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Thursday, 9 December 2004
Page: 144

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (10:31 AM) —I rise with great pleasure today to talk about the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Bill 2004. One of the main objectives of this bill is to conserve water supplies by reducing water consumption, and that is the responsibility of all Australians. It should not just be sectioned out; it is for all of us to consider. The other objectives are to provide information to purchasers of water use products and to promote the adoption of efficient and effective water use technology—something I certainly want to talk about in my contribution today. We all share in the responsibility to use water more efficiently. We talk about Australia being the driest continent on earth. The fact is that the water that we have today is the water we will have in the future. We do not and will not have any more water than we have today, unless we look at other options such as the desalination of the ocean waters surrounding this great island continent.

This is not just an issue for rural dwellers; it is not just an issue for people on the land. Representing a rural electorate as I do, I often get rather upset at those who seem to shift the blame to farmers as being the villains in so many areas of water consumption in Australia. Many of our farmers are taking up new technologies and using greater efficiency measures with the water that they have, which is the lifeblood of their enterprises. It is for all of us to consider. I think we have to be in partnership with our city and urban dwellers and with our industries, whether they are mining, industries in our cities or the great sporting fields and golf courses that are being built day to day around Australia. We all share in the responsibility to make sure that we use water efficiently now and in the future, to make sure that it is sustainable in the long term.

One of the great challenges in Queensland is the growth of the population in the south-east corner. I am delighted to have with me in the Main Committee today the member for Blair. He and I share a common vision of the waste water in the south-east corner being shared, rather than what is happening to it now—being pumped into Moreton Bay, which is going to create a significant environmental problem in the future. I will talk a little bit more about that later.

One of the proposals that was worked on by the Page Research Centre was about the involvement of local government in this responsibility of using water more efficiently. Water today does have a value. Once upon a time I think the perception was that water came out of a tap and it had no value. And it was treated that way. We in this parliament have probably all seen it that way from time to time—we have turned the tap on to clean our teeth and just let it run because we thought it had no value and it has an endless source. But it has a very real value.

The Page Research Centre, which I was working with, released a paper on the way local governments price water to their consumers. Various methods are used by local governments around Australia to price the cost of water to their ratepayers. One of the things that I think were fairly constant, but not universal, was the fact that local governments would set a water charge to their ratepayers—which obviously included the cost of delivering the water, their infrastructure and making sure that the water meets world health standards. They are all costs which local governments deal with and, in order for them to be able to remain viable in delivering this water, they have to be able to charge their ratepayers.

One of the things that I noticed was that many local governments were charging ratepayers for an allocation of water. If those ratepayers, who are metered, went over that allocation then they would be charged excess water rates. What the governments were not doing was giving a rebate to those water users who used less than that allocation. In other words, those ratepayers who used less than the allocation that was set by the council as the allocation for their residents were actually being penalised. They were not being encouraged to use less, so they would use the allocation because they were paying for it. Those who went over the allocation paid excess water rates, but those who used less than their allocation did not get a rebate.

I would like to see local governments around Australia—and many have started to use the model that was put out by the Page Research Centre—universally start to price their water on the basis of the amount of water people use: the more people use, the more they will pay. Once again, that is an encouragement to use water more wisely and to invest in water-efficient methods around the home. In other words, instead of paying for more water because it is not being used wisely or efficiently, people invest those savings in water-efficient saving measures in and around the house.

I will now talk about a little project in my electorate that I think is innovative and shows great vision by the Dalby Town Council in the way they are now providing water to their ratepayers in the town of Dalby. For many years the town of Dalby and many communities along the Condamine-Balonne river system in my electorate have drawn their water from the Condamine River. For years and years, nearly every summer there would be water restrictions in the town. They are addressing that issue in various ways. One of them is to tap into the underground water reserves—but of course the underground water reserves in that part of Queensland carry too much salt for domestic consumption. So they have invested in reverse osmosis technology—in other words, they are cleaning the water and removing the salts carried in that water so that it can be used within the township of Dalby. That has certainly been a great cost to them, and I acknowledge that they have had some financial support from the state government of Queensland to invest in this reverse osmosis technology. It is not new technology—it has been around for years—but every year the technology improves. That technology is something that can also obviously be used along the eastern seaboard and all around our nation to meet some of our requirements for water.

