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Wednesday, 13 November 2013
Page: 172


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaParliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment) (12:25): It is a great honour to rise and speak on the address-in-reply debate marking the commencement of the new parliament and, importantly, the beginning of a term of a new government, a government determined that we will get Australia back on track. The cornerstone of the mandate that we took to the Australian people at the election was to create a stronger economy and to deliver that stronger economy by reducing the tax and regulatory burdens that Australians face, especially the carbon tax imposed by the previous government. Our new Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, and our new coalition government were elected with an unambiguous policy to abolish the carbon tax, fixed or floating, lock, stock and barrel. As promised, legislation to repeal the carbon tax was the first parliamentary act of our government introduced to the House of Representatives earlier today. We as the new government are getting on with the job of building a stronger economy so that all Australians have an opportunity to get ahead. We are abolishing the carbon tax, ending Labor's wasteful spending, securing our borders and building the roads of the 21st century, just as Her Excellency outlined as the government's agenda yesterday.

Labor's legacy from their six chaotic years of government was: 200,000 more unemployed Australians, gross debt skyrocketing towards $400 billion and beyond, the five biggest deficits in our history, more than 50,000 illegal arrivals by boat, and the world's biggest carbon tax as one of many new tax and regulatory imposts. Pleasingly, our government has been elected with a significant majority and holds some 90 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives. At least 1.4 million more Australians voted for the coalition than voted for the Labor Party with Labor's share of the national vote dropping to its lowest level in one hundred years. The punters across Australia spoke overwhelmingly. The mandate for the new government and our agenda is extraordinarily clear.

In our home state of South Australia, Mr Acting Deputy President Fawcett, we recorded a 5.5 per cent swing to the Liberal Party and secured a majority of 52.4 per cent of the two party preferred vote. At a personal level I am incredibly pleased and proud of Matt Williams' win in Hindmarsh, which ensures we once again hold a majority of House of Representatives seats in South Australia. Having been our candidate for Hindmarsh in 2004—and having helped to manage the campaigns through the 2007, 2010 and 2013 campaigns—I know how hard so many people have worked over such a long period of time to return that electorate to the Liberal fold. In Hindmarsh, we secured a swing to us of 8.1 per cent, well above both the South Australian and the national averages, and the largest swing to the Liberal Party in any of the mainland seats won off Labor. I have known Matt for close to 20 years and am confident that he will make an outstanding representative of the people of Hindmarsh and of the Liberal Party.

I pay tribute also to Tom Zorich, Carmen Garcia, Sue Lawrie, Damien Mills, Nigel McKenna, Cathie Webb and Gary Burgess, who deserve gratitude from all members of the Liberal Party for their hard work as candidates at the recent election. I congratulate Christopher Pyne, Andrew Southcott, Rowan Ramsey and Jamie Briggs for increasing their margins. I know how hard they all worked to ensure a successful victory in South Australia. Tony Pasin, the new member for Barker, also deserves congratulation and welcome to this parliament. I thank former member Patrick Secker for his loyal service to the Liberal Party and I wish Patrick and Sharon every success in the future. I also thank those Senate colleagues who worked so hard with their campaigning efforts—grassroots campaigning and mobilising volunteers across electorates—specifically Sean Edwards in Wakefield, Anne Ruston in Adelaide and David Fawcett in Kingston.

Our local Senate result was, however, disappointing. The failure to secure two quotas in our own right is unprecedented. I would like to make special mention of Senator Nick Xenophon. I congratulate him on his extraordinary result. Nick increased his vote to a record 24.9 per cent. I congratulate all senators-elect as well. I had the pleasure of meeting them just a couple of hours ago. I appreciate the diversity of Australian interests that will be represented in the Senate and I look forward to us working together.

