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Wednesday, 3 December 2008
Page: 8048

Senator BIRMINGHAM (4:06 PM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—


Every month new data is released that highlights just how perilous the plight of the Murray Darling Basin is. The Basin was in need of clear assistance to redress years of mismanagement when Malcolm Turnbull started the drive for national water reform in January 2007.

Latest inflow data demonstrates just how much the situation has deteriorated even more since then. November 2008 brought the 38th month in a row of below average inflows into the Basin. The results of the CSIRO Sustainable Yields Project demonstrate the continued pressure the system will face into the future.

It is clear that all of those individuals, businesses and communities that rely on the resources of the Basin, as well as the natural environment and diverse ecology of so many rivers and wetlands, will need every available drop in years to come.

Sustaining the environs and activities that are already reliant on the Basin is going to be hard enough. Any rational person can see that making new communities reliant on the system will only increase the stress on those communities or ecologies already struggling to stretch the finite resources far enough.

Central to Malcolm Turnbull’s ‘National Plan for Water Security’ was a $6 billion investment into upgrading both on-farm and off-farm infrastructure across the Basin. This re-plumbing of Australia’s irrigation communities was intended to ensure we could do more with less; that Australia’s food bowl spread across irrigation communities could continue to provide food security, while returning water to the environment through reduced losses due to leakage, evaporation and mismanagement.

The Liberal and National parties proposed a 50-50 split for any savings from infrastructure spending. This was designed to provide significant new environmental flows, but also to provide incentive for irrigators to participate in the program, support it with complementary investment and hopefully increase production.

However, one project stands out as failing to meet any of these objectives. The Victorian Labor Government, through its Food Bowl Modernisation Project, is adding new centres onto the Murray system and, in doing so, is depriving both irrigators and the environment of receiving a fair 50-50b share of savings from infrastructure upgrades.

These new centres include the city of Melbourne. A city of nearly 4 million people will become reliant on water from the Murray Darling Basin for the first time, through construction of a new pipeline from the Goulburn River.

This pipeline is widely and rightly opposed. Adding yet another city to an already stressed resource defies all basic logic. The Liberal and National parties emphatically oppose both its construction and the extraction of water into it.

The Victorian and Federal Labor Governments support it and justify it on the basis of projected water savings to be generated through stage one of the Food Bowl Modernisation Project. The Coalition notes the criticism of this project and its projected water savings by the Victorian Auditor General, who stated that it “did not have a depth of analysis” and that “at the time of the commitment to the project, there was no rigorous analysis to validate the expected level of water savings.”

Even if these savings are ultimately achieved, as we hope they will be, we find it totally unacceptable that they are not equally shared between local irrigators and environmental flows, rather than having these two vital interests raided to send a third of all savings (75 gigalitres) to Melbourne.

Piping 75 billion litres of water a year out of the system to a city never previously reliant on it is an act of vandalism on both the environment and the those local communities from where the water is being taken.

This bill seeks to stop that. It will require the new Basin Plan, to be developed by the Murray Darling Basin Authority for application across the whole Basin, to stop construction of this pipeline or anything like it. It will also require the Basin Plan to stop extraction of water for this pipeline or anything like it. Water will not be used for purposes outside of the Basin that were not already being undertaken prior to the signing of the Inter Governmental Agreement on national management by the Commonwealth and Basin States on 3 July 2008.

Further, it will require Victoria and all other states to honour their commitments made under the Living Murray Initiative in 2004. They will be required to return water savings to the environment until they have met their commitments to provide increased flows, rather than storing it under a sleight of hand or accounting trick to provide the first flows through the pipeline.

Finally, out of an abundance of caution, this bill ensures that these provisions protect other efforts under the Water for Rivers program to save the Snowy River are in no way impacted.

The Liberal and National parties stand for healthier and more sustainable rivers wherever they are. We commenced the process of national water reform, we stand by it and we are determined to see it administered appropriately. Passage of this bill will only strengthen the reform process and better ensure the health of our rivers and our river communities by putting a stop to this unjustified pipeline and its damaging drain on the Goulburn and Murray Rivers.

Senator BIRMINGHAM —I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.