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Tuesday, 14 August 2007
Page: 80

Mrs MIRABELLA (6:28 PM) —I am very pleased to be speaking on this historic legislation. The Water Bill 2007 and the Water (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2007 implement a number of important elements of the government’s $10 billion National Plan for Water Security, which was announced by the Prime Minister prior to Australia Day this year. We have in front of us a historic opportunity to rectify many of the problems that we face in water management in Australia. I would like to thank the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources for steering this revolutionary plan.

The member for Wills had the Labor Party claiming credit for this water reform, just in the same way that they are claiming credit for our robust and successful economy. They will stop at nothing and are totally shameless, when it suits them, in claiming credit for things that they have nothing whatsoever to do with. If he is so concerned about water, then perhaps he should speak to some of his Labor mates in the Victorian parliament—but perhaps he does not have too many of those left. He spent a significant time quoting himself from previous speeches he has given but it was rather selective quoting. I suppose that he will not rush to quote himself from other sources, such as references he has written for notorious figures of the underworld, like Mokbel.

Leaving aside the member for Wills, speaking from the comfort of his electorate in the inner suburbs of Melbourne, I return to the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, who have both come to my electorate of Indi, which is in warmer climates. They have seen the Hume Dam running at four per cent capacity. The minister saw for himself the need for better management of our water system when he visited my electorate in April. He explained the benefits of the National Plan for Water Security to many hundreds of interested observers at a public meeting.

Important elements of this bill, which give effect to the National Plan for Water Security, include an independent Murray-Darling Basin Authority with enforcement powers; a basin plan which sets a cap on water systems; an environmental watering plan to coordinate management of the available water in the basin; a Commonwealth environmental water holder to manage environmental water in and out of the basin; a role for the ACCC in enforcing water market rules, as set out in the National Water Initiative; and a role for the Bureau of Meteorology in collecting and publishing information on our water systems.

As one of the Victorians speaking on this bill, it would be remiss of me not to mention the role played by the Victorian government in the development of this legislation we are debating here today. One would have to delve long and hard into the political history books to find a greater example of political bastardry than that which has occurred with Victoria’s decision to play party politics with this national plan. The plan we debate today is massively in Victoria’s best interests, and it is no secret that Victoria has some of the oldest and leakiest irrigation systems in Australia.

This is not a question of politics. This legislation is way beyond party politics. It is about the future of Australia, the sustainability of our agricultural sector, the protection of our environment and securing our water supplies now and into the future. The Minister for the Environment and Water Resources spoke today in question time about the need for long-term thinking in relation to water. That is precisely what is required, and that is precisely what this legislation is about. It is obvious that the Leader of the Opposition is incapable of this long-term thinking and is only concerned with short-term politicking. He was the bloke, let us remember, who stopped the Wolffdene Dam in 1989 when he was the de facto premier of Queensland.

I will not be letting that fact go unnoticed in my electorate, which has had enough of state government intransigence on water policy. If you want more water storage and reservoirs, do not think that this would ever occur under a federal Labor government with the current Leader of the Opposition in charge. The Victorian government, under former Premier Steve Bracks and now under John Brumby, have neglected to invest in urban and rural water infrastructure. They have simply crossed their fingers and hoped that it might rain. But that is not good enough.

Only recently, the Victorian government announced a pipeline project and a desalination plant. Both of these projects were opposed by the Labor Party in the state election campaign last year. We have had the arrogance of the recently retired Premier Bracks in saying on the announcement of the pipeline that the decision has been made and now is the time to consult. Obviously, after their victory at last year’s state election, they think they can get away with everything. We have had Premier Brumby, in his previous life as Treasurer of Victoria, go on local ABC radio in my electorate and refuse to even discuss issues as important as water and alternative plans for the water storage at Lake Mokoan.

We now see a mad scramble to invest in these types of projects to give the impression that the state government is doing something, but it may well be too late. We have discovered this week that a cashed-up water authority like Melbourne Water is using thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money to block the release of cabinet briefings on the water woes of Victoria—that is on top of today’s news that water prices in Melbourne will rise by 15 per cent from next July to fund these half-baked projects. As the Prime Minister said in his speech on 25 January this year:

Rather than investing in new infrastructure, state and local government have elected instead to constrain demand by imposing water restrictions.