However, it is important that our electors retain confidence in this chamber. It is safe to say that the gaming of the electoral system, by those who call themselves 'preference harvesters' or the like, played a role in creating some surprise outcomes, especially in some other states. This gaming must be addressed through appropriate consideration of electoral reforms so that we have ongoing public confidence in the way senators are elected in the future. In the interim, between now and 1 July next year, the challenge to Labor and the Greens is to behave as decent legislators who respect this place, proper process and most importantly the will of the Australian people. That will was incredibly clear at the last election. The challenges for our government are great due to the mismanagement of the last six years, but we are determined to get Australia back on track.

In my home state, we have viewed the successful federal election result as the first stage of getting South Australia back on track. Pleasingly, the federal results show that our state team has much to be positive about. Through hard work, discipline and fresh ideas, stage 2 of ensuring South Australia is moving forward again can be achieved. On 15 March next year, South Australian voters will have the opportunity to change their state government. Currently, the state Labor government is focused on more spending, higher deficits, more debt, slower growth and encouraging our young South Australians to move interstate or abroad.

Earlier this year Steven Marshall—and it sounds like a familiar story to the government we just saw depart at the federal level—was elected leader of the state Liberal Party. Steven Marshall is an outstanding businessman who brings great acumen, great drive and great vision to our state, and I have the confidence that he will outline a plan of action to get South Australia back on track; to deliver the growth for our economy and the investment in our next generation.

Distressingly, in South Australia we have seen almost 28,000 full-time jobs lost in the past five months. There were almost 10,000 full-time South Australian jobs lost in October alone, which equates to one full-time job lost every five minutes. South Australia lost the most jobs of all states in Australia, with 5,500 South Australians joining unemployment queues.

From 2016-17, South Australians will be paying $952 million each year in interest payments on debt. That is a staggering $2.6 million in interest payments each day for a state of our size. It is clear that South Australia is at a crossroads. We need to attract more investment, prioritise better and build the infrastructure our state so desperately needs to get the economic opportunities we need in the future.

Regardless of decisions taken by multinationals, like Holden, in the coming weeks or months, far greater priority in terms of the economic development of South Australia needs to be given to new industries and new opportunities that can sustain new jobs into the future. We cannot continue to rely solely on industries that are at the whim of international decisions and that rely so heavily on government support.

As well as representing the people of South Australia in the federal parliament and having the honour of having been re-elected in the recent election, I have been honoured to be appointed as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment. In my portfolio area, the coalition has provided bipartisan support for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, and I have recommitted our government to ensure the Basin Plan is implemented on time and in full.

We understand the need to ensure that the environment, communities and economies are all considered under the Basin Plan. We need to have a healthy environment and healthy towns, businesses and farms. The water reforms of the Howard government were not about decimating the productive capacity of towns in the basin, but about striking a balance between environmental needs and the social and productive aspects of the basin. Unfortunately, the previous government went seriously off track in that regard. Our government has made a commitment to communities of the basin that we will ensure that this balance is again the focus for implementation of the Basin Plan. Our government will implement a 1,500 gigalitres cap on buybacks and, consistent with this, we will give priority to infrastructure programs to bridge the gap necessary to fully implement the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. This commitment will be articulated shortly in a new water recovery strategy. As most members of the Senate would be aware, I have championed effective management of the basin for a very long period—essentially, my entire 6½ years in this place. The opportunity to ensure the basin plan is implemented in a sound way that is reflective of community concerns is one that I relish and I am delighted to have this role in government.

Our approach will provide certainty to people living in the basin that our government will honour our commitments to deliver the basin plan and do so in a way that reflects the triple-bottom-line approach of environmental, economic and social management decisions being taken in harmony.

In line with this, the government has committed to rephasing some of the budgeting in the water portfolio so that we give effect to higher priority around infrastructure spending, and environmental works and measures activities over the next few years, so that buybacks to bridge the gap are taken as a last resort in strategic cases, not a first action in terms of the implementation of the plan. By doing this we can and will deliver the environmental outcomes sought by the plan while minimising the impact on basin communities. It is our commitment to all of those people living throughout the Murray-Darling.

