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Thursday, 29 November 2012
Page: 13997

Mr KATTER (Kennedy) (17:11): I move the motion on the Notice Paper standing in my name:

That the Basin Plan, made under the Water Act 2007 and presented to the House on 26 November 2012, be disallowed.

The story of the Murray-Darling started with the South Australians who, quite rightly, were very, very worried. And the naughty boys—and I want to name the member for Mayo, who said I am mad as a coconut, and I want to put that on record—

Mr Briggs: Crazy as a coconut, actually.

Mr KATTER: Sorry, he said, 'Crazy as a coconut.' But, at the end of my career, I can say that we won the science prize for Australia. I have two books, still on the reading lists at university, about me, and I have one by Germaine Greer which is highly flattering as well. He may have some books about him; I do not know. I have published a history book which has sold over 17,000 copies in Australia. And I kept within CPI when I had budgetary responsibilities; I had enough money to build 400 houses and we built over 2,000. So I hope that, if I am 'mad as a coconut', as the member for Mayo says—

Mr Briggs: Crazy as a coconut! Come on!

Mr KATTER: He said, 'Crazy as a coconut'—the man is very long on invective and very low on intellectual content. But I would say that, at the end of his career, he can look back and reflect upon his achievements and maybe they will be comparable to mine. I hope that they are.

The South Australian government was very, very worried and South Australians were very, very worried because more and more water was being taken. I was in a government that handed out some 200,000 megalitres to Cubbie Station—one single user. Quite frankly, on reflection, that was not good. The South Australians quite rightly said, 'How much more are these people going to take out of the Murray-Darling?' So they started a massive campaign of fear, and they were quite right in being fearful—very right in being fearful. This metastasised into a salinisation issue, where the Australian newspaper ran article after article about trees dying from salinisation.

It is true that the water in the Murray-Darling, by the time it reaches the river mouth, has been used some eight times for agriculture—arguably, nine times. What happens is: you put the irrigation water on, it goes through the ground, it hits an impervious layer and then it moves sideways. When it moves sideways, invariably it will end up somewhere back in the basin. That is different, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, from your and my area, where it goes down forever, down to the top of the artesian aquifer at 1,400 feet and then eventually drifts out into the Gulf of Carpentaria. But this aquifer is used again and again, and hence there is greater salinity at the bottom of the basin now than there was before we started irrigation.

So the second issue that arose was salinity. Then what happened was that we had a drought. People say this drought was of monumental proportions, but those of us who are familiar with our country's history know that it was nowhere near as big as the Federation drought; it rained very, very little in Australia between 1884 and 1914. That terrible calamity spawned, amongst other things, the labour movement in Australia, though I will not go sideways into that.

I do not wish to reflect at all upon the member for Murray but she was in this House when her government removed 20 per cent of the whole economy of the Murray-Darling Basin. With all due respect—and I am very pleased to see her taking the position she is taking now—I have to be a little bit cynical and sceptical. When we rang up the Liberal Party on Monday, as we did, and asked what they were intending to do about the regulations, we were informed that there was nothing in the pipeline. In good faith, I rang the member for Riverina and asked the member whether he could join with me in moving some action on this. I make the point that nothing had happened until I made the telephone call out of desperation, because we have only 13 days left in which to act on this matter. I rushed into the House that night—I could not do anything the next morning—and acted in good faith. But you have to ask: why are these people suddenly talking about this? They were the government that removed the 20 per cent. If the orchards are dead and the vineyards are dead, who is responsible for this? The ALP government have not been responsible in the sense that all they have done is continue to implement the program which was legislated by the LNP in this place.

I went to Mildura and, at a public meeting there of about 100 people, I said: 'I thought it was one in 10 vines and orchards that were closed,' and they said, 'No, it was closer to one in five.' The honourable member for Murray has said that there are 200 empty shops in Shepparton. I am told there are 85 shops empty in Mildura and almost as many in Griffith. In Deniliquin, the real estate agent there told me that normally they have 60 or 70 houses for sale and now they have over 155 for sale. I presume there are not a lot of buyers. Who is responsible for this? Are the penguins in Antarctica responsible for this? Why are those vineyards dead? And why are the citrus orchards dead? The honourable member over there, the member for Mayo, will call me crazy as a coconut, so I will help him out because obviously he would not know why they are dead.

