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Tuesday, 26 June 2012
Page: 4555

Senator JOYCE (QueenslandLeader of The Nationals in the Senate) (21:00): The Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Amendment (Scheme Enhancements) Bill 2012 is non-controversial because it is basically what we want to do, which is to have greater water efficiency. Over a number of years a range of states have had pieces of legislation with the federal government over the top of those. It has been very confusing. We have tried to remove that confusion and we entirely support the government on this.

Madam Acting Deputy President McKenzie, you are looking wonderful tonight. You are a flash bit of kit in this chamber, there is no doubt about you.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator McKenzie ): I am sure there is a standing order somewhere, Senator, but—

Senator JOYCE: It is non-contro. Roll with me on this. It is good to try to get a piece of streamlined legislation so that the federal government basically enacts the decision of the COAG council of ministers so that what they agree to we then enact. It is quite simple. This bill will allow the Commonwealth minister to determine the changes to the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Scheme without changes being required to the states' and territories' legislation.

The WELS Scheme was a proud achievement of the previous coalition government. In 2005 the coalition governĀ­ment created the world's first national scheme of its kind to provide for water efficiency labels on shower heads, washing machines, toilets, dishwashers, urinals and taps. These labels give consumers easy to understand star ratings, as I am sure Senator McLucas would understand, and water consumption information on the water efficiency of different products. The bill amends the WELS Act to allow the Commonwealth minister to determine more of the scheme's details, particularly those relating to the registration of products and cost recovery. This differs from the current position in that some aspects of the scheme, such as the five-year period for product registration, cannot be changed without changing nine sets of legislation. The minister will make changes by disallowable legislative instrument, the terms of which must be agreed to by a majority of states and territories.

If this bill is passed, and I suspect it will because it is non-contro, it is expected that the minister will make a number of changes to the WELS Scheme, including revising registration fees to meet the cost recovery target of 80 per cent that is recovered from industry. Further amendments are proposed in the bill to the enforcement provisions of the WELS Act. Civil penalty provisions have been added to provide a more cost-effective enforcement—and might I say that civil penalty provisions are the way that we are going forward now. It is in regard to the onus of proof. I remember looking into the bill and the onus of proof scheme basically means that instead of having been presumed innocent, and having us prove you are guilty, you have got to prove yourself to be innocent. It is a good position and I am sure many of your advisors would agree with me on that—I can see them nodding profusely.

Civil penalty provisions have been added to provide a more cost-effective enforcement response. The bill will also apply a strict liability to more provisions because it is currently difficult to prove intent in relation to breaches of the act. For example, previously, not labelling a product required having to prove intent and that was rather difficult. Some other changes of an administrative nature have been made, including removing the requirement for gazettal of registration decisions and instead requiring decisions to be published on the WELS website, and providing for further reviews of the operation of the WELS Scheme at five-year intervals.

The coalition supports this bill as it builds on and improves a successful scheme that was introduced by the coalition. It is a shame, however, that this government's water policy is not as non-controversial as this bill. The biggest water issue—and I know, Madam Acting Deputy President McKenzie, that you will be interested in this—facing this nation is the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The government's management of this plan has been an utter debacle. They released the plan in late 2010; they walked away from it within weeks. A few months later, the head of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority had to resign.

Senator Farrell: Madam Acting Deputy President, on a point of order, we are speaking here about water efficiency legislation, not the Murray-Darling Basin legislation.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: There is no point of order.

Senator JOYCE: The government has now managed to alienate every state government in the country on this issue. This puts at grave risk any chance for Australia to achieve a successful outcome of this reform. Every water policy in this country has had the support and cooperation of Australia's federal structure of government. I remember the great reforms we got from The Living Murray agreement—969 megalitres of water went back into the Murray-Darling Basin.

There are clear limits on what the Commonwealth can achieve in water policy as it does not have powers over land use and water infrastructure which are absolutely essential for good water policy management—just like what we have with taps and urinals because that is good water policy management. We must have good water policy on urinals. I have been worried about urinals for years and years because urinals are to do with water. Also, we must look at what is happening at other things that may or may not have been flushed down the urinal by Labor Party policy pertaining to the Murray-Darling Basin. When the coalition were last in government, great strides were made in water reform without the rancour and turmoil that have marked this government's term. One can see that the WELS Scheme is a great example of what can happen when you go about things in a diligent manner because you get a bipartisan outcome, which everybody is happy with—unlike the Murray-Darling Basin scheme.

