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Tuesday, 20 November 2012
Page: 9209

Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (17:33): I am pleased to support the Water Amendment (Long-term Average Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment) Bill 2012 before the Senate. This bill, along with the Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012, was referred to the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee by the Selection of Bills Committee. The bill was sent to the environment committee on the basis that it would remove the power of the minister and the parliament to oversee potentially significant changes to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and because doubts have been expressed by the various states upstream and downstream and stakeholders of all persuasions—that is, irrigators and environmentalists—about the content of this bill. The concerns from the irrigators and the environmentalists were two extremely different concerns. One focused on the social issues that were outlined by Senator Barnaby Joyce earlier and others were reflected in Senator Hanson-Young's contribution about the importance of the environment. So there were two really conflicting approaches to this bill.

I congratulate Minister Burke on moving this forward. We could have been in the same position as we were for a long time with climate change issues and putting a price on carbon, where the position was deadlocked and we did not move. I understand that this bill will not meet Senator Hanson-Young's concerns and some of the environmentalists' concerns. I also understand that there are still concerns from the National Party and the coalition about some aspects of the bill. We are never going to get a pure position that will satisfy either the Greens party or the coalition. To try to get this bill through parliament, the government have accepted some issues that we may not have wanted to accept. One of the issues was the independence of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

It is clear that the Murray-Darling Basin Authority will have the expertise to deal with these issues. But it is equally clear that you would never get a Murray-Darling Basin Plan through parliament if you did not give some ground on some issues to try to get a consensus, to get some progress on this vexed issue. And this is a vexed issue.

This has been a vexed issue from the very day John Howard determined there was going to be a Murray-Darling Basin Plan and allocated $10 billion to a plan, without any consultation with his ministers, without any consultation with Treasury and without any consultation with the cabinet. That was the start of this bill, and we have had to pick up the pieces on the way through. And I think Minister Burke has done a tremendous job to get us to where we are.

Senator Joyce said earlier that people were doing it tough out in the irrigation areas, and I understand that. He said that some of us here may never have done it tough. Well, I have done it tough. I have lost my job because the economic circumstances meant that the employer I was with could not continue. I have had to try to deal with individual workers as a union official, and with communities and enterprises—with people who have lost their jobs and their futures as a result of economic circumstances and changed circumstances. I have been lectured about Schumpeter's theory of creative destruction—about how things change and how you move from one job to another. I have never been too impressed by Schumpeter's theory of creative destruction. But I have to say that I do understand that workers and communities need to be taken into account, and I think this bill is trying to do that.

The other aspect of this which has not been spoken about to any great level—Senator Hanson-Young has raised it—is the changing climate, and the need to deal with these issues. It is interesting that we have just had another report, not from a green group, not from some tree huggers, but from the World Bank. The World Bank is basically saying that they have reviewed all the literature, all of the science on this issue, and that we are heading for a four-degree increase in the temperature of the globe.

It is okay for people to stand up here and say, 'We've got to protect every job; we've got to protect every community,' but they have to take into account the health of the river. That is what came through to me in the committee hearing. I agree with Senator Hanson-Young: if you do not have a healthy river then the jobs that are associated with the river will go and the communities will be as unhealthy as the river. You cannot, by some legislative process in parliament, guarantee that there will never be a change in the communities on the Murray-Darling. As much as we would like to think so, it is not going to happen. I think climate change is going to make us look at this as an ongoing issue, but I think the minister has done a good job in trying to deal with the issues that are before us at the moment to try and get this bill through.

I really do not accept the proposition, from the Greens again, that we will get out there and do all the pure environmental issues and not take into account the issue of the communities. There has to be a balance. But that balance has to take into account the environment. That is my view: it has to take into account the environment. And you can never get everything you want in one hit.

I would have been more interested in the Greens and their contribution today if they had actually attended all the hearings, and listened. Senator Hanson-Young, you can sigh all you like, but I think if there is a hearing on the issue that you are so passionate about then the Greens could actually turn up to all the hearings and listened to what is going on. So I just do not accept all this passionate opposition, when the Greens will not even put the effort in to attend all the hearings. It is a bit rich to be here with all the passion and all the worries if you do not even attend the hearings on this issue. It is an issue, and it is a real issue.

So what we are trying to do with this bill is to ensure that we achieve, as best as possible, a balance. It might not be perfect for the irrigators. It might not be perfect for the environmentalists, or the Greens. But there was lots of conflicting evidence before the committee about the impact of the 2,750 gigalitres, moving to 3,200 gigalitres with that 450 extra gigalitres. There was evidence about choking points. There was evidence about floods in some areas around choking points in the river. There was evidence from the irrigators about the need to actually manage this very carefully, and there was other evidence, which was completely to the contrary to that, from the environmentalists, similar to what Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has put here: that there are real problems with the approach and not enough water to make the river healthy.

We went to two areas. We went down to South Australia and we heard all of the arguments about why you need to actually meet the commitments that the government outlined and that Minister Bourke outlined in his second reading speech. In relation to the special accounts bill, the committee has said that we should actually put the targets in legislation so that the fears of some environmentalists, that we would not get that water in and it would not make the difference down in Adelaide, would be dealt with. So it was very important to do that.

My view, and I have not got a lot of time left, is that we certainly should support this bill. It may not be everybody's nirvana and it may not be the perfect issue for everyone here but it is a massive step forward in trying to get the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in place to make sure that the population of Adelaide can have access to water and can have reduced salinity and that we can have the rivers as healthy as we possibly can while maintaining the social, industrial and agricultural efforts in other areas upriver from Adelaide. So this is a very complex issue and this is a tough game.

I say again that Minister Burke has done a tremendous job in trying to manage this through parliament given the problems that we have. It became clear during the hearings that there were differences between the Liberals and the Nationals because different constituencies have different priorities—and I am not criticising that as I think some differences within parties are good for debate and outcomes. I see Senator Birmingham has come in and I am sure he will be speaking shortly. Senator Birmingham has got the job of trying to massage this through with Senator Barnaby Joyce. Good luck, Senator Birmingham! You are going to have your work cut out but I am sure you are up to it. I am sure that there will be a robust debate and you will be in it looking after Adelaide and making sure its people are getting a fair go. I am sure Senator Joyce will be saying cotton farmers have to get a fair go as well. It will be an interesting debate in the coalition party room on this issue. I am looking forward to the outcome of that to see who comes out with their head still intact.

I support this bill. I think it is important that it gets through. It may not be everybody's perfect solution but it is a solution in the interim to get all this moving to get a Murray-Darling Basin Authority plan in place. I think it is a good approach. I certainly support the bill and I commend it to the Senate.