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Thursday, 9 December 2004
Page: 147

Ms GEORGE (10:47 AM) —I come to this debate not claiming any great degree of expertise. I was very interested in the comments made by the member for Maranoa when he said, I think quite rightly, that we have grown accustomed to not placing value on water. To that I plead guilty, but I think it is a healthy sign in our community that we are becoming much more conscious of the need to conserve our natural resources. I see the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Bill 2004 as part of an ongoing education campaign to assist the community in taking actions that, at an individual level, can contribute to the conservation of one of our most precious natural resources.

I think the bill is a good start but, as our amendment indicates, it does not go as far as we would like. However, it is a good start in that it will establish a national scheme which will progressively apply water efficiency labelling requirements and minimum water efficiency standards to certain water use and water saving products. The initial emphasis will be on the labelling of those products, and I think we can take heart from the success that we have seen with the similar energy rating program. That in itself is to be welcomed. We are a little disappointed that the efficiency standards are at this stage only applied to toilets. We believe that there could have been scope for a broader application of performance standards.

One hopes that through the actions proposed in this legislation we can play our part in urging the community to take up water efficient products and appliances, for household use as well as commercial use. Through the scheme we will be able to provide information for purchases of water use products and in so doing promote the adoption of efficient and effective water use technology.

I want to pause at that point to say that what I find very interesting in what has hitherto been rather a polarised debate about issues to do with employment and environmental outcomes is that in areas like this we can actually see the potential for the creation of a whole host of new employment opportunities in the community. In time, the information we will be providing and the take-up of these more efficient water use products will help promote new ideas, new technologies, new innovation and new ways of working, and hopefully there will be a spin-off in new jobs being created to help in the environmental outcomes we are all committed to.

It is good to see the scheme is proposed to be implemented cooperatively by all levels of government. You cannot do this one-out. At the end of the day it appears from the outcomes that we are looking at that it might help to substantially reduce the usage of water and to conserve our scarce supplies. What is interesting is that the issue of water conservation is not just affecting our nation but that, as with the issue of greenhouse gas emissions and the debate we had in the House yesterday, this problem is a global one. It is very worrying for those communities that are struggling to advance their own living standards and economic development that they will be really hard hit. According to United Nations estimates, water scarcity will affect two out of every three people by 2025. Alarmingly, one hears people say that, if there were to be a war—God forbid—then it would more likely be a war about water. That is how serious the situation is becoming.

All these things are interrelated. Global warming, as everybody appreciates, could significantly harm water availability. A warmer atmosphere could lead to higher rates of evaporation, causing droughts and more severe weather. Faster run-off rates and slower infiltration of groundwater could follow. Warmer water may also promote detrimental algal blooms, which may lead to more waterborne illnesses. Ironically, as the climate heats up people will want to use more water for drinking, bathing and watering. So the interconnections are very important, and people have to have confidence that every small step that they take is a step that adds to the totality of our consciousness about the need to preserve our precious natural resources.

It is interesting that in terms of greenhouse emissions we lead the world on a per capita basis. With water it is the same: Australians are among the highest per capita consumers of water in the world. That is something that we need to be cognisant of. To the extent that this bill provides some scope for raising these issues in the public domain it is to be supported. I was alarmed in reading the background brief to this bill to see that each household uses around 350 litres a day. To that I plead guilty as well. As the member for Maranoa was saying, the lack of attributing value to water means that on many occasions we are less conscious than we ought to be about the necessity to preserve this resource. Domestic households now account for around 16 per cent of the consumption of mains supplied water in Australia. In context, it is the second largest share of mains water use after the agriculture, forestry and mining sectors. Within the home the main indoor use is showering, followed by toilet flushing and washing machines.

So at every level within the home we can act to conserve water. We need to act to conserve it because, with population growth, the demand for water is increasing by around 3.4 per cent each year. This was driven home very forcefully in my state by the worrying signals we had about the water supplies in our dams and reservoirs being at an all-time low, and there was debate in the local community about whether or not it was time to seriously think about the introduction of desalinisation plants. I think everybody out there in the community is much more mindful of this precious commodity and the fact that we need to play our part in reducing consumption and looking after this natural resource. I do commend the government for bringing this bill to the parliament. I think it is a good step. It is not the total solution to these issues, but every step contributes to the broader picture.

I want to end by saying that, in trying to raise awareness and consciousness of these issues and saying that every little step we take matters, in my own electorate Sydney Water has piloted the Shellharbour Residential Retrofit Program. It involved the installation of water-efficient devices in homes to try to introduce measures which would save water in the flushing of toilets. I was surprised that even a simple measure like this resulted in a significant decrease in water use for the households that participated in the Shellharbour Residential Retrofit Program. It was very surprising too that, even in the homes that were not retrofitted, there was a marked decrease in water use in participant households who received educational materials alone on the issue of water efficiency—although, naturally, higher savings were achieved by households that had all the available equipment installed.

I note that in recent figures released by Sydney Water there has been an average reduction of about 29 per cent through all the local government areas that draw on Sydney Water. That is heartening in itself—that the issue is being taken up at the local government level, that local government with the instrumentalities are promoting community specific programs that are having an impact.

Water, like greenhouse gas emissions, is a very substantial challenge for our nation. It is a substantial challenge also for our environment and for the principle of intergenerational equity. We have to get our water use right, not just in urban areas but also in rural areas. We need to take action on the issue of ocean outfalls, which the member for Maranoa referred to; I think that is a growing and important issue. We need to lift our water reuse and recycling levels, and reduce our demand so that we have sustainable practices in both city and country areas. Against that background, I am happy to support the legislation that is before us in this bill. As indicated in our amendment, while supporting it we do believe that the situation is getting very critical and we would have been happy to see more of a broad-brush approach in the details of the bill.