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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 7014

Mr HUNT (Flinders) (16:34): It gives me great pleasure to support the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Amendment (Scheme Enhancements) Bill 2012—in particular because this builds on an initiative that the coalition brought into being. In 2005 the coalition government created the world's first national scheme of its kind, providing for water efficiency labels on water products such as shower heads, washing machines, toilets, dishwashers and taps, among other things. My recollection is that I had the privilege of being able to introduce the legislation into this very chamber, albeit from the other side of the table. The important thing about the star rating scheme is that it gives consumers the ability to understand, to make choices and to work out what the impact of their purchasing decisions will be on their water consumption. That objective was a good one then, it remains a good one now, and this bill completes that work. So we are supportive of that.

I put this bill into a particular context. It has been part of a dramatic change in the approach to water use over the last decade. It began with the work of John Anderson—and I want to give him credit for that—the now gone Peter Cullen, and many others who helped. To the extent that I was able to play a small role in that process of bringing the issue of water to the federal jurisdiction, that is a source of great joy and pride. In particular, it was the previous government that put into place an approach—a Murray-Darling Basin Plan—which set up the future. Unfortunately, the ball has largely been dropped by a government which at present has sought to grandstand rather than to deliver. We put in place the $10 billion plan, which still sees enormous quantities of funds which were to have been expended on replumbing rural Australia—on water efficiency on a grand scale—waiting in escrow to be applied to purpose.

I look at the Murray Irrigation Area. I look at the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. I look at programs in south Queensland, in the tributaries and headwaters of the Darling, which could have been advanced but which have not been advanced. I look at the Menindee Lakes and see that the beginnings contained within the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Act of the day have not necessarily been followed through with the vigour that they should have been in terms of the grand water efficiency schemes which would have had an impact on the carrying capacity and the water efficiency of the Murray-Darling Basin.

Having said that, let me note that what this bill does is make relatively minor amendments to the WELS Act to allow the minister to determine more of the scheme's details, particularly those relating to registration of products and cost recovery. It means the minister, with the fiat of the states, can act at a national level without reference and without having to make changes to, all up, as many as nine different acts. It is a sensible approach, entirely in line with what was put into being from the outset.

The broader context of this particular bill and the predecessor act is about consolidation of environmental programs into single national schemes. We do this across water, we do it across land and we do it across air quality. I specifically want to make reference to land. We want to build a one-stop-shop approach in the same way that this legislation seeks to for environmental approvals. At present, we have systems of environmental approvals across Commonwealth and state jurisdictions which can literally take more than half a decade and which can have thousands and thousands of pages of requirements and then potentially thousands of approval triggers, which in each case will have to be negotiated through a separate licence. So our approach is the same as is contained in this bill, and that is to seek a single one-stop-shop approach. If elected, we want to cooperate with each of the states to establish bilateral agreements.

It is timely the minister arrives here on that note—he who has delayed the Alpha coal project with a shameless abuse of process, in my own respectful submission to the House. My view and our view is that we can have consolidated single national processes. In the case of environmental approvals, we should seek to do this wherever possible through agreements with the states to dramatically simplify the process: one single document lodgement, one single assessment process and clear time lines so we can simplify the process. I have no problem with a red light if a program is a bad one. I have no problem with a red light if a project will result in environmental damage. What I do have a problem with is if we are in permanent amber-light mode. I would respectfully request the minister to take this opportunity to indicate the progress he is making with the stalled Alpha coal project, which should have been a shining example of cooperation.

Finally, I turn to the third area of cooperation, and that is on air quality and, in particular, emissions reduction. Our approach is very simple: to seek to have one single national emissions reduction fund. We want to work away from the multiplicity of state schemes to one single national emissions reduction fund.

This bill does not stand on its own; it is part of a broader context of history. The simplification process is the potential, the possibility, the opportunity we have at this point of time. So I am delighted to support this bill. It completes the work we began in 2005.