is a plain economic waste that goes on here. In a country that is short of water, we are taking one of these critical resources, failing to treat it properly and throwing it away. We are literally letting it run out to sea.

I believe we need a national water policy, and I believe that a critical element in that national water policy is a national ocean outfall strategy. The essence of the national ocean outfall strategy is to work towards the cessation of ocean outfall as an acceptable practice across Australia's 142 ocean outfalls by the year 2025. What we are discussing here is a generational objective of ending ocean outfall and using that water constructively—and to achieve that by the year 2025 across Australia. There are already a great number of groups that are working towards that objective. I think it is a fine objective, and it is one to which I am committed.

It has to be considered in three stages, because in order to achieve this we have to make progress on consumption, on treatment and on reuse. Firstly, in terms of consumption, we have to achieve a situation where domestic consumption drops dramatically. If you think of the uses of domestic water, effectively there are four in any household: gardening, showering, toilets, and washing for laundry and dishes. Approximately 50 per cent of that water can be saved by using recycled water for gardening and for toilets. Those are areas where you do not need water of absolute rainwater quality. By using and recycling our water for those purposes in the domestic sphere, we would be able to reduce consumption by 50 per cent. So that is the first thing: we should be working towards far more sustainable domestic environments. That must be linked, of course, with the industrial.

The second stage is in treatment. The eastern treatment plant in Melbourne, which is at Carrum Downs, produces the vast bulk of the water that flows out of the pipe at Boags Rocks, Gunnamatta Beach. Of the 420 million litres of water which flow out there, approximately 370 to 380 million litres daily come from the eastern treatment plant. It produces about 42 per cent of Melbourne's waste water. So here is an opportunity for a treatment plant to work to high standards. There are proposals for its upgrade, and that is a good thing. Yet what we see is a very narrow and shallow approach, because, despite the opportunity here, they are only working in increments of three years—not 10 or 20 years or a generation.

As a consequence, the potential for upgrading the water is great and the reality is low. To a large extent, our local farmers have said no to possibilities for reusing water, because the quality of water coming out of the eastern treatment plant does not even meet the level necessary for the use of recycled water in market gardens and farms. The second stage concerns the upgrade of the treatment plant at Carrum Downs and plants throughout Australia, but it is a long-term strategic investment. The third stage is to encourage reuse. If you achieve the water quality levels then you can reuse water for significant industrial and agricultural purposes. Taken together, these comprise the elements of a national ocean outfall policy and the urban component of a national water policy.

The second element of a national water policy relates to rural use, and this bill addresses rural use. Essentially, the Murray-Darling Basin Amendment Bill 2002 is about the Commonwealth and state governments working together in cooperative partnerships that further prosperity for the Murray-Darling's people and environment, and redress some of the environmental damage which has occurred through human use over the last 150 years. It follows the Commonwealth's allocation of $75 million to allow for annual water savings of up to 70 gigalitres. It also helps to move this water and allows for greater protection of the lower Murray area. In essence, the bill provides for the environment, protects local communities and industries, and legislates to encourage outcomes which will help people along the full flow of riparian use.

I want to discuss the importance of the bill and then its provisions. The essence of this bill is that environmental flows will be increased in the Murray region. The bill legislates for this in such a way that more water will reach downstream users. In particular, this is important for communities and users within South Australia and important for the health of the river. It has both a productive economic outcome and a positive environmental outcome. The bill implements the Snowy Water Inquiry Outcomes Implementation Deed, signed on 3 June 2002 by the New South Wales, Victorian and Commonwealth governments, which is an example of cooperative environmental management between the Commonwealth and the states. The Snowy Mountains scheme has diverted nearly all the water from the Snowy River above the confluence with the Mowamba River. This bill restores a significant amount of the natural flow to the Snowy Mountains rivers. Once fully implemented, it is expected that the bill will increase the flow of the Snowy River to 21 per cent of its annual natural flow. A further stage of implementation will occur on the 10th anniversary of the implementation of the agreement, which will restore up to 28 per cent of the natural annual flows. So here is an example of decade-long, generational thinking. In addition, the amendments will work towards achieving the environmental objectives of the heads of government agreement.

A series of effects will flow so that the four particular goals will be implemented. Firstly, it will help to improve the river water temperatures for natural species by increasing the flow, which, in turn, should allow for a slight decrease in the water temperature. Secondly, there is the objective of better channel maintenance and sediment removal. Again, if you remove sediment, a greater flow allows for greater fish life development. Thirdly, there are improved dispersion opportunities for species that need to travel up and down the river. In essence, with a greater flow of water, the capacity for those species which are in some way migratory to live, to move, to breathe—to carry out all of those elements which are necessary for them to thrive—is present in greater measure. Finally, it has a very simple effect: it enhances the natural beauty of both the river and the surrounding regions by providing more water, which has an impact not only on the greenery but also on water levels. So the bill is important in all of those simple objectives.

I want to finish by examining briefly the core provisions of the bill. The amended clause 132 of the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement Bill provides that the allocation of water from the Snowy scheme will be determined by the Murray-Darling Basin Commission. So it gives power to the Murray-Darling Basin Commission. In addition, the new schedule G sets out the water provision requirements for Snowy Hydro Ltd. Item 20 sets out the guidelines for the release that the Murray-Darling Basin Commission will be able to make and ensures smooth progress of the changes.

Firstly, it states that the ministerial council must formulate a strategy for the implementation of the increased flows; so there is a process of recognising the rights of the different users and the timings for the environmental flows. Secondly, it provides that the strategy must promote native biodiversity and encourage the health of the river systems themselves. Thirdly, it also works towards a guarantee that environmental benefits will result from the strategy. This bill works towards that end by committing significant resources to the sustainability of the Murray-Darling's future.

Ultimately, the Murray-Darling Basin Amendment Bill is one part of the approach to dealing with Australia's water resources. I have argued that, in dealing with the 70 per cent of water which exists within the rural sphere and is consumed for rural purposes, it plays an important role. But at a national level, in order to bring together the common interests and needs of people across all of the states, we need to work towards a national water policy—a water policy where the Commonwealth helps coordinate a framework. I think the states have failed to act as users with a common set of interests and have succumbed to the problem of the prisoner's dilemma where, in pursuing their own interests, they damage the common interest of all. As a consequence of that, the Commonwealth needs to play that role so that we have a national water policy which deals with the rural needs and a national ocean outfall strategy which deals with the urban needs.

I think this bill is an important step forward. There is still much to be done. I commend the bill to the House and I am delighted to support the amendments in the Murray-Darling Basin Amendment Bill.