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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 957


Senator FARRELL (South Australia) (12:50): I rise to speak on the Australian Capital Territory Water Management Legislation Amendment Bill 2013. I indicate at the outset that the opposition, in the typical constructive way in which we have been working, support this legislation. It is another good example of how we are seeking to assist in the smooth operation of the Senate and indeed the parliament. As you would be aware, Mr Acting Deputy President Bernardi, this bill is similar to a bill that the former Labor government introduced in the last parliament; however, there have been a number of relatively small amendments and additions to the original bill that the former government presented to the parliament.

The amendment legislation concerns commencement provisions by proclamation after 12 months rather than six months as stated in the previous bill. There has been an extension from six to 12 months, and that is the key area in which this bill differs from the original bill the Labor Party presented. We do not see that as a significant issue and for that reason we continue to support this legislation.

The purpose of this bill is to allow the Australian Capital Territory and its government to manage the water resources of the ACT. It ensures that the ACT government has the power to manage all water extraction within the territory. In addition, it continues the improvement of water use by Commonwealth agencies. Most significantly, particularly from the point of view of a fellow South Australian, Mr Acting Deputy President Bernardi, it allows the Commonwealth and the ACT to fulfil their obligations under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Mr Acting Deputy President, you would be familiar with that plan. This proposed bill fits in with the overall Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which is important and significant.

This legislation will amend the Australian Capital Territory (Planning and Land Management) Act, otherwise known as the PALM Act, and the Canberra Water Supply (Googong Dam) Act. It will transfer planning and management of all water extraction in the ACT from the Commonwealth to the ACT government. This is a significant transfer of control and power from the Commonwealth, which currently has control of these assets and obligations, to the ACT government. The amendments to the Water Act and the PALM Act will deal with the minor administrative and machinery matters supporting the implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Overall, the purpose of the bill is to strengthen the ability of the ACT to manage its water resources in a way consistent with all obligations under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and the framework of the Water Act. This is an important step towards the management of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan resources by ensuring that the ACT government is responsible for the day-to-day management of water in the ACT. As you would be aware, Mr Acting Deputy President, the states already have the obligation to manage the water resources that fall in their jurisdiction. Now the ACT is getting that same power, responsibility and obligations that apply to the states. Mr Acting Deputy President, I am sure you are well aware of how difficult it was to get consensus from all of the states to reach that point. This is an important milestone in the history of the ACT. The ACT is now getting that same control of its water resources and the obligations flowing from that.

There are four main sources of water in the Australian Capital Territory. Those water sources are the Bendora, Corin, Cotter and Googong dams. It is worth spending time discussing the Googong Dam because it is somewhat different from the other three water sources in that it was constructed on Commonwealth land in New South Wales. I see Senator Sinodinos nodding; he knows a lot about water management, particularly in New South Wales.

Senator Sinodinos: Not as much as your colleagues.

Senator FARRELL: I do not know. I suppose we will see.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Bernardi ): Order! Ignore the interjections, Senator Farrell.

Senator FARRELL: These are helpful comments.

Senator Fifield: At least you're charming, Don.

Senator FARRELL: Did you say I am charming?

Senator Fifield: I did.

Senator FARRELL: Thank you, Senator Fifield. That is very kind of you.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Would you kindly address your remarks through the chair, Senator Farrell.

Senator FARRELL: Thank you for drawing that to my attention, Mr Acting Deputy President. I will focus on this legislation and not be distracted by the interjections of my colleagues on the opposite side.

I have mentioned the four sources of water with the Googong dam being slightly different from the other three sources in that it is located in New South Wales, but the ACT has a 150-year lease over this dam. It was only a couple of years ago that Simon Corbell, the environment minister for the ACT, actually opened the upgrade of the Googong dam spillway. I had the good fortune, in my previous capacity as Parliamentary Secretary for Water under the previous government, to go out and visit the Googong dam and see the work that was done to improve that spillway. At that time, of course, damage had been done over the years. It was deemed a good thing to improve the dam's capacity.

