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Tuesday, 14 August 2007
Page: 102

Mr MELHAM (8:01 PM) —The Labor Party has a proud history of leadership in the matters of water policy specifically and environmental issues more broadly. It is a travesty that it has taken this government over 10 years to show an interest in and to take action on a matter that is so critical to our nation. From statements made by the government, it is apparent that the government still does not understand the link between climate change and our dwindling water supply. There can be no doubt that climate change will directly impact on water supply, temperature and the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

For Australia, the key climate change impact will be on our water supply. There will be less rainfall and increased evaporation. Water problems will intensify in southern and eastern Australia over the next 20 to 30 years. There can be no argument, even from the sceptics, that climate change has created worsening climate conditions in Australia. We are still experiencing the effects of the worst drought in the last 100 years. Our water supplies are being depleted, and there are drastic water restrictions in most cities and towns in southern and eastern Australia. Temperatures are rising, with 11 of the 12 warmest years on record occurring between 1995 and 2006. The melting of the Arctic icecaps and retreating mountain glaciers are contributing to rising sea levels.

For Labor, water supply issues and climate change are, in reality, two sides of the same coin. Without a strategy for climate change you are not in a position to have a strategy for resolving the water crisis, and without a strategy for water you cannot really deal with climate change—and neither is able to be tackled without a long-term strategy. The Murray-Darling Basin is not coping now. We are informed by scientists that Australia as a continent will just have to get used to having less water and maximising what we do have.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will release its latest assessment of the impact of climate change on Australia later this year. The contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change on Australia and New Zealand, Climate change 2007: impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, stated:

Since 1950, there has been a 0.3ºC - 0.7ºC centigrade warming, with more heat waves, fewer frosts, more rain in north-west Australia and ... less rain in southern and eastern Australia and ... an increase in the intensity of Australian droughts, and a rise in sea level of about 70mm.

The same report, on page 515, tells us that Australia will have up to 20 per cent more droughts over most of Australia by 2030 and up to 80 per cent more droughts by 2070 in south-western Australia. Table 11.6, on page 518, predicts that, by 2020, 60 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef, our great national and international treasure, could be regularly bleached and, by 2050, 97 per cent could be bleached.

On page 510 of the IPCC’s third assessment report, the report which precedes this one, the following impacts were assessed as important for Australia:

  • Water resources are likely to become increasingly stressed ... with rising competition for water supply;
  • Warming is likely to threaten the survival of species in some natural ecosystems, notably in alpine regions, south-western Australia, coral reefs and freshwater wetlands;
  • Regional reductions in rainfall ... are likely to make agricultural activities particularly vulnerable;
  • Increasing coastal vulnerability to tropical cyclones, storm surges and sea-level rise;
  • Increased frequency of high intensity rainfall …

The third assessment report concluded that a significant vulnerability in climate change is to be expected in Australia over the next 100 years. The report from Working Group II for the fourth assessment report commented specifically on the Murray-Darling Basin, on page 516. The report indicated that the Murray-Darling Basin currently accounts for about 70 per cent of irrigated crops and pastures. It predicts that:

Annual streamflow in the Basin is likely to fall 10-25% by 2050 and 16-48% per cent by 2100.

Labor governments over the past 60 years have taken the initiative to resolve national challenges to our water supply, as well as increasing awareness of broader environmental issues, including climate change. It was the Whitlam government which took the active role in urban and water infrastructure in the mid-1970s. The government ensured that the outer suburbs of Sydney and other growth areas of our cities had sewerage and other basic water services. One of the first actions of the new Whitlam government was the establishment of the River Murray Working Party in 1973. This was the first time a government had begun to take serious action in relation to water quality and salinity. The Hawke government, under the leadership of Brian Howe, ensured urban renewal and revitalised our cities. It was Labor which delivered regular water supply and services to many urban areas. The Keating government initiated further water reform using the COAG process. So, on this side of the House, our credentials in relation to water reform are well established.

The government, however, has sat back for 10 years and watched while the Murray and Darling rivers have been dramatically reduced. ‘Climate change’ is now a phrase that is part of the vernacular. Urban water supplies are rationed through water restrictions. I acknowledge the Commonwealth’s Australian water fund, but I am appalled that in the 2006-07 budget only $77 million out of a budget of $337 million had been allocated. In January this year, the Prime Minister introduced his National Plan for Water Security. This was the announcement promising a radical and permanent change in Australia’s water management practices. The Prime Minister proposed a $10 billion package and a 10-point plan to improve water efficiency and to address overallocation of water in rural Australia. Labor supported the plan. The Water Bill 2007 deals with matters relating to the Murray-Darling Basin which arise from that announcement. While Labor supports the bill, we do, however, remain concerned that the government still has not taken any action on urban water infrastructure. A national water plan that leaves out 17 million water users must be considered to be lacking in foresight.