This approach, where Melbourne sits on a 3a-level restriction and water is flowing to some of Melbourne’s decorative water fountains whilst rural areas have a level 4 water restriction, clearly demonstrates the need for a new approach. The old system does not work. Each of the states is in fierce competition with the others, and they are simply not able to manage their water in an effective and coordinated way.

We need to manage our water in the national interest through the Commonwealth and, in doing so, provide security for entitlements. We heard previously from the member for Gwydir. It is a privilege to have followed him in this chamber, as the member was the driving force behind the National Water Initiative, which was signed in 2004 and is one of the great visionary achievements of this government. He has also visited my electorate to speak at public meetings and to other interested groups on water. His initiative remains the blueprint for water reform in Australia, and the Water Bill 2007 and the more recently announced National Plan for Water Security will greatly enhance the policy ideals of water management and build upon those contained in the National Water Initiative. These include water access entitlements, water markets and trading schemes, water pricing and more integrated management of water for environmental and other beneficial outcomes.

As I mentioned earlier, the Victorian government want to construct a pipeline to take water from north of the Divide to Melbourne, something they explicitly promised not to do a few weeks before the last election. Now they are saying, ‘We have broken that promise so soon after the election, but trust us because we will give you water security.’ I do not think that country Victorians will be fooled by this incompetent state Labor government. The rushed announcement was made without any economic, social or environmental analysis of the cost and benefits to regional Australia or of what the long-term impact would be on the Murray-Darling Basin. Draining our water supply for Melbourne is a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. It is ill-conceived and is a poorly considered decision. Unfortunately, through this decision, the Victorian government have decreed that urban water consumption in Melbourne is more important than securing our water future and our economy in north-east and country Victoria.

Like many people in the north-east, I am deeply concerned about this proposal and its long-term consequences for our local communities and the whole Murray-Darling Basin. We have seen a state government that has not even done the hard yakka to investigate alternatives for the long-term security of Melbourne’s water. Many people who have contacted me on this matter are deeply disturbed about the effects this project will have on our towns, our tourist industries, the food bowl region, our communities and the security of our rural irrigation and water supply systems into the future.

Those of us in rural and regional areas of Victoria know from experience that the Victorian government cannot be trusted one inch on water policy. Their decisions to take water from the high-catchment farmers without compensation and to drain Lake Mokoan and the Honeysuckle Creek reservoir are cases in point. The community are galvanising into action on this matter, and we need to make a strong stand against the most recent proposal to strip us of our water security. The new Premier, John Brumby, has an obligation to listen to the people of Victoria, reverse the decision and do some of the hard work to properly investigate alternatives for Melbourne’s water.

In my closing remarks on this bill, I welcome the significant investment in water infrastructure contained in this legislation. At a recent public meeting on the Victorian government’s pipeline proposal, one motion unanimously read: ‘Stop the pipeline now. Just fix up our irrigation system.’ I am pleased to inform them that the Water Bill 2007 will indeed fix up our irrigation systems and lead to increased efficiencies and water savings. Funding of $3 billion will address overallocation in the basin, and there will be $3.55 billion available for improving off-farm distribution efficiencies to the various states, $450 million for water information, $617 million for on-farm irrigation efficiency and $70 million for a hot spots assessment, which will identify where water losses in irrigation infrastructure are occurring.

As I said in my opening remarks, this is a historic piece of legislation we are debating today. It is a pity that so much political pointscoring, particularly from Victoria, has gone on in the lead-up to today. But we have a duty to act in the national interest, and it is in the national interest that this bill is passed and its provisions start to be realised on the ground.

I am often stopped by people in the street who say: ‘If we had our time over again in the 1890s and 1900s, we would do things differently. We would start over and we wouldn’t have the states.’ Personally, I do not believe the problem is the actual existence of the states but the fact that poor visionless individuals occupy the benches of state governments. Our current state governments, particularly in Victoria, are littered with mediocrities that are ill equipped and not competent enough to deliver the basic services, policies, management and vision to take their constituencies into the future. Wise heads in the 1890s recognised that our water system should have been under federal control, but they did not win the argument on the day. But now we are presented with a historic chance to right this historical and environmental wrong. In the 21st century we should not botch our opportunity, and I commend this bill to the House.