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Tuesday, 14 August 2007
Page: 19

Mr CREAN (1:51 PM) —I rise to speak in this debate on the Water Bill 2007 because of the significance of this issue, to indicate that, whilst we support this bill, we believe it does not go far enough and to try to give some assistance to this government as to where it needs to go from here. Water is the lifeblood of any nation, and you, Mr Speaker, in your electorate would fully understand that. The vastness of our nation and its system of governance demands that we have a national approach to not just reviving our scarce water resources but also sustaining them into the future. Despite the challenge that this government has had with the worst drought in recorded history in this country, and the significance of that, it has only been within the last 12 months that this government has become slightly serious about addressing the problems of water, its supply and its sustainability. It has never understood the problem and it has never sought to address it properly and in a lasting way. Only now, belatedly in its term of office, does the government begin to deal with it. Like on so many other issues, this government has been behind the eight ball. Whether it is the question of climate change, of connecting our nation with fast speed broadband or of water, what has really been the hallmark of this government’s period in office is the fact that it has squandered the opportunity presented to it. This nation is going through its longest most prosperous run in economic history, the basis for which was laid by a Labor government. This government has squandered the opportunity to invest in and secure the future for this nation.

The second reading speech of the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources is very instructive. In the final paragraph of the speech he says:

This Water Bill is the first water reform program introduced into this parliament in 106 years.

It of course is not. It certainly is the first thing that they have done in their 11 years of office, but let me remind the House of what Labor did in relation to water when it was in office over the previous 13 years. It was Labor that led the way with the historic partnership between governments and the community with the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement in 1987. That agreement was revised in negotiations involving me, as the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy at the time. There was a new agreement in relation to the Murray-Darling Basin and new legislation—an act of parliament was introduced and passed in 1993.

At the time, Queensland was not a full member of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission or of the initiative or of the agreement. It became so in 1996, but Labor, during the operation of that agreement, ensured that Queensland was always involved in the deliberations of the council. They were in 1987, 1992 and 1993. It was Labor that also, as a result of the agreement, established the Murray-Darling Basin Commission. It was Labor at the federal level that established Landcare in 1989—the greatest grassroots-led movement in the world to address natural resource management and land degradation, and it involved, in partnership, community activist groups in identifying the opportunities and their solutions. Of course, it was an agreement that was supported by the National Farmers Federation and the environmental movement—the member for Kingsford Smith was involved at the time. Labor was able to bring all of those groups together and develop a grassroots-led movement to come to grips with solutions.

It was also Labor in 1992 that negotiated the first ever national drought policy. I happened to be the primary industries minister at the time, and I undertook those negotiations. I had to negotiate with hostile state governments. With the exception of Queensland, not one of them was a Labor government. Yet, just as with Landcare, we were able to overcome the difficulties and negotiate a lasting agreement with the other side of politics. That is not the hallmark of this government when it comes to this water policy. It has botched the negotiations, and I will come to that a little later.

It was Labor that introduced national drought policy, and it was also Labor that drove national water reform commitments in the historic bipartisan 1994 COAG accord on water, its allocation and its sustainability. That was the Labor way. Again, I was involved in that COAG meeting. Again, it was Labor having to negotiate with Liberal state governments. We were sitting at the table with the Fahey Liberal government, the Brown Liberal government in South Australia and the Kennett Liberal government in Victoria. We had the Goss government, and the Leader of the Opposition, who was then the Chief of Staff to the then Premier Goss, was also involved in those COAG negotiations. And we had Rosemary Follett and the Labor government here in the ACT. But Labor understands what it means to negotiate with the other side of politics. We actually believe in bipartisanship and carry it out. This government mouths the words, but it cannot give effect to them.

I go through that to indicate the fact that, when the minister—and he is not in here at the moment—says that this is the first real effort at water resources management by a federal government in 106 years, he is wrong. Labor not only showed the way when we were in office; we continued it in opposition. I remind the House of this, because I was Leader of the Opposition at the time: I proposed in this chamber in my budget speech in reply the establishment of Riverbank—you might remember it—to be a bank for the purposes of investing in the infrastructure of this nation to save water and to take those savings and put them back into environmental flows. We also proposed the environmental flow trust, which was to be an independent body for the purposes of taking from Riverbank the savings and putting them back into environmental flows. That was a Labor initiative in 2003. We proposed bipartisan support at the time, Prime Minister. We proposed that to you to pick up, and you ignored it. Just imagine how much further down the track we could have been today if that initiative had been embraced. They talk bipartisanship but they do not mean it; it is only Labor that has been committed to this process and only Labor that will deliver.

The SPEAKER —Order! It being 2.00 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 97. The debate may be resumed at a later hour and the member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.