The Leader of the Opposition and the shadow minister for infrastructure and water announced Labor’s Water Security Plan for Towns and Cities earlier this year. Labor has taken a pragmatic approach to addressing the impact of the water crisis in our towns and cities. I recall when I was shadow minister for urban development I spoke with some of the local mayors in my electorate. I asked what were the challenges facing their local councils. Without exception they commented on the need for renewal of infrastructure, particularly the replacement of water and sewage pipes. Canterbury, Hurstville and Bankstown are all long-established communities with infrastructure to support populations living on quarter acre blocks. Today, decades later, that infrastructure is called on to support hugely increasing populations, with sometimes hundreds of people living in units and villas. These take up the space of three to four traditional quarter acre blocks supporting 12 to 15 people. The original pipe work, stormwater systems and drains are old and decaying, yet the cost of replacement infrastructure is well beyond any local council budget.

Australia has around 175,000 kilometres of water mains. Each year, 10 per cent of water is lost from urban water systems in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth alone. The National Water Commission has said that up to 30 per cent of water in water mains can be lost through leaks and burst pipes. Labor has proposed that in government it would invest in urban and rural water projects to secure our future water supply, fix leaky pipes and ensure that 30 per cent of water is recycled nationally by 2015. We would do this by working in partnership with government and local water authorities to minimise water loss; investing in modern, more efficient water infrastructure and, where appropriate, refurbishing older pipes and water systems; and providing funding for practical projects to save water.

Labor has proposed a Major Cities program that envisages a renewed role for the Commonwealth in our cities in the provision of transport, energy and communications as well as water infrastructure. This is just one aspect of the many proposals Labor has put for tackling climate change and its related manifestations. More broadly, Labor has been disappointed in the government’s lack of action in implementing the National Water Initiative, which we supported. Labor has called for Commonwealth leadership on water, the appointment of a Commonwealth minister for water, the creation of a single Commonwealth water authority, the commitment of more funds for water management and efficiency programs across Australia, the development of water trading and economic instruments to drive reform and the existing $2 billion Australian water fund to be used on practical projects. The government has to date articulated broad principles around allocating water for the environment, restoring flows to stressed rivers and water quality objectives; yet these remain general and unspecific, the current bill excepted. We must have clearer national goals, targets and benchmarks in river health, water recycling and water quality.

In 1991, the year after I entered this parliament, I spoke in a grievance debate about the quality of Labor’s vision for the future. I stated that I joined the Labor Party because it was the party of social justice and equity and of vision. I reiterate my words because they still ring true and have pertinence to this debate:

A close look at the history books will reveal that the Labor Party, at Federal and State levels, has been the party which has had the courage to make visionary decisions. The Snowy Mountains River scheme, World Heritage listing of the Franklin River and Kakadu National Park, Medicare, the provision of legal aid, the Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, greater access to higher education and the better incomes and retirement policy are but some of Labor’s initiatives. They are now recognised as great achievements yet were, and in some instances still are, bitterly opposed by our conservative opponents.

Only Labor has the vision and the commitment to establish the necessary projects, benchmarks and goals to ensure that this country deals with the reality of climate change. What we have proposed deals with the issue at an international level, a national level and down to the local level. It is disappointing that the National Water Initiative that was agreed to and signed at the 25 June meeting of COAG was not implemented. Australia needs a national initiative to deal with the water crisis we are facing, not just a reaction to the Murray-Darling Basin. This agreement included objectives, outcomes and agreed actions to be undertaken by governments across eight interrelated elements of water management: water access entitlements and planning framework; water markets and trading; best practice water pricing; integrated management of water for environmental and other public benefit outcomes; water resource accounting; urban water reform; knowledge and capacity building; and community partnerships and adjustment.

I commend the second reading amendment proposed by the member for Grayndler to the House which importantly notes the need to ensure the full implementation of the National Water Initiative principles agreed to in 2004. Finally, it is important to point out that, if a federal Labor government were elected, I think it would be better placed in relation to projects such as this to work cooperatively with the state and territory Labor governments. We would have a genuine partnership rather than a hectoring and lecturing federal government that tries to ride over the states.

Mr Dutton —Lap dogs.

Mr MELHAM —The minister at the table continues to interject. I think the electors of Dickson will fix him up at the next federal election. He has already had one career change. There was a change in technology in his former profession. You have videorecording of interviews with suspects, which I think get away from some of those—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Quick)—Order! I remind the member for Banks to come back to the topic, please.

Mr MELHAM —more awful practices that members of his former profession practised, using telephone books. I just say this—

Mr Dutton —You hate police. You’ve said it before in this place. You hate police.

Mr MELHAM —The minister uses a verbal. I challenge the minister. He has made the interjection, which I will not repeat and which I find offensive. Mr Deputy Speaker, through you, I challenge the minister to produce one word of what he uttered—the filthy verbal that he just uttered—in relation to me and my attitude to police, because it is not on the public record. I am entitled to correct the record. He cannot produce it. He should shut up and let me get on with my speech.

The matter before the House is supported by the opposition, but I say that Labor is better placed to do a better job. The government have run out of steam. The way they have conducted themselves in relation to these matters shows that they are only interested in bullyboy tactics. They are playing the man in each instance. It is all with an eye to politics. I suggest that the Australian people and the community will be better placed with a federal Labor government implementing plans such as this.