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STANDING COMMITTEE ON RURAL AND REGIONAL AFFAIRS AND TRANSPORT
13/11/2008
Water Amendment Bill 2008

CHAIR —Welcome. Do you have any comments to make on the capacity in which you appear?

Ms Mattila —The Bondi Group is related to the National Irrigation Corporations Water Entitlement Register.

CHAIR —Thank you. I invite you to make a brief opening statement.

Ms Mattila —Thank you for inviting me here today. I want to say firstly that a number of the things I will say are the policy of the Bondi Group and others are actually my own personal views, so I will be clear as to whether something is Bondi Group policy or my personal view.

The Bondi Group represents the locally owned irrigation corporations right around Australia. The Bondi Group, like many others, has over the last eight months or so been making numerous submissions to the ACCC that relate to the Water Act that is before us at the present time. A number of those submissions that we have been making have been in writing; most recently, a number of them have also been made in public forums.

In August this year I actually asked the ACCC whether at any stage they had looked at the impact of water trading in other countries. The answer was no, they had not. I said: ‘But surely you have looked at the famous situations in the United States as to what happened on the West Coast? It was the basis of a very famous Oscar-winning movie, with Jack Nicholson. Surely you at least looked at the movie, even if you did not read the material.’ But the answer was basically no, they had not looked overseas at all. They had not looked at the impact of water trading and the outcomes for communities and for environmental purposes.

In brief, unrestricted water trading on the West Coast of the United States, predominantly in the 1920s and 1930s, turned farmland into an environmental wasteland. The economic, environmental and social impact was severe. Please, Senators, if you get five minutes, Google either Owens Valley or Cadillac Desert. It will bring up photos of what happened to those areas as a result of the water being stripped from the land. I have given you a handout which is an economic assessment of what happened in the Owens Valley. It basically said at the end of it that the transfer of the water from the farmland to Los Angeles had a significantly detrimental impact on the farmers who sold their water. It also went through how the government—you have to remember this was a government purchase or government-sponsored purchase in the United States—went about ensuring that the government got the water for the best possible price. It makes for very interesting reading. And, in the context of what we are going through at the moment, it is all terribly familiar. I will move back to talking about the Water Act, but I think it is incredibly important that we not repeat the mistakes of history when that information is so readily available. I have been involved in this industry for almost 20 years and I must admit I was shocked that anyone who had spent any time in this industry was not familiar with the situation in the US.

To go back to the Water Act, the questions that you have raised today initially related to governance arrangements between the states. One of the very early submissions I put to the ACCC, which they thought was quite strange, was to suggest to them that the states actually compete amongst themselves in relation to the water sector. If you as a state can encourage water to be purchased in another state rather than your own home state, you will actually protect the economic benefits of your state from that water, so you get a lot of competition between the states in relation to: ‘If we can push the purchases for environmental purposes into someone else’s state then we can protect our own patch.’ The ACCC six months or so ago thought that this was a strange thing to say. I think that in more recent times it is fairly obvious that that is what is happening. So we are not actually playing as a team at the moment; the states are competing with one another. That is unfortunate because it is not going to give us the best outcome. We need as a country to act with a common purpose.

Another one of the points you have raised is water theft. Water theft is a serious problem, however the far more serious problem is the state of some of the irrigation schemes that are government owned. Some of those government owned irrigation schemes have been allowed to run down over 20 to 30 years. It is quite important that we make a decision as a country as to whether we want irrigated agriculture, and where we want that irrigated agriculture. The cost of irrigation infrastructure is quite high—it is not cheap—however, the benefit to the country is significant. We need to do an assessment of what is going on in those irrigation schemes to find out whether or not they are sufficiently sustainable. We also need to look at how we ensure that each irrigation scheme is at full-cost recovery.

One of the difficulties that we have had is that there is no incentive within government schemes to ensure that the infrastructure is maintained. In fact, the incentive is that the infrastructure not be maintained, because the state governments take the view that there are better things upon which they can spend their money. So government schemes over a period of time have been allowed to run down. In the mid-nineties, as part of the 1994 COAG agreement, the view was taken that irrigation schemes should be transferred to local ownership where possible. As a result, New South Wales and Western Australia, predominantly, took the view that they would convert irrigation schemes to local ownership. Those schemes that were converted, particularly Harvey Water and Coleambally Irrigation, are now considered to be world leaders in irrigation infrastructure. They have been reviewed by the University of Birmingham in the UK and more recently by the University of Missouri, and it has been determined that the structure and the work that they have done has made them world leaders. I can provide those papers if you are interested.

The next point that I need to raise is the issue of internal transformation. To a certain extent that is covered in that paper by Libecap, who is a US academic. Internal transformation is of particular concern to irrigator-owned schemes. We have made a number of submissions to the ACCC on the point. Internal transformation is a very serious problem and, on our initial reading of the Water Act, transformation was only to relate to transformation away from a particular scheme, not internally for entitlements within a scheme.