The National Water Initiative was agreed to and, under it, it was clearly and frankly recognised that there will always be a trade-off between achieving economic, social and environmental outcomes. The government's approach is to wish this trade-off away. Even now, we hear that the government is telling some that it cannot do what it would like to do on water policy because the Water Act puts the environment first and everything else second. What we had before was that we all believed, the Labor Party believed, that we would have an equivalence between social, economic and environmental factors. What we have now is backed up by Professor Judith Sloan and by Professor George Williams, a former Labor Party candidate. Not to be parochial, we also got Professor John Briscoe from Harvard University, Massachusetts, United States of America—where I will be in a couple of weeks time. He said when he had a look over it that the Water Act is an environmental act and if we do not come up with an environmental outcome, the Greens will bring down the Labor Party and destroy them. I want the Labor Party to survive, because I think they are a great party. They are a party of Curtin and Chifley. I think they have done some incredible things for this nation that we are so proud of.

Senator Farrell: Big things.

Senator JOYCE: Yes, big things. Keeping our nation from being invaded was a massive issue. I am extremely proud of the statues we have down the road that show Curtin and Chifley as they are walking back to Parliament House. That is the party I recognise as the Labor Party, and the party, might I say, that my grandfather voted for. He was a strong member.

Senator Farrell: He was a smart man.

Senator JOYCE: He was. That party is not the party that I see represented now. But I do believe there are people in the Labor Party who can take it back there. But they have to come to the fore. They have to reclaim this thing. Do not swing with the people from the manic monkey cafe of inner suburban nirvanaville. Go back and talk to the people, the working class who wear the reflector suits, who go fishing, who believe in their nation and are proud of this nation. If you talk to them, you are going to give us a challenge. Where you are now, you are going to look like the Burghers of Calais, that Rodin sculpture you can see outside the national art gallery. You are going to be destroyed. That will be great for us, but it will be terrible for our nation because there will be nothing left of you. It happened in Queensland, so do not think it will not happen to you.

Senator Farrell: Australia is not Queensland.

Senator JOYCE: It will happen to you because the longer you wait, the worse it gets. The closer you get to annihilation, the more it turns into an issue. The Australian people do not respect you. If you try to repent at the last minute, they will not respect you, so you have to fix it up now. I know you have that in motion, so get it moving and fix it up.

The National Water Initiative was agreed to and, under it, it was clearly and frankly recognised that there will always be a trade-off between achieving economic, social and environmental outcomes. The government's approach is to wish this trade-off away. Even now, we hear that the government is telling some that it cannot do what it would like to do on water policy because the Water Act puts the environment first and everything else second. This is something we have been saying all along. Reclaim the 2.1 million people who live in the Murray-Darling Basin. They are an exemplar of the people whom you want to vote for you. If you look after them, you are looking after the outer suburbs. Show how you would respect their views and you will get the respect of a much wider constituency.

Under the coalition government, we recovered 823 gigalitres for the environment in the Murray-Darling Basin. That was achieved through programs like the Living Murray Initiative. Cooperation between local communities, irrigation operators, state governments and the Commonwealth government was the foundation of schemes. Unfortunately, the government have failed to heed the lessons of these approaches and have embarked on a course of explicit confrontation with state governments and local communities. You cannot get anywhere with water reform unless you get the local issues right. Take the WELS reform. These are great reforms because everybody is on board with it. The retailers are on board with it. The consumers are on board with it. Local governments are on board with it. You have to start from the ground up. That is where the hard work that I know people such as Senator Farrell and Senator Polley are capable of. They are very capable people.

If you start at the local level and build up, you will always get your program through because you absolutely are able to deal with the inconsistencies and the ructions that can happen. But if you try to start with it from a macro level and then enforce it on the micro, you just end up with a massive fight. You have that on the carbon tax and you are going to get it with the Murray-Darling Basin scheme. You cannot do it that way. It is a lot harder starting from the micro and building to the macro. It requires a lot more work. But it is the only way it ever succeeds. Politics is about hard work, but you cannot have macro decisions enforcing the micro because the macro thinks that the micro does not know what they are talking about, so the luminous orb of the illuminati will be enforced down onto the micro. They will just knock you for six every time. A person in the local community knows far more about the Murray-Darling Basin scheme and how it affects their community than someone who lives on the blue carpet and lives in an inner urban seat. Likewise the retailer in the shop knows what is going to sell. Star ratings sell; it is going to work. Build from the micro, work to the macro and you stay in government for longer than six years, which is what the current crowd will stay in for.

