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Monday, 22 November 2010
Page: 1809

Senator XENOPHON (8:34 PM) —My comments on the Tax Laws Amendment (2010 Measures No. 4) Bill 2010 will be relatively brief and I will focus on those amendments relating to the irrigation community. Irrigators are facing tough times. Even though we have had higher than average rainfall this year, irrigators are still struggling to cope with reduced allocations and the fallout from a seven-year drought. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s guide to the draft basin plan, released a few weeks ago, has worried many irrigators. This is something I heard again when I was in the Riverland in South Australia just last Friday. I was fortunate enough to have my parliamentary colleague the member for Kennedy, the Hon. Bob Katter, come down to South Australia and go to the Riverland and the Lower Lakes with me to speak to irrigators and environmentalists. That was a very useful exercise, I believe, for both the South Australians who met Mr Katter and, I hope, for Mr Katter himself. I am very grateful to Mr Katter for his visit to South Australia at my invitation.

In relation to the bill, let us put this in context. All over the basin, irrigators are now facing further cuts to their entitlement and many are having to make tough decisions about their futures. In places like the Riverland, the cuts could be as high as 30 per cent, or more. That is fundamentally unfair in my home state of South Australia, given that they were early adopters of water efficiency savings measures. While we cannot always help irrigators to get their hands on more water, we can help them to work more efficiently with the water they have. Water saving measures such as drip-feed irrigation and evaporation prevention techniques and technologies mean irrigators can save the water they are entitled to and do more with less. This legislation will mean irrigators can have more flexibility in the entitlements themselves. Irrigators do not buy water entitlements as an investment; they buy them because it is the only way they can keep their plantings alive, particularly in the case of permanent plantings. Exempting the transfer of water entitlements from capital gains tax will mean irrigators will be free to shop around and find the best deals and tailor their entitlement to maximise water usage efficiencies. I strongly support this aspect of the legislation and thank the government for introducing this amendment.

Australia’s food security and the economic future of countless towns and communities rest on the irrigation industry, but there is no doubt that we also have to look at things from an environmental point of view. Keeping the basin healthy so that it can support controlled irrigation—with a vibrant, sustainable irrigation industry—and maintain its unique environment is vitally important, but allowing irrigators to make changes to their entitlements more easily will mean that the water market will be more flexible and better managed, so I support these amendments.

I note that Senator Cormann, in his usual innovative style—his dogged and persistent innovative style—has moved a number of amendments, which mirrors a policy of the coalition and, I think, the views of the shadow Treasurer. I am not attracted to some parts of the amendments, particularly the requirement to give, at the end of the financial year, the details of the taxpayer’s share of Australian net debt and how much taxation revenue raised under the assessment was expended to service public debt interest. Honestly, I think those amendments are quite mischievous. I have real concerns when even seasoned political operatives get tied up in knots as to what is net debt, gross debt and debt as a proportion of GDP—and I am sure the minister, Senator Sherry, can give other examples of different permutations in relation to this. I will listen to the debate on the other aspects and listen to the government’s point of view, but I can rule out supporting those items of the table that make reference to the whole issue of government debt. I think, in the way that they have been presented, they will simply confuse Australian taxpayers. I look forward to the committee stages of this bill.