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Thursday, 29 November 2012
Page: 14008

Mr GIBBONS (Bendigo) (18:01): I will be very brief; I realise people are waiting to get home. I rise to oppose this disallowance motion moved by the member for Riverina. After more than 100 years of disputes, uncertainty and confusion the federal Labor government, through the efforts of the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Minister Tony Burke, has finally achieved the reforms necessary to produce a final Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The Labor government had committed to delivering a plan that restores our rivers to health and supports strong regional communities and sustainable food production. I want to congratulate Minister Tony Burke for what can only be described as an outstanding effort in presiding over and delivering what has been one of the most difficult projects ever undertaken by any Australian government in our history. I want to refer briefly to the recent history that led us to the motion we are debating today, then deal, again briefly, with the politics that have plagued this issue and then deal with the plan in some detail.

In 1994 the Keating government brokered a COAG agreement that established the framework for Murray-Darling Basin reform that survives today—and is being modelled in other parts of the world, including the Yellow River in China. The three principles that were established in that agreement remain in place today; they are to price water, to trade water and to reserve volumes of water for the environment. The next stage was a decade later, with the National Water Initiative under the Howard government, resulting in the Living Murray program being introduced. The National Water Initiative put down the next pieces of the framework to make sure that we had an operating water market and to lay those foundations for the plan outlined by the minister this week.

The establishment of the independent Murray-Darling Basin Authority created the opportunity for widespread community consultation through a series of meetings throughout the basin by the authority after it released a first draft of a guide to a future plan for the MDB. I want to emphasize that this was a draft of a guide towards establishing a future plan for the MDB. Those public consultations turned into a farce because the coalition MPs who represent Murray-Darling Basin electorates deliberately went about attempting to sabotage the consultation process. In most instances they tried to incite riots at the public meetings to create anger directed at the federal Labor government, when it was the independent Murray-Darling Basin Authority that was responsible for developing the guide. And of course they neglected to mention the Howard government's role in considerably boosting the prospects of the Murray-Darling Basin reform by introducing the National Water Initiative and the Living Murray program. They also neglected to mention that most of the Murray-Darling Basin coalition MPs, being relatively long-serving MPs, voted for the Howard government's program that was an important part of the much-needed Murray-Darling Basin reforms we have today.

The hypocrisy on display by the coalition leaves me breathless. They deliberately set about causing considerable distress among the basin communities by distorting the facts and hiding from the fact that most of them voted for the Howard government's reforms. Those MPs now find themselves in a real quandary. You see, they hate Labor's Murray-Darling Basin reforms so much, they are actually going to vote for them. After almost causing riots during the consultation period by doing their level best to create a frenzy of fear and hatred against the federal Labor government, they will now vote for these important reforms. It is going to be very interesting to see how they explain this hypocrisy to their individual Murray-Darling Basin communities.

The Gillard government supported the establishment of three inquiries by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Regional Australia, which the previous speaker referred to. The original terms of reference sought to provide an opportunity for Murray-Darling Basin communities and industry to provide their input direct to parliamentarians from all sides of the chamber. The three inquiries were very capably chaired by the member for New England, Mr Tony Windsor, who played an important role in facilitating engagement by all stakeholders, offering practical solutions, providing feedback to government on the views of the community and industry, and informing the public debate on the plan.

My electorate of Bendigo—and the City of Greater Bendigo—is the largest regional population centre in the Murray-Darling Basin, and I was pleased to participate in three Murray-Darling Basin inquiries, first as a volunteer co-opted member, then for the next two inquiries as the deputy chair of the committee. While most MPs and senators were enjoying a well-earned break in January 2011, the committee was touring most of the Murray-Darling Basin communities, participating in inspections and conducting public hearings.

The key matters that were identified by the work of the regional Australia committee, now known as the Windsor committee, included the development of the sustainable diversion limit adjustment mechanism; prioritising infrastructure investment ahead of water buyback; moving to a more strategic approach to water purchase; and the establishment of the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office, with its focus on the water needs of environmental assets, scientific and engineering expertise, transparency and accountability, and community engagement in watering decisions. Other significant matters raised by the committee included the taxation treatment of government grants for irrigation infrastructure; the opportunity of engineering solutions to enable more efficient use of environmental water; and the value of investing in further efficiencies to be gained in irrigation infrastructure both on and off the farm.

I do not think I need to go too much further. I know people are waiting to get away—I know I am. I thank the House for the opportunity of opposing this motion. I understand why the two movers are doing it. I know the member for Riverina was not around in the days when the—

Mr Katter: Three, thank you.

Mr GIBBONS: There is no doubt about the member for Kennedy. Always a very entertaining speaker and I really enjoy his performances. Unfortunately, I am not going to try and emulate him. I was pleased to be able to make a small role in helping the government deliver these important reforms, these historic reforms. I know future generations will look back on this and say: thank goodness that parliament, that party, that government had the guts to do it.