I commend the Dalby town council for their investment in the reverse osmosis plant. It now provides something like 30 per cent of the town’s water supply. By tapping into the underground water reserves, it releases water for environmental flows into the Condamine. They are replacing what they used to pump from the Condamine for the town supply with underground water that they have converted, through the reverse osmosis process, from water carrying too much salt; and that now supplies part of the town’s water needs.

It also means that there is a greater water supply available to industry. In many of our rural communities, investment in industry has been held back because there is not sufficient water. The first thing any industry would be looking at in coming to a town in the inland of Australia is what water is available. If a town is already on restrictions for much of the year for its residents, usually it finds it very difficult to encourage industry to come to the town, because it would put a greater penalty on the existing residents as the water just is not available. Lack of available water with which to encourage industry to establish in our rural communities has held back many of our rural towns.

There is another project in which I know the member for Blair would share my interest. It is one of those great visionary projects and it has been on the political agenda and the agenda of the communities of the Lockyer Valley, Toowoomba and the Darling Downs probably for 10 to 15 years. I have to commend all those—including local government, farmers and bankers—who have been involved in what was originally called Vision 2000. The year 2000 has passed us by and they have now converted to the name ‘NuWater’. I am a strong supporter of the NuWater proposal. As a group, they have been working for about 10 years now on the proposition of bringing part of Brisbane’s waste water to the Lockyer Valley and over the range to the Darling Downs.

Brisbane currently, as I understand it, produces something like 130,000 megalitres of grey water each year. With the growth in the south-east corner of Queensland, that amount is going to continue to grow to something like 180,000 megalitres of water per year in the next 20 years. Currently, nearly all of that water is just pumped into Moreton Bay. It presents an environmental hazard today, and it is going to increasingly present greater environmental hazards to beautiful Moreton Bay, around which Brisbane is built.

The proponents of NuWater are in the final stages of their engineering and economic studies. In fact, they have been a recipient of some of our Regional Partnerships money to do those economic, feasibility and engineering studies. This project is going to cost something like $500 million. The farmers, the bankers who are backing the farmers, and the industries in the Darling Downs and in the Lockyer Valley around Gatton are backing this. The amount that the banks are prepared to lend them is something like $1,000 per megalitre of water. This is not just an ask on government; these people see the need for this project and are prepared to invest heavily themselves. They have the financial backing of their bankers, and I am hopeful that, as next year progresses and as they complete the engineering and feasibility studies, they will be successful in their application for some of the $2 billion Water Fund moneys that the government announced during the federal election.

The other thing that I think is terribly important about this project is that it is a win-win situation. It is an environmental win for Moreton Bay; it is also an environmental win for the Lockyer Valley and for the sustainability of the communities that depend on agriculture in the Lockyer Valley. Also, the 85,000 megalitres that they propose to pump over the Dividing Range and into the Darling Downs will replace water that is currently drawn from the Condamine-Balonne river system on the Darling Downs. So it will release water that otherwise would have been pumped and used for farming and industry in that part of Queensland. So it will be an environmental benefit to the Condamine-Balonne, which is at the headwaters in Queensland of the great Murray-Darling Basin. There are huge environmental wins for the coastal areas, for the Lockyer Valley and west of the Dividing Range into the Condamine-Balonne river system, where the water would enter just below Toowoomba.

Mr Cameron Thompson —All the way to Adelaide.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT —Absolutely. This is a project that I, the member for Groom, the member for Blair, who is the chamber at the moment, and state members have been working on with NuWater for the last eight to 10 years. We hope that they will be successful in their application for some financial assistance under the Australian water fund. We also hope that we can get the Brisbane City Council to see the merit of this great project, because it is their water and they have to do something with it in the interests of the environment. We can see a great use for it, where the environment wins, regional Queensland wins and, of course, the Murray-Darling Basin wins.

In conclusion, piping water great distances is nothing new in this nation. There was a similar project in Western Australia over 100 years ago. I am sure the member for Hasluck, who has just joined us here, will remind us all of that great project, which took water from Perth over 300 miles—I will be corrected when the member for Hasluck speaks—to Kalgoorlie. This project is similar in many ways, bringing water from a coastal region into the Lockyer Valley over the Dividing Range. So it is nothing new. The engineering has been around for more than 100 years. We now have to see whether it will stack up environmentally and economically and whether the proposition is ultimately able to get the support of bankers and, more importantly for me, the member for Maranoa, the member for Blair and, I am sure, member for Groom, whether it will get the support of the Commonwealth government through the Australian water fund. We want to see what is a dream for so many of us become a reality in the next 12 months because of the reasons I have outlined in my contribution today.