It took some two years to construct an improvement to that spillway. The construction was done by ActewAGL and the Bulk Water Alliance and ensured, which is most important for consideration for what we are dealing with now, that the spillway was brought up to a modern design and contemporary safety standards. I do not know if you have had the opportunity to go there, Mr Acting Deputy President Furner, but I can highly recommend it. Anybody who has been out there will see it was a terrific addition to the strength and quality of that dam, which is such an important part of the water resources for the ACT.

Under this bill, the surface water of the Googong dam will be treated as if it was in the ACT and incorporated as part of those other three water sources. The ACT is, like the other states, a part of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. This bill will remove the dual management of water in the ACT. The ACT was in an unusually different position. The other states have control of their water resources and that was all brought in under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan but here in the ACT there was this competing control. We have now simplified the issue of water in the ACT by granting the day-to-day management of water back to the ACT. Currently the management of water on national land in the ACT is the responsibility of the Commonwealth while the ACT government manages water on territory land. That is the current division.

As I have stated, this bill is significant for the ACT because it will allow the ACT government to control its own water resources and take on the responsibilities that it as well as the other states have signed up to in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. While we are talking about this important piece of legislation, about the rights of the ACT and about water, it is opportune just to go back a little bit and see what precipitated it and go back and give credit where credit is due—to the Gillard government in particular. That wonderful announcement when the final Murray-Darling Basin Plan was signed into law was made just over 12 months ago on 22 November 2012. That was an historic moment in the country's history. Look around the world and see how other countries have not been able to manage their water resources and see what was done on that day in getting the cooperation of all of the states and the Commonwealth to introduce for the first time a full plan for restoring to good health the great Murray-Darling River system. If we go back to that period of time, the most significant part of that legislation and that plan, certainly as it related to my own state—which of course suffered very badly during what we call the 'millennium drought'; we look back and call it the 'millennium drought' now—was the recovery of 2,750 gigalitres of surface water to the environment. As we know, the ACT is part of that overall obligation and plan.

People have already had the chance to see what sort of results have come from the start of the plan, because there were plenty of critics. Minister Burke did such a tremendous job in getting all of the various stakeholders to accept that there was an overarching national good and national obligation in getting this plan through the parliament. When you go through these towns that were affected by the drought and see the sort of dreadful degradation to our great water systems, you see that life is already returning to these regions. I have seen it in the Coorong and the Lower Lakes in South Australia. Things are not back to where they were originally; they certainly are not back to where they were when Captain Sturt travelled down the river system.

I had the great privilege last year of giving the Captain Sturt oration to commemorate the 217th anniversary of his birth. You may know this already, Senator Sinodinos, because I know you know so much about water—particularly in this part of the world—but as a reward for the work that Captain Sturt did on behalf of New South Wales in trekking and discovering that the Murray was in fact part of the Hume, he was allocated the leasehold of Belconnen. He was the original person to get that land lease. That is a very significant historical connection with Canberra because, of course, long after he had passed away that part of Belconnen became part of the ACT, which relates to the legislation we are talking about now.

It is worth giving credit where it is due, and Minister Burke did some tremendous work in getting this legislation up. This legislation is the last piece to ensure that the plan does what we want it to do, which is to restore the health of that great inland river system in Australia. The legislation draws it all together, passes the power back to the ACT and ensures that the day-to-day management of the river systems is consistent with the way in which it operates in all the states.

We hope that we will not see another drought like we saw last time and the dreadful consequences that occurred; but, if the drought conditions do return, we will be in a much better position to resist the dreadful conditions that occurred during that period of time.

I think it is also worth putting on the record the great work that my colleagues in the ACT have done in terms of this legislation and their ongoing interest in water management. Gai Brodtmann, Andrew Leigh and, of course, our own Senator Kate Lundy have all done an awful lot of work in terms of water management and they are to be congratulated for their work. (Time expired)