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Thursday, 16 August 2007
Page: 262


Senator JOYCE (1:27 PM) —I rise to talk about water and to briefly outline a couple of areas. I acknowledge the comments that have been made by colleagues in the Senate today in the debate on the Water Bill 2007 and related bill. The thing about water is that it is a resource. You have to exploit a resource if you want to have a nation of wealth. Here today we are not sitting on a rug on the grass; we are sitting in a building, and it exploits a resource. Water is political. Water is the ultimate in politics because it is the conduit of wealth, it is the conduit of everything that sustains an area—it sustains jobs, it sustains economies. In a period of drought it also very much reflects the pressures that certain people are under. The financial pressure for some people in this drought is absolutely immense—in fact, I would go so far as to say that for some people it will be terminal.

The issue in Queensland has always been that we were the last to develop our water resources and therefore we have been playing catch-up to where New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia were. It is always important to put on the record that Queensland is the second lowest user of water in the basin. It uses less than five per cent. The only state or territory that uses less than us is the Australian Capital Territory. And one of the greatest uses of the resource in this town is as something to look at—Lake Burley Griffin. So everybody is exploiting the resource, and I would say that everybody is parochial about their exploitation of the resource.

We know that when you deal with an asset that people have borrowed money against the pressures are exacerbated. People have borrowed money against an asset and they have the expectation that that asset will be maintained, and they have borrowed money in a completely legal framework to develop that asset. It is absolutely fundamental in any economy that you underwrite the sustainability and the sanctity of what an asset is. If there is an asset that you have a mortgage against—an asset that you have spent most of your life paying off, an asset that is a conduit of wealth in a family from one generation to the next—and that right is taken away, then we have fundamentally changed the basis of a conservative society; we have usurped the right of ownership. It is very important in this bill that we deal with that right of ownership—and I believe we have—and that inherent belief of so many people that the asset that they own and have paid for is theirs and that, if somebody wants it, they have to buy it; they cannot take it from them.

If there is a strong community belief in and aspiration for the water to be allocated to other resources and a belief that that is for the betterment of the nation, then the nation must be prepared to put the money aside to purchase that asset. There cannot be an expectation that it can take that asset, because that is theft. We have had to deal with that in Queensland under vegetation laws, where assets owned by the individual have been vested in the state. Once they are vested in the state without payment—the belief in communal ownership of assets—that is communism, and I do not believe anybody supports that idea anymore. So, if you want it, you should buy it.

I would like to thank the minister for his support throughout debate on this bill. I will be completely frank: at times it was a very robust relationship, and I suggest that some of the 27 amendments before us today have resulted from pressures that were conveyed to me and Senator Boswell by the Queensland Nationals in relation to issues that they wanted brought to the fore. We have given of our best endeavours to do that, and those issues are reflected in some of the amendments that we have here today.

This has been an arduous and drawn-out process. In reality we note that this plan has bipartisan support. It is through consultation and discussion with the minister that the property rights of Queensland irrigators had to be secured. I would like to thank the minister for his work; he never closed the door to further consultation. It is also a reality—and I have to say this on the record for those in Queensland who are listening—that, in relation to some of the amendments that you may have wished me to pursue, I would possibly be the only voice; they would not get any further. There is a bipartisan feel behind this and there was no point of leverage that we could express. We had to do it through consultation and negotiation; it was the only alternative at our disposal.

There is at the end one issue, and I have notified the minister that I will put on record how it should be addressed. Of the 26 resource operation plans, 22 finish before the Commonwealth liability comes into place on 1 January 2015. This includes all four plans in South Australia, all four plans in Queensland, 14 out of the 18 in New South Wales, and because Victorians are not listed they will not be scheduled to the act. We need to allay the fear of this timing difference between the cessation of a plan and the start of the Commonwealth compensation on 1 January 2015. There is an inherent black hole in there, and it has to be addressed because that is the uncertainty that drives bank managers to be concerned and to start putting a discount on your asset. It has to be addressed.

We need to allay the fear that this timing difference has been carefully protected as an outclause for government responsibility for compensation over a government decision to reduce entitlement. I ask the minister to put on record how we will deal with this, as has been suggested by an intergovernmental agreement, and to commit the government to a bona fide resolve to pursue resolution on this issue. I will not ask a question in committee on this issue, as I expect the issue to be addressed in the minister’s closing remarks. I believe that, from negotiations that have been held over a period of time, that is the last outstanding issue that needs to be addressed, and I look forward to that comment. I look forward to the commitment by this chamber and the government to make sure that what we have is a future of sustainability and a future of the enshrinement of the property rights of water.