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Thursday, 18 March 2010
Page: 2162

Senator XENOPHON (9:38 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table the explanatory memorandum to the bill and have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

Now, more than ever, the state of the Murray-Darling Basin is the most pressing environmental and social crisis this nation faces.

For more than a century, state and federal governments have treated this river like some kind of magic pudding.

They have over-allocated the river time and time again, and my home state of South Australia has paid the heaviest price.

We’re the ones being asked to watch the Lower Lakes die.

Our irrigators are the ones who are suffering the most.

And all of us are the ones facing the very real prospect of not having enough water for critical human needs within a decade.

And I must say, the response to this current crisis by the state and federal governments has been nothing short of underwhelming.

The Council of Australian Governments agreement on the Murray-Darling Basin has so many holes in it, if it was a boat it would sink.

I have said on numerous occasions that I believe only a federal take-over will achieve the once in a hundred years fundamental reform of the river system that is so desperately needed.

We need one river system with one set of rules. And only a true national take-over can achieve that.

However, in the absence of a full federal takeover, this Bill gives the Murray-Darling Basin Authority the power to manage the water resources of the Basin as a single system during periods of extreme crisis, in situations where there is significant rainfall in areas of Australia.

This would mean that one single Authority will be able to make decisions as and when required in the overall, national and best interest of the Murray-Darling Basin, rather than relying on the individual and, perhaps at times, selfish, interests of each state and territory coming into play.

There have been two occasions in recent months in Queensland, where floods and heavy rain have resulted in overflowing rivers.

Each year, wild weather events around the country continue to take place—flooding in the north while there’s drought in the south.

There’s no doubt we are seeing the effects of climate change, and given the dire situation our Lakes are facing, it only makes sense to send these waters south.

I was pleased that, earlier this year, New South Wales recently reached an agreement with South Australia to divert 148 gigalitres to South Australia, just enough to save Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert for at least another year.

While this generosity is appreciated, it seems like South Australia is constantly being left to beg for water from the eastern states.

Under this Bill, in events of significant rainfall in areas of Australia and during periods of extreme crisis, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority will take full responsibility for the management of water resources.

I have consulted the experts on this issue in developing this Bill and at this time I would like to take a moment to thank Professor Mike Young from the University of Adelaide for his time.

Based on science, the definition of an extreme crisis under this Bill is considered to be:

When the level of water in lake Alexandrina is continuously less than +0.0 Australian Height Datum (sea level) for more than 3 consecutive months; and,

When allocations to high security water entitlement holders in any irrigation district have been below 20 percent for more than 2 consecutive years.

If the lakes are below sea level then quite simply no water can flow to the Coorong.

Under this Bill, when these levels or periods are reached, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority will be able to address the crisis from a national perspective but to ensure the Lower Lakes survive, including by making the groundwater and surface water allocation decisions necessary for system maintenance and to maintain river heights at a minimum level; for the environment; for salinity management and for water uses and holders and water access entitlements or water access rights.

It will also empower the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to share, manage and allocate Basin water resources, make allocations to entitlement holders and allow the diversion of water from flood-affected states or where there is significant rainfall.

The reason the Murray-Darling Basin Authority would have these powers is because, as a national body, it will act in the interest of all states and territories.

Currently, we have states and territories, each with vested interests making decisions about the Murray-Darling in the interest of their own states.

But what is needed in the long term is a full federal takeover—one concentrated authority—to make decisions about the Murray-Darling in the best interest of the river and of the nation.

I understand this Bill is an interim measure as we await the Basin Plan’s release next year but we cannot wait until next year.

I believe it’s a vital measure to give our rivers a fighting chance—and it’s needed now.

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

Leave granted; debate adjourned.