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Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Page: 13799


Mr BURKE (WatsonMinister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) (20:03): I want to sincerely thank all members of the House for their contributions to this debate. This is not an easy debate for a large number of members of parliament. Many people have very strong views represented within their electorates which they have sought to make sure they are presenting. By and large the views that have been presented on all sides of this chamber have shown a willingness from the parliament to do what has not been available within Australia for more than a century—that is, to find a way through and manage the Murray-Darling as a national system.

There are a couple of issues in debate that I should clarify for the purposes of the summing up. Firstly, this bill includes the words 'up to' with respect to the 450 gigalitres. I explained at the National Press Club and have since said here that the government's promise from when the Prime Minister first announced it was to provide the money required for450 gigalitres. The words 'up to' are included as a drafting device but were never part of the original commitment. Since then we have been trying to find a way of reflecting in legislation the exact commitment that was made. This is being circulated in an amendment which I will get to after we have dealt with the second reading.

Secondly, the issue was raised about why Menindee Lakes has been so slow, why it has not been built yet and why the work has not been done there yet. I copped a fair bit of criticism on the way through for that. The answer is simple: Barry O'Farrell unilaterally terminated the agreement on coming to office. Since then, we have talked him back to the table, and they are now fairly well advanced on putting together a significant Menindee Lakes project. The challenges with Menindee are now back on track and have been pushed very heavily by the government.

I would like to simply acknowledge, for the benefit of the record, who is present in the chamber. I am very pleased that the member for New England was the final contributor in the debate. On the work of the Windsor committee and the different reports that it has produced, I have to say that it is not as if every one of those reports has come out and I have been particularly happy with all the recommendations, but we have tried quite faithfully to follow them through. I believe that doing that has been a big part of getting to the relative level of consensus where we appear to find ourselves in the chamber today. I want to thank quite personally the member for New England for the work that he led with his committee in getting here. I do not believe that we would be in the situation throughout the parliament that we are in today were it not for the work of that committee.

Secondly, there is the member for Wentworth. I am pleased not only that he came into the chamber to make a contribution but also that he is here within the chamber itself when we are having the second reading debate. His fingerprints are all over the legislation which has formed the underpinnings of the plan. I am pleased that he is here. It is right that he is here. There are many people who share ownership of what we may well be able to achieve tonight, and the member for Wentworth is absolutely one of the key players in that.

People may be aware that the Chair of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, Craig Knowles, is present at the moment in the gallery. When I rang Craig and offered him the position, I began the conversation by saying, 'This is the best and the worst phone call you will ever receive.' When Craig agreed to take it on, it was just after the first run of meetings had happened, where there were burnings of books, which have often been described, and the levels of passion out there were absolutely at fever pitch. Craig took this on not because it was a great gig but very much because he had been in water reform since the National Water Initiative, working with John Anderson, and here was a chance to see through a very significant reform. His role has been extraordinary.

There are a number of people who very often—except for that handful of Australians who are fascinated by Senate estimates—have a fairly anonymous role. But the member for Wentworth and I were chatting a little bit earlier about the significant role in bringing this together that has been played over the years by Mary Harwood and Tony Slatyer, and I would like to acknowledge their presence in the advisers gallery, together with that of my own personal adviser, Mr Sean Halse, who over the last year has been given the easy issues in my office: Murray-Darling reform, oceans reform and the forestry issues in Tasmania! I think the role that he has played in bringing people together on a range of issues, including this one, is worthy of putting on the record.

We will have some disagreements on the amendments, but what we are about to deal with in the second reading is the principle itself. There is a question now before the House, Speaker, where we are asked the same question that has been asked of Australians for a hundred years. I really wish Henry Jones could be here. He is very ill at the moment. I spoke to him on the phone today. He is now in a personal fight for his health. If he fights that nearly half as effectively as he has fought for the health of the Murray-Darling Basin, then he has a very, very strong number of decades and centuries ahead of him. He is an extraordinary individual. I really hope that he, as well as all the people in different communities up and down the basin, is among the people who feel very proud of the fact that the parliament feels similarly to how Australians feel. Australians are sick of this one not being solved. We are too, and it is time now for the parliament to behave differently to how Australia has behaved for a century.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.