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Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Page: 10150

Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (18:45): I am not lauding the Basin Plan 2012 as I have reservations about it but the alternative concerns me. I want to make it clear that I do not consider for one moment that the Greens are engaging in an act of political posturing in relation to this. I have worked closely with my colleague Senator Hanson-Young from the Australian Greens to seek the best outcome for the environment and to seek the best outcome for South Australia, which has the unenviable position of being at the bottom of the river system. So, while I understand the intent of this motion, I am concerned that it is a risky path to take.

I understand that this plan is far from perfect. I understand that this plan has many flaws in it. There has finally been a rigorous process with a number of inquiries—Senate inquiries and House of Representatives inquiries—and there has been the whole process around the guide to the Basin Plan, which was a bit of a farce. Finally, when the draft plan was released, there was a more thorough process of consultation. So as imperfect as this plan is, my concern is simply this: what happens if this plan is disallowed and if the version that comes back is worse than the one that we have now? What happens if we have a change of policy or if we have a change of government and whichever government is in power wants to start the process from square one? We could well be in our next drought by then. There is a real concern amongst the communities I speak to—amongst those who have a genuine concern for ensuring the production capacity of land for our food security and those who have a genuine concern for the environment—that we could potentially be in a worse position.

I believe the Basin Plan will make a difference to the environment in terms of what the government is proposing with the Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012, and I note recent comments of the environment minister, the Hon. Tony Burke, where he has said that we need to address the issue of a flaw in that bill which referred to up to another 440 gigalitres being put into the environment to make it much clearer that that is the mandated amount that we need to go for. So that gives me some comfort.

I understand the concerns of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists. They have added to this debate invaluably. People such as Peter Cosier, Tim Stubbs and others in that group have the highest integrity and I 'get' their concerns and I have pursued their concerns in relation to the issue of the interaction between groundwater and surface water. I am pleased that there has been some attempt by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to respond to questions that I put to them on notice just last Friday at a Senate committee hearing.

But ultimately this is about certainty. This is about communities wanting to be able to move forward in a constructive way to deal with these matters. If this plan is not adequate in years to come, then we need to tackle that but right now with the alternative I believe the risks are too high. We need a plan for this river system and I believe disallowing the plan carries with it a real risk for little guaranteed benefit, which is why I will have difficulty in supporting this motion, but I do not under any circumstances criticise the Australian Greens for bringing this motion. They have that right and they have reason to be concerned, but to me it is a question of risk. It is a question of the risk of not supporting this plan, as imperfect as it is. I believe it ought to be continually monitored. We ought to hold the government and the opposition to account in terms of the promises made. There is nothing to stop a further motion being moved in the new year, because of the way that the time limits for disallowance motions operate, by either Senator Hanson-Young or indeed another senator for a disallowance of this plan to debate this issue again. But right now on the evidence available I reluctantly cannot support this motion because I believe the risk is too great.