In terms of internal transformation within irrigation schemes, the difficulty that it causes is that you may have a state government which is running their area; they would need to have one of their water men come into the locally owned irrigation scheme to read meters. The irrigation schemes that are owned by the farmers generally have computer monitored meter readers. The state government, in general, does it manually. So you would have one person who would have to drive 30 or 40 kilometres to read a meter within the irrigation scheme, and it would have to be replaced with a manual meter.

The other problem that we have, particularly in New South Wales, is that the irrigation schemes run the land and water management plans and are responsible for the environmental management in their local area.

CHAIR —I did invite you to make a brief opening statement. It is very important but I am sure there will be questions from senators around the table. If you can make it briefer it would be appreciated so that everyone can have a chance to ask a question.

Ms Mattila —That is fine. Transformation is a major issue. It has probably been raised with you before. I turn now to water markets and water trading under the Water Act. It does appear to me as a lawyer that there is no justification for separating out locally owned irrigation schemes from state government schemes. State government schemes, in general, are actually corporations; they are not the Crown. They seem to have been excluded on the assumption that they are the Crown, but if you have a close look at them and you are a lawyer it seems to me that they would be covered by the Trade Practices Act and should not be exempt from the Water Act. Everyone needs to be on a level playing field, both government owned schemes and locally owned schemes, and it is very important that water market rules and water trading rules applied consistently to government schemes and privately owned schemes.

At the present time—I just spoke to the Murray-Darling Basin Commission a few minutes ago—we understand that there are 13,400 gigalitres of surface water entitlement in the Murray-Darling Basin itself. However, that does cover flood harvesting, which is opportunistic. More specifically, and this is actually ABARE information, there are 4,500 gigalitres in the southern Murray-Darling Basin. The significance of that is that the government proposes to buy back 1,500 gigalitres; if we are talking about that buyback being mainly in the southern Murray region, potentially roughly a third of the water entitlements currently on issue could be subject to buyback, and we have to consider the environmental impact, the social impact on the economic impact. Thank you.

CHAIR —Thanks, Ms Mattila. I am going to break with tradition; I might ask a couple of questions first before I go to other senators. Now, I understand that your view is that the current water entitlement system operating in New South Wales and South Australia provides adequate security to water users and to finance providers.

Ms Mattila —Yes.

CHAIR —So I have two questions for you. Firstly, can you tell the committee if the Australian Bankers Association shares your views on this?

Ms Mattila —I think I should be quite specific that the banks share our view; Stephen Carroll of the Australian Bankers Association has a different view. However, in relation to the National Irrigation Corporations Water Entitlement Register, the banks actually have a higher proportion of encumbrances on that register than they do on the equivalent state register. So it does seem to me that the banks are satisfied with the stability and the security of those water entitlements within locally owned irrigation schemes. The actual figures in relation to encumbrances on water entitlements are 17 per cent on National Irrigation Corporations Water Entitlement Registers, which are basically in New South Wales—so 17 per cent of those water entitlements are encumbered—compared to roughly 10 per cent on the state register. I have spoken to a number of the banks directly, and they are satisfied with the process. Mr Carroll’s view is different, but he is entitled to his own opinion.

CHAIR —Okay. Secondly, can you describe to the committee what would happen to irrigators’ individual water entitlements in the event that a water corporation were to become insolvent?

Ms Mattila —In terms of the entitlements?

CHAIR —Yes.

Ms Mattila —Nothing.

CHAIR —Okay. Very good; I am happy.

Ms Mattila —Have we got any lawyers in the room, and I will explain—

CHAIR —No; fortunately we are not lawyers!

Ms Mattila —I can hopefully explain it to you in a—

CHAIR —Sorry—you are a lawyer. Sorry about that!

Ms Mattila —I will explain it to you if you like.

CHAIR —You know it is a cold day in Canberra because they have got their hands in their own pockets! Sorry.

Ms Mattila —I will explain it to you. It is quite simple. Basically, the way it works—and I actually set up a number of these schemes, so I hope I know how it works—is that the irrigation corporations hold what is called a bare legal title. It is a bit similar to a trust, but the beneficial interest is held by the irrigators themselves in terms of the individual entitlements within the irrigation scheme. The individual irrigators can actually trade that entitlement outside that irrigation corporation, as you know, and what we would call ‘perfect’ their title—that is just a legal term; it does not mean that it is better or worse than anything else. So the reality is that the irrigation corporation itself cannot encumber that water entitlement because it only has a bare legal title, and if anything happened to the irrigation corporation the irrigators’ rights would be protected.

CHAIR —Thank you, Ms Mattila. I owe an apology to Senator Xenophon, who I believe was at one stage a lawyer.

Senator XENOPHON —Don’t hold it against me!

CHAIR —But he did not own up to it very quickly.

Senator XENOPHON —And Senator Farrell.

CHAIR —So was Senator Farrell. Whoops-a-daisy! I will cop it on the way out! Senator Siewert.