This approach is not going to work over the longer term. The test for the minister, the Hon. Tony Burke, will be whether he can work with all state governments to get an outcome from this process. At the moment, we have a plan that has cooperation between levels of government built into its DNA. Without the support of the states, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan becomes more difficult to implement because the plan calls for states to both operate the system and develop the detailed environmental watering plans. You cannot get an environmental watering plan or a Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The states are going to be the ones who have to kick in the dollars to make an environmental watering plan work. The states do not want to kick the money in. They decided to extract themselves from the process, and the whole thing became mindless and defunct and now does not work. For instance, chapter 7 of the plan calls on state governments to write the environmental watering plans, which will tell the government where the water needs to go. It is the best place to undertake this task, due to the existing expertise. They must remain engaged to ensure the best outcomes for the states and the system as a whole.

Labor has failed to outline a water recovery strategy for the basin. The government has spent $1.8 billion in water buybacks, but just $430 million on investments that will deliver water into the basin. For every one litre of water that has been saved through infrastructure, five litres have been taken out of the community through buybacks. You know and I know, Madam Acting Deputy President, that the water that comes from buybacks is the water that destroys communities. I know that Senator Farrell knows that and I know that Senator Polley will probably know that as well, although she is from Tasmania and probably does not have to deal with this.

We want the working families of the Murray-Darling Basin to be maintained and to exist in the longer term. I know that Senator Farrell wants that as well, but he cannot do that by removing the mechanism of commerce. He cannot do that because it is not just about the irrigators. It is also about the people who have bought a house for $300,000—maybe that is a cheap house. They went to the bank. They borrowed the money. All of a sudden we find the commerce in the town has been ripped away and therefore the house which was worth $300,000 is only worth $150,000. That person who, in the scope of things as far as urban Australia is concerned, is probably poor—poorer than they are—and made poorer by a stupid decision to rip the economic rug out from underneath them. We cannot let that happen.

If we are smart about this, we can come to an outcome without destroying these people's lives. They are the people we have to be worried about. We get so worried about yelling and screaming across the chamber—calling Dougy 'Lord Douglas' and all that sort of stuff just to stir him up—but we have to remember that these decisions affect real people's lives and we have to make sure that we look after those lives. We are not going to do that if we keep buying water back, rather than doing the hard work of trying to get the micro right and the environmental works and measures in place, so that we can save the water and let water go down the river for South Australia.

We can do that if we are diligent. If we work hard, we can do it. If we work lazy, we cannot. I am open in saying on the record that I am prepared to work with Minister Burke and to work hard to get the outcome. I want an outcome; I want a result. I want to get a positive result that deals with this problem, but I do not want to unnecessarily hurt people whom I have never met in some street in Mildura or some street in Griffith. I do not want to hurt them, because it is not right. They did not buy this ticket; they should not have to pay for it.

In the current Basin Plan more than 1,000 gigalitres remains unallocated and resides in shared allocation buckets. Communities throughout the basin cannot plan and invest in the basin with this uncertainty hanging over them. Worse, under this plan the minister says that the amount of water recovered could go up or down. I do not know what that means. If you have a plan that goes up or down, you do not have a plan. We have been arguing for decades on this. People want a resolution, but they do not want a minister giving the Greens another window to campaign for 7,600 gigalitres and that is what Senator Hanson-Young wants. That is destitution. She does not have to deal with this; she does not live there. I live in the Murray-Darling Basin. I might be the only senator who does; I am pretty sure—

Senator Farrell: I am the only senator born on the Murray.

Senator JOYCE: But I live on the Murray. I can throw a stone from my front yard into the river, into the Murray-Darling Basin. I cannot throw it into the Murray. I would be up there with Clive Lloyd if I could throw it into the Murray. This is something we can work on together. Let us take the nexus of this issue. The WELS Scheme has worked. We are about to have a piece of legislation that will go through tonight without argument—we will work with the government. We can do that on other pieces of legislation if we just realise that between the Labor Party, the National Party and the Liberal Party we have the numbers to do good issues. If the Labor Party wants to look after the Greens then we have a complete split.

I have said openly that I am prepared to work with Minister Burke. I have shown tonight on a piece of legislation that is my shadow portfolio that I am happy for this to go through. I want it to go through and without problems. We have worked on other issues, such as the National Water Commission—even though that was highly debated. So we can get to an outcome. I want to get there on the Murray-Darling Basin because I do not want to hurt people. I can make a big man of myself by screaming no and doing showdowns, but I do not want to do that. I want to make sure that we get to an end, but if the Labor Party sides up with the Australian Greens with their own agenda, which is to destroy the Labor Party. We had the Australian Greens once—they were called One Nation—and they wanted to destroy us. Do not let them destroy you.