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Monday, 13 October 2008
Page: 5786

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (4:20 PM) —The report handed down on Friday afternoon by the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport, Water management in the Coorong and Lower Lakes (including consideration of the Emergency Water (Murray-Darling Basin Rescue) Bill 2008), is disappointing. We have just heard from the chair of the committee a list of reasons why the recommendations in the report did not necessarily support the evidence that was given during the inquiry. This was an urgent inquiry set up by the Greens, with cross-party support because all sides of politics understood that it was an important issue we needed to tackle and we needed to act on. So it is disappointing that the chair’s report fails to recommend swift, decisive remedies for action to save the Lower Lakes and the South Australian Coorong.

We have just heard that the decisions and the actions that we need to take are going to be difficult, are going to be hard and are going to be tough. Since when did having to make the hard, tough choices mean that it was a good enough excuse just to sit back and wait? Senator Sterle is right: we do need a long-term plan for managing the Lower Lakes, the Coorong and the rest of the Murray-Darling system. We definitely need a long-term plan. We need that fast-tracked. We cannot wait another two, three, five, 10 years before we see action.

The Greens are disappointed with the majority report. That is the reason we worked together with Senator Xenophon to put forward our own minority report. The majority report dismisses the evidence that was given during the inquiry based on what water is needed, how we could acquire it and the risks and dangers of flooding the lakes with salt water. If the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Penny Wong, wanted a report to support her continued inaction, this would be the report she would write. The government has its head buried in the sand on this issue. The communities in the Lower Lakes and the Coorong are desperate for action. They are sick of being told, ‘Sit back and pray for rain,’ and yet the chair’s report simply continues this business-as-usual approach.

We have dodged a bullet. We have had an intervention from Mother Nature herself. Unexpected rain down in the lower reaches of the Murray has bought us time. We now know that we need only 30 to 60 gigalitres of fresh water to cover those soils and avoid the disastrous situation of the acid sulphate soils taking over. If we need only 30 to 60 gigalitres to secure the survival of the lakes before this time next year, we have some time to plan for action. We must not lose this opportunity. We have dodged the bullet; now let’s take the bull by the horns and actually get moving. It is not good enough to say, ‘Because the decisions that we need to make are hard and tough,’ as a reason not to make them.

We need the experts to make these decisions. We need a task force established to ensure that it is experts that are managing this crisis, managing the system, because it has been proven time and time again, year after year, that politicians are not the right people to do it. Inaction and deferring of hard decisions is how we got here in the first place. We need action. In the short term, between now and spring next year, we need to secure 30 to 60 gigalitres of fresh water to cover those soils; we need to pump the hypersaline water out of the southern lagoon in the Coorong; and we need to fast-track the management plan for the Lower Lakes and the Coorong so that we can ensure survival in the long and medium term and ensure that we are not here again in 12 months time. Sixty gigalitres of water is not that hard to find when we have been told by the commission themselves that 1,500 gigalitres is available in the southern basin—what is hard to find, in this chamber, is the political will.