Mr Briggs: I grew up there, you dope!

Mr KATTER: Why are they dead? Why are they dead? Why are they dead?

Mr Briggs: If you're so smart, you should know all this.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): Order!

Mr KATTER: Mr Deputy Speaker, I have asked him three times why the orchards are dead. Mr Deputy Speaker, I will tell you why he does not know why they are dead.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The member for Kennedy will not ask a question across the chamber to a member. The member for Mayo will allow the member for Kennedy to be heard in a silence.

Mr KATTER: Mr Deputy Speaker, I will tell you why the member for Mayo will not answer the simple question that I asked him three times—why are the citrus orchards dead; why are the vineyards dead?—it is because his government, the LNP, took the dollar from 52c up to 90c, with ridiculously high interest rates, which this government has continued, I might add. And, fairly typically, we have had a five per cent interest rate versus 0.3 per cent. So I point out to the House that the reason he would not answer the question of why the vineyards and orchards are dead when I asked him three times is that he knows it was his government that allowed the citrus in from Brazil. His government, the LNP, allowed citrus from Brazil into Australia, and it destroyed his industry and closed down those orchards. I suspect, though I do not know, that he also knows the vineyards were closed because the deputy leader of his LNP, Mr Truss, allowed the grapes in from California, which had Pierce's disease, I might add. So he knows—or maybe he does not: he is either ignorant or a coward, one of the two—that his government closed those orchards and those vineyards.

This government had an inquiry, and it was quite clear from the inquiry that Woolworths and Coles had moved from 50.5 per cent up to close to 70 per cent in a period of seven or eight years. The government opted to do absolutely nothing about it. So we were left with only two people to sell our grapes and citrus to. Needless to say, the price they paid us was not very much.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The member for Kennedy might come back to his motion, which is that the Basin Plan made under the Water Act, presented to the House on 26 November, be disallowed. He should address his motion before the House. I am giving plenty of latitude. I am asking the member for Kennedy to address his remarks to his motion before the House to do with the Basin Plan.

Mr KATTER: If I were to say those vineyards are dead because the LNP removed 20 per cent of the water, that would not be entirely true. Please God, when I come into this House I try to be as honest as I can. I think a lot of people here try to be as honest as they can. But when I come here I do not want to say that all of those vineyards and orchards are dead simply because of the removal of 20 per cent of the water. The reason they are dead is also that these products are being allowed in from other countries. Apples have just been allowed in by this government, but they are $9. So not all of the reasons for the collapse of agriculture throughout the Murray-Darling area are attributable to the cutbacks in the basin.

On top of the dollar being doubled by government action, the fact that other countries have 41 per cent support levels when we have only 4½ per cent, Woolworths and Coles, and allowing risky product into this country, the LNP government took 20 per cent of our entire economic base out from underneath us.

Dr Stone interjecting

Mr McCormack interjecting

Mr KATTER: Those are not my figures; they are your figures. They are, in fact, the figures of the LNP government of the day. They said, 'We are taking three million megalitres away; that is our target'—that is what Mr Turnbull said—'and we should be able to do two million megalitres within the next three, four or five years.' This government came in and continued to implement that policy.

I thank the members for Riverina and Murray, belated as it is. It would appear nothing was done—that is what I was told—until I rang up the member for Riverina and they found out that they were under serious competitive pressure with an election coming up. But I will give them the benefit of the doubt and say they have seen the light. I thank them for seeing the light.

But the new government that came in have said that they are going to take an extra 15 per cent away. As I have said on many occasions before, this is the greatest accomplishment of the Australian people. The Murray-Darling Basin feeds and clothes the Australian people. These are two dusty, old rivers—the Murrumbidgee and the Murray—whose riverbeds have often been dry throughout their history. These two lazy, sleepy, dusty old rivers were suddenly turned into two giant irrigation canals by a great scheme called the Snowy Mountains project.

