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Monday, 25 October 2010
Page: 626


Senator JOYCE (Leader of the Nationals in the Senate) (4:55 PM) —Well, here it is: the guide by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. It is an incredible document. Today it has even lost its own minister as a friend. Today, even Minister Burke has come out and slammed his own report. He has slammed the report, saying that there are some things in it that are probably worth while. I think those things are the font size and the photos. I think he likes the font size and the photos and that is about it.

This is yet another part of the retinue of Labor Party stuff-ups—from the ceiling insulation scheme to the Building the Education Revolution and to their current NBN. But this is the daddy of them all. They decided that they would redesign the way Australia feeds itself. After gaining power on the back of saying that they would look after regional Australia, in the process of looking after regional Australia they came up with a guide that pulled the economic rug out from underneath towns in the Murray-Darling Basin.

This is the most absurd process that has come before this parliament, including the consultation period that follows the release, the almost riot-like conditions and the fact that we are getting legal opinions after the fact. Then there is the fact that, whilst I am sitting down here reading the legal opinions, the minister representing this portfolio is asking me for a copy of his own legal opinion. This is the Labor Party as its best! We have a guide before us that is going to absolutely decimate regional Australia. To go into areas and say, ‘You are going to lose 45 per cent of the water,’ is like going to a motel and saying, ‘We’re going to take 45 per cent of your rooms back.’ How naive were you to set up a committee that could deliver this?

And Minister Wong, the person who was going to stand behind ‘the greatest moral challenge of our time’, not only deserted the ship on ‘the greatest moral challenge of our time’ but also deserted the ship on the Murray-Darling Basin. She bolted and then poor, old Minister Burke had to come in and pick up the pieces in this disaster. I cannot have a debate with Minister Burke at the moment, because he has agreed with me every day. He is coming back to where we are. He is agreeing that this process is absurd, that the outcome is absurd, that the outcome is an anachronism of ever trying to manage anything. This was a case of ‘look after the environment and count the bodies later’—and it got the response that was due to it.

People were absolutely livid that our nation could go down this path. People were absolutely livid to think that you could deliver such hurt to regional Australia—that you would go to people in towns and say, ‘We will pull the economic rug out from under you so that the value of your house is taken away’ and that you would go to people in businesses and say, ‘We will take the sustenance out of your community so that your business will be without purpose.’ By the way, I live in one of those towns—so I declare my interest. I sold my accountancy practice to someone in one of those towns. I now wonder whether that person would have bought my accountancy practice had they known that this was coming down the track. This is the sort of hurt that you are causing people.

The socioeconomic study that sat behind this was appalling. They were still banging the socioeconomic study together literally hours before they released the report. What total and utter incompetence! Then we had the process of the release of the report. It should have been released before the election so that the Australian people had the right to do what was democratic: to vote, taking it into account. But isn’t it convenient that a document as toxic as this one could not come out before the election? Surprise, surprise! And then the negotiations were going on with the Independents. It was going to be released then—remember?—by the end of August. But, while the negotiations were going on with the Independents—surprise, surprise!—it could not be released. It is yet another reason. Why, pray tell, could it not be released then?

Then we get to the absolute fiasco—no, the penultimate fiasco, not the final one—when they did release it on that Friday afternoon at four o’clock, where they locked the politicians up in one room and locked the fourth estate and the peak bodies up in another room so they could not talk to each other. They obviously have mistaken us for some new breed of political mushrooms! This is the way that the Labor Party had decided to work. This is the way they were going to conduct their business. After all that we find out why—because, basically, this was going to be an absolute bomb. It went off like a bomb throughout regional Australia.

Also through the process we have had this draw for some of the environment in some of the catchments. It is peculiar, because these people had received letters saying that they were not in the purview of having water purchased off them because they had no environmental assets around them and yet, a matter of a month or so later, we get declarations such as that, in the Macintyre Valley, they are going to take in excess of 30 per cent of the water. Why? I do not know. Why was there a change of opinion? How could this be? How could this happen—how could these opinions just change? Surely there was not a political motive behind this! Surely not—surely this was not a plasticine committee that was bending and twisting to the inclinations of those within it!

Now we have the legal opinion that has come out and stated the bleeding obvious—that ultimately we should be looking at both the economic and social consequences, that they should not be secondary to environmental consequences, and that the minister at the end of the day has the power to change it anyhow. So the minister is doing it inch by inch, and he was just on Sky News a second ago bucketing his own report. And well may he do that, because it is the only thing that is really left. I do not know what we do with these things. What do we do with the boxes of these things? What happens to them now? And how can we trust a government that has been so totally and utterly incompetent? How can we trust a process which has failed so miserably—by their own minister’s admission? How can that come about? How do we get ourselves into this position? How can you send a sense of confidence back to the people that the process, as overseen by the Labor Party, will be fair?

We accept that the river system was overallocated. We never denied that. We accepted that and we actually set up a process for the purchase of water. We set up the process for the structural re-engineering, which they never got round to, by the way—which they have never actually done. But only the Labor Party could then go out and oversight a process that would come out with something like this.

Some of the fiascos in this Labor Party are just so incredible they are beyond belief. Like the purchase of Toorale Station—$23.75 million, 23.75 cold, hard ones—and it does not even deliver water into the Darling system; it spills out over flood plain. How could they make such a botch-up? Because they never inspected it. They never actually went to have a look at it. Obviously, what is $23.75 million between mates! You had a minister, Minister Wong, overseeing a process with not one person setting foot on that place before the Australian public picked it up. Then you have the purchase of Twynam for in excess of $300 million. The problem was that a lot of what they were purchasing was actually air. It was a right to water which, the vast majority of time, was not there. It was yet another fundamental fiasco overseen by the Labor Party when it was under the care of Minister Wong.

Then of course you had the big one—Menindee Lakes storage. We had report after committee after report after committee. It was a Kafkaesque devolution into anarchy. And what happened at the end? They waited so long that even God could not wait for them: it rained and filled back up with water. This is what we have got. So the Labor Party by their own admission by their own minister, as recently as an hour and a half ago on Sky, is bucketing its own report. I bet as you are speaking you are not even aware he has done that, yet you are going to give a speech, Senator Wortley. What are you going to say now—that you support it and you do not support your own minister? Your own minister has bucketed your own report because as a process, as a government, you are absolutely an utter fiasco.