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Tuesday, 20 November 2012
Page: 9154

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (13:54): I rise to speak on the legislation that is currently before the chamber, the Water Amendment (Long-term Average Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment) Bill 2012. In doing so, I cannot possibly overstate the Greens' great concern for the iconic Murray-Darling system and for the future of all the economies, local communities and ecosystems that rely on it. The Murray-Darling Basin is the most productive but also the most exploited water system in Australia. It is Australia's food bowl. Millions of families and diverse ecologies rely on the basin system. The cost of delivering a plan that fails in its objectives to save the river for the future would be and should be unacceptable to everyone.

I would like to remind the chamber of the words of Benjamin Franklin who said, 'When the well is dry, then we know the worth of water.' Australia has enjoyed good rainfall in recent years but in South Australia, my home state, we have not forgotten what it was like to live in the millennium drought: the water that just was not there; the water that was too salty for local communities even to drink from the taps in their kitchens; the water that was too salty to feed their stock; the dry lake beds at the bottom of the system; the kilometre-wide dried and cracked mud that stretched out across lakes Albert and Alexandrina; the dead and withering citrus trees in the Riverland, that were meant, when planted there, to last for generations.

South Australia has been using water responsibly for decades. Even now, in South Australia we are only taking seven per cent of the water from the entire basin system. But we stand to lose the most if the Basin Plan to be put forward and tabled by the minister in this place next week fails to protect the river. The plan must return enough water to stop the accumulation of salt, keep the Murray mouth open, provide clean drinking water for Adelaide, support our industries and restore irreplaceable and sacred sites like the Coorong, Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert.

The Basin Plan should be a crucial reform in Australia's history, and it must go as far as possible to correct the decades and decades of overallocation from the Murray-Darling system. The entire reason that we are debating this legislation and have been in negotiations over the Basin Plan for the last three years is that decades of overallocation have meant more water has been taken out of the river than now goes in. It is simply unsustainable to continue business as usual. It is not a question purely of environmentalism. Industries, local economies and communities, from the top of the system right through to the bottom, are reliant on a healthy, productive and resilient river and Riverland network, in order to survive, be sustained and flourish for future generations.

I am, however, deeply concerned about the rights of South Australia. My state is, above all else, the most efficient when it comes to the use of water, including its prior achievements of becoming more water-wise with the little and limited amount of water that continues to run down the bottom end of the system. South Australians have a right to expect that any plan that is put forward in this place will be a plan that delivers true reform so that Adelaide and other South Australian communities and towns have ongoing and adequate fresh drinking water, and so that South Australia's agriculture and horticulture can continue to thrive, recreation and tourism businesses can grow, and our integral natural environments can live on for the future.

We need to have a plan that prepares us for the worst-case scenarios as well as the average inflow times and years. Unfortunately, the draft plan that has been mooted only prepares us for average years or for good years, not for the years when there is less water overall in the system. As I said earlier, South Australians remember well how damaging the height of the millennium drought was. We need a plan to prepare us for the worst times as well as the best.

Australia needs a Basin Plan that will live up to its promise as a historic, nation-building opportunity to correct past mistakes and to plan ahead and protect our system for future generations. It must enable us to maintain a healthy economy while protecting our natural heritage and securing long-term prosperity. It is a balancing act, of course, but we need to understand that communities reliant on a healthy river system will only survive if that river system actually continues to exist.

The PRESIDENT: Order! It being 2 pm, the debate is interrupted.