I come into this place with passion. I have said before, even though I do not want to promote my book too much, that people should attend to my book, which is about the history of Australia. Quite rightly, any history of Australia should contain—indeed, a 10th of the book should be about it—the greatest accomplishment of the Australian people. That accomplishment was turning those two sleepy, dusty, dry old river beds into two great irrigation canals which drought-proofed nearly a 10th of the surface area of Australia. Not only did they drought-proof nearly a 10th of the surface area of Australia but they also feed and clothe some 20 million people.

The scheme provides nearly 10 per cent of the peak load base power in Australia. When I handed over the electricity industry in Queensland I was very proud to hand over to the ALP the cheapest electricity industry in the world; our electricity charges were the cheapest in the world. That is how Queensland got the aluminium industry. We have been able to restrain the growth of electricity charges to some small degree because 10 per cent of the peak load power in Australia is still controlled at this point in time by the government. But that is not thanks to this parliament. The two mainstream parties in this place decided to sell the Murray-Darling. I am sorry that the member for Riverina and the member for Murray are attached to a party that decided to sell the Murray-Darling. Someone would own it and they could charge you whatever they liked for water—after all, they would own it. They would have owned the peak load power generator for Australia and they would have been able to charge what they liked. We know that there has been a consistent and absolutely unconscionable increase of 10 per cent in our electricity charges each year since corporatisation took place under the free market policies of the ALP and the LNP.

This place attempted to sell the Murray-Darling. I will tell you why the sale was stopped. The sale was stopped because the ordinary people—the people referred to by the member for Riverina—rose up in righteous anger. But they only had three members who they could count on to reverse that decision: the member for New England, the member for Kennedy and the member for Calare. And two of us are not even from the Murray-Darling Basin. The people representing it were quite happy to see it sold off to the highest bidder.

Mr Windsor: Not the current member for Calare.

Mr KATTER: Not the current member for Calare, no; the late Peter Andren. We moved in this parliament to force the issue. This week I rang the member for Riverina in an attempt to not force the issue, embarrass him or embarrass the Liberal Party. I rang him up to find out whether he was intending to do anything or whether he was going happily see another 15 per cent taken away. Jack McEwen led a party and he told you Liberals, 'You bring down the dollar, I'll bring down the government.' And they did. Menzies sat out in the cold for eight years. And he learnt his lesson. From then on, when Jack cracked the whip Robert Menzies jumped. That is a matter of historical public record. Would to heaven we could recreate that power system in this place—that is what we are trying to do. When you are under serious threat you will suddenly to decide to oppose this.

I want to ask the member for Murray something. She has been a good member insofar as she has had the courage to speak up on dairy deregulation, which her government and the ALP were the architects of, so I do not want to be disrespectful to her. But what use was her speaking up to us? The price of milk went from 59c down to 42c. We want arbitration the same as the workers in Australia enjoy. That is a quote from the great Jack McEwen.

I speak here with sincerity. I passionately wrote in my book not only about the great Snowy Mountain project, the greatest accomplishment of the Australian people, but also about Les Thiess, who built that great asset of the Australian people. As a political force in this country—and a rising political force, as you can see from what is coming out of Queensland—we are determined to ensure that the two million megalitres that have been taken off us is returned. Yes, the member for Murray said that there are a number of things that can be done. Of course there are; there are two dozen things that could be done. But the two things that should never, ever have been done is for the Liberal Party and the National Party to have taken that 20 per cent of our economic base off us and for the ALP to have now taken another 15 per cent off us. They are things that should never have been available to this place.

To those who come in here now and start fighting, I suppose I could say, 'Better late than never.' But I tell you what: if I and a whole stack of us dropped dead tomorrow, she'll be back to square one again—you can count upon that. But we are not dropping dead. We will be out there. Please God, we will be able to keep the pressure on to restore the economics of those areas. They are not totally accountable to the 20 per cent, but you cannot take 20 per cent of the economy out from under a town and still that town stand upright. And it was the LNP that did that, not the ALP. But the ALP is taking another 15 per cent. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Is the motion seconded?