Our approach is a significant point of difference from the modus operandi of the former government, who waged a destructive and non-strategic buyback campaign since 2007 and which has had significant and far-reaching impacts on basin communities—not just economic impacts but social impacts and impacts, importantly and significantly, that have undermined their confidence in the reform process.

I want to see a situation where communities throughout the Murray-Darling Basin embrace the reforms underway, see them managed in a positive way and see positive benefits for the environment, for their productive capacity and for the future of those townships.

As a government we will work with the states to ensure that implementation of the basin plan does not undermine the social and economic foundations of those communities by delivering on these commitments to infrastructure and environmental works and measures targets.

I have already met, and discussed implementation arrangements with, all of the state water ministers and am pleased with the cooperative approach each of them is taking with regard to the implementation of the basin plan and look forward very much to chairing my first meeting of the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council on Friday of this week.

Addressing the issue of inefficient infrastructure through on-farm efficiency programs and infrastructure modernisation is the best way to return water to the environment in a win-win circumstance that gets those entitlements for the Commonwealth water holder whilst maintaining the productive and agricultural capacity of basin communities, thereby minimising the impact on those communities of this important reform.

While the water portfolio is dominated by the Murray-Darling Basin matters and implementation of the basin plan, there are also numerous other matters of considerable importance that I am pleased to be playing a role in the management of—particularly elsewhere in water management, the ongoing management of the Great Artesian Basin, where great work is again being done as a result of initiatives of the previous coalition government to cap bores and improve the sustainability of the Great Artesian Basin and the Lake Eyre Basin, where new challenges continue to arise to ensure sustainable management of that unique and amazing asset that Australia holds.

Effective management of all these important water systems is vital to the future of our environmental health and economic opportunities in Australia. We have placed great priority as a government on supporting the key pillars of economic development and activity, especially in the space of agricultural exports. The Murray-Darling Basin is Australia's largest food bowl, and I am determined that it will remain Australia's largest food bowl with the right infrastructure and the right approach to utilising water such that in years to come it continues to see maximum levels of food, fibre and produce grown here in Australia by Australians for Australians and for export to the rest of the world.

I am also privileged to have responsibility for a range of other agencies: the Bureau of Meteorology, Parks Australia and the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust. The bureau provides regular forecasts, warnings, monitoring and advice spanning Australian and Antarctic territory. It is one of the most fundamental and widely used services of government. It is one of our key agencies in terms of providing warning systems and effective advice in relation to events of natural disaster and risk to Australians and providing important information to sustain economic activities, be they agricultural, aviation, transport or otherwise. I pay tribute to the great work the people of the bureau have already done in the short time of our government in providing effective assistance to people concerning the New South Wales bushfires and ensuring timely advice to help with the management in fighting those bushfires.

Commonwealth National Parks protect some of the country's most stunning natural areas and Indigenous heritage. The unique Australian biodiversity is protected and conserved from the coastal Booderee National Park to the world heritage listed terrestrial park of Kakadu. I take this opportunity to congratulate Peter Cochrane, the long-serving director of National Parks who was appointed by former coalition environment minister, Mr Robert Hill and will shortly retire, for the great work he has done.

I am also pleased to have responsibility for the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, which has an important role to ensure that world-renowned Sydney Harbour is protected and integrated into the life of the city while preserving the range and extraordinary mix of historic buildings, pristine natural landscapes and Defence heritage.

Beyond my direct responsibilities, I look forward to continuing to work across the broader environment portfolio with our new Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt.

We have a range of priorities that are core to the government's overall objective of getting our country back on track with a stronger economy. At the centre of those are one-stop-shop reforms to ensure we minimise the level of green tape that applies across the Australian economy, such that environmental standards are held at the highest level but undertaken and ensured in the most efficient of ways. I also look forward to working again on the repeal of the carbon tax and on ensuring that our agenda is fully implemented, and I trust this Senate will work with us in that way.

Debate interrupted.