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Thursday, 9 December 2004
Page: 157

Mr GEORGANAS (11:31 AM) —I would like to start by saying I welcome the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Bill 2004 today because it will provide consumers with the information they need to be able to make informed purchasing decisions about water-efficient products. Introducing minimum water efficiency standards for all toilets is an excellent step, but we could do more.

This legislation is expected to save about five per cent of national domestic water use by 2021. That is 87,000 million litres or, to draw a South Australian comparison, the equivalent of more than two South Para reservoirs or almost eight Happy Valley reservoirs. In South Australia we have already had dual flush toilets in all new developments or renovations since the early eighties. But there is more to a water-efficient toilet than simply being dual flush, so I certainly welcome the introduction of a minimum standard.

Our toilet water use as a percentage of total household water use is around 11 per cent. Baths and showers use about 20 per cent and our gardens use about 40 per cent. So it is clear that, while the minimum water efficiency standards for toilets are a step in the right direction, we also need standards applied to all shower heads, taps and washing machines. If we are really serious about water conservation, these standards have to be extended to garden watering systems, hose nozzles and all other watering devices.

One does not have to look very far to see that water conservation is a massive issue for us in this country, certainly in South Australia. Just outside, there are empty garden beds surrounding Parliament House this summer because of water restrictions that are in place in the ACT. So why impose minimum water efficiency standards for toilets but stop short of that for other high water use products?

In South Australia alone, it is estimated that households could save up to 33,000 megalitres by 2025 through the uptake of water-efficient products and the recent introduction of permanent water conservation measures on outdoor water use, which for example includes a ban on hosing down paved areas. This legislation is an opportunity to tighten efficiency requirements on other household water-using products, but for some reason the government is not taking that opportunity. Given everything we know about Australia’s water resources, the decision is staggering. If the argument is that more evidence is required to justify the inclusion of these other products with regard to minimum efficiency standards then why not collect more evidence? Given all of the work that has already been done around the country on these issues, that ought to be a fairly straightforward process, and I do not believe it would take very long at all.

Nationally, showers account for about 29 per cent of indoor household water use; toilets and washing machines, each about 26 per cent; and taps, around 18 per cent. So why are there minimum water efficiency standards on toilets but not on shower heads and washing machines? I can only assume that, during the industry consultation, industry said that they could cop standards on toilets but not on anything else. Given this country’s circumstances, industry objections to standards—if there are any—are not a good enough reason to back away from implementing measures which would help save our water resources.

Australians are more than ready to accept the necessity for this change. In South Australia last year, restrictions, followed by the introduction of permanent water conservation measures, led to a fall in water consumption of 14 per cent. So although it can be a hassle to have to water the garden early in the morning or late at night or to set your watering system so it does not water every day, people do understand how important it is. As consumers, they would accept that the products available need to be ones that will help reduce water consumption.

South Australians tend to be more acutely aware that there is no time to waste when it comes to water conservation. My colleague the shadow minister for regional development, Kelvin Thomson, has previously pointed out that if nothing is done to stop the decline of the Murray the drinking water in Adelaide will not meet the World Health Organisation guidelines for two days out of five by the year 2020. That is just 16 years away and it will come round sooner than the estimated five per cent water saving from this legislation will. Unfortunately, that estimate cannot factor in the unknown consequences of climate change on our water supplies and there are some in the scientific community who are concerned that climate change is happening far more rapidly than we had previously anticipated. Literally, as we debate this bill the health of the river continues to decline. The economic fallout if we allow that to continue is unfathomable.

Our other water resources in South Australia are also in trouble. In the Adelaide Hills, flows to the reservoirs have been reduced because of increasing competition between agricultural, domestic and industrial users. Furthermore, development in the catchment area has led to an increased level in pollution, which threatens the quality of water and the biodiversity of our creeks and rivers. Our ground water is already fully allocated, leaving no way to expand agricultural businesses. Ironically, in the electorate of Hindmarsh urban consolidation has contributed to an increase of incidences of flooding. There are times when people in parts of the electorate find themselves knee deep in water. In the driest state in the driest country it is hard to understand how this can happen. We need to capture it before it fills up our streets on its way to the sea. Stormwater run-off sends nutrients and other pollutants pouring into the Gulf St Vincent.

The Waterproofing Adelaide report, A thirst for change, says that about 160,000 megalitres of stormwater and surface water flow into the gulf each year. So while reducing our water use is essential, finding ways to harness other water sources will also make an enormous difference. A thirst for change estimates that improvements in our capacity to use stormwater and rainwater over the next 20 years will mean that we will be able to use about 20,000 megalitres a year. Currently, we capture between just 3,000 and 5,000 megalitres a year. That actually makes South Australia a leader in stormwater reuse.

Morphettville racecourse, which is in the electorate of Hindmarsh, captures stormwater and then uses it for irrigation. More of our open parkland areas will need to be able to do this if we are to become a truly water wise country. Another opportunity lies in reusing waste water. The nutrients in treated waste water make it very effective for irrigation. Currently, waste water reuse in South Australia is around 14,000 megalitres but A thirst for change estimates that figure could grow to 30,000 megalitres over the next two decades, which again would decrease water flow into the Gulf St Vincent.

It is quite clear that there is not enough water to go around and yet this legislation does not as an urgent priority place minimum water efficiency standards on any product other than toilets. Even though we support the legislation, is a great shame that this government is not trying to achieve more significant water savings than five per cent and far sooner than 2021.