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Monday, 11 February 2013
Page: 772

Dr STONE (Murray) (11:26): I begin my remarks by commending the member for Riverina for putting forward this most important motion, which commemorates 100 years of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area being established. I think it is a little ironic that Labor have run out of speakers—they have no-one to speak to this motion right now. One of their objections to the motion is that it is to remind the Prime Minister of her commitment—so called—to 'strengthen irrigation'. She stated this on 3 May 2012. We can see their level of commitment by the fact they do not even have any more speakers to this motion in the House.

I call on the Prime Minister to get serious about irrigated agriculture, because it is under extreme threat at the moment, compounded by the Murray-Darling Basin Plan but also by the carbon tax, which makes it prohibitive for anyone to use electricity or diesel, as our irrigators do. It puts an additional cost onto anyone trying to produce value for money when it comes to irrigated agriculture. Of course, this government is standing by, watching the dollar at current values make our exports non-competitive. It is standing by as we see labour prices going through the roof. Labour prices are exacerbated by the Labor government's failure to understand how penalty rates can kill off an industry which does not run nine to five, five days a week.

Irrigated agriculture covers less than 0.5 per cent of land across Australia, but on that 0.5 per cent of land we produce 28 per cent of the total gross value of all agricultural production. That statistic speaks for itself. If that statistic reflected the comparative value of the automotive industry in Australia, or of some other propped-up industry that the Labor government prefers, then we would all be celebrating—but no. It is 0.5 per cent of land that, with irrigation, is producing nearly one-third of the gross value of agricultural production.

I am shocked at what is happening in particular to irrigated agriculture in Victoria. As I celebrate with the member for Riverina the 100 years of the MIA, I point out that irrigation in Victoria began in 1886, some 30 years before it began in New South Wales. The irrigated agricultural area now managed by Goulburn-Murray Water involved a unique engineering feat which made use of gravity to take water from the south to the north, ultimately draining into the Murray River. It set about creating a densely populated great northern plains region in Victoria with irrigated dairy and fruit growing, supporting in turn some 23 food factories. Food manufacturing is, of course, extremely important in multiplying employment prospects in regional Australia. We now have the state-owned irrigation system managed by Goulburn-Murray Water trumpeting the fact that we have gone down from the 1,900 gigalitres of water that was available for irrigation before 2007. Now we are down to 1,000 gigalitres. That is a loss of 900 gigalitres and there is an expectation that we will lose even more before the business of shutting down the irrigation system is complete. The object of Goulburn-Murray Water is to reduce the size of the irrigation system by some 50 per cent. They are going to reduce—as they call it—the 'footprint' by approximately 50 per cent, pushing it back to the backbone. That means that the vast majority of landowners who are on the spurs are going to be, against their will in too many cases, converted to stock and domestic water only. That kills productivity. It kills jobs. It kills communities. It kills the very reason that we put all of that effort into fertilising, genetic diversity and development of our livestock, because there would not be any water security to make sure that at the end of the day we can finish the product off and send it to the market.

I have to say that this is a sad, sad era for irrigation in Australia. The Commonwealth government with its Murray-Darling Basin Plan has no sense of a triple-bottom-line approach. We could have had a great economic, social and environmental outcome if this government understood what was at stake and what was possible. Instead we see just attack upon attack on irrigated agriculture. Who knows where it will end—tragically in tears. I have no doubt there will be less production to meet that enormous food demand growing in the north of our region and fewer jobs in this country.

Debate adjourned.