Senator SIEWERT —I apologise for not being here at the start of your evidence, Ms Mattila. I was unavoidably detained in the chamber. Do you think there is anything in the bill that needs amendment? And I apologise if you covered this before I came in.

Ms Mattila —My main concern relates to the transformation issue. My understanding was at the time that transformation issue was only meant to relate to transfers of water entitlements from an irrigation scheme to an external third party—what is called in the business an ‘external permanent transfer’. However, the ACCC has chosen to interpret it to allow an irrigator who is currently within an irrigation scheme to convert that entitlement to the state register. The significance of that in terms of trying to run one of these businesses is actually profound because it would result potentially in the break-up of that irrigation scheme. The ACCC has said to us that this is only voluntary; however, what we are concerned about is Mr Carroll and the ABA. As I said, we have never had a problem with a bank, and we find it very difficult to understand why the ABA has taken this line when in general the banks are quite happy, are being supportive and have been involved with the irrigation corporation since the mid-nineties. So they are familiar with it. That would be my main concern at the moment and the concern of the Bondi—that issue of internal transformation. It will make it very difficult to maintain their environmental obligations, it will result in problems with drainage in some areas because if you excise, within that corporation area, certain areas of land, the drainage is actually owned by the corporation, so they would not have a direct right to access the drainage. The problem with drainage is that, if you are going to have environmental difficulties, that is where it will come. So the environmental obligations are imposed through the corporation on the member and it is managed through the relationship between the corporation and the member. If there is a prosecution in relation to an environmental breach, it is actually the corporation that is prosecuted, not the individual irrigator. Then the corporation itself deals with the irrigator. If there is no direct relationship between the two, it is a very serious problem. They were not designed when they were put together to withstand this type of pressure.

Senator NASH —So that is the issue; what do you see as the solution to that problem?

Ms Mattila —Well, we do not believe it is appropriate that people who are within a corporation, if you want to transfer your water out to someone—say if you are in New South Wales and you are in, for argument’s sake, the western Murray, there is no problem with transferring your water entitlement from western Murray to someone in South Australia. Our understanding was that that was covered in the act. That happens now. When we are talking about around Australia, it is totally different, but we will talk about the Murray-Darling Basin for the moment. Internally, those irrigators are accessing infrastructure that belongs to a group of people. The arrangements were that that group of people would manage that area. It is very difficult for one person in the middle of it, for example, to say, ‘I don’t want to be involved in this. I don’t want to comply with your rules. I want the state government to actually come in and manage my water entitlement,’ because that is what this actually means. The state government, my understanding is, and I have spoken to as many people as I could in New South Wales, do not support this approach because they do not want the responsibility of looking after people individually within irrigation schemes. One of the reasons that they excised it from government ownership was to actually get away from this particular problem. The other issue that they are obviously concerned about is that they do not want any of these irrigation schemes to get into financial difficulties, and that is a likely outcome of that policy. It needs to be looked at in a broader perspective. It needs to be understood a lot more carefully in terms of what will happen if you do this, and I do not think that it has been thought through properly.

Senator SIEWERT —I just wanted to drill down a little bit. Senator Xenophon may be about to ask the same question, and that is, what amendments do you think need to be made? Have you gone that far, and which part of the bill do you think needs to be fixed?

Ms Mattila —I think that is section 96. I should say that that I can put back proposals as to the amendments that I think need to be made—

Senator SIEWERT —That would be very much appreciated.

Ms Mattila —because I was actually a policy officer and I used to do legislation for a long time. So I will put that back to you.

Senator SIEWERT —Okay. Have you raised this with government?

Ms Mattila —We have. I could not count the number of papers that I have written to the ACCC on this. I have spoken to Senator Wong’s office on this. I have spoken to many people, and so have all the members of the Bondi Group—they have made numerous submissions on this.

Senator SIEWERT —What has been the response?

Ms Mattila —Initially we were told that they were not aware that there was a problem. The ACCC suggested that we speak to Senator Wong’s office, which we did. However, what we are after is clarification that this will not happen, because we have to act in the best interests of everyone, and sometimes people need to act as a community. I will use Pioneer Valley in Queensland as an example for a moment. The Pioneer Valley irrigators, in Mackay in Queensland, have voted unanimously that they would like to own their irrigation scheme. They have paid for the irrigation scheme and for all their infrastructure. It is currently in Queensland government ownership because there was no option for them to own it. We have been trying to convert it to local ownership for about four years. Those people made the choice that they did not want to be on the state register. They have actually leased their water back to the entity that they would like to own the irrigation scheme, but if this particular approach comes through then it forces them back. People have already made this decision. The act and the ACCC’s approach do not allow people to say: ‘I’m on the state register or on Murray Irrigation’s register, and I think I’d like to be on the Goulburn-Murray Water register. Let’s be on somebody else’s register.’ If you are going to be fair, it has to cut both ways. So it seems to me that this is very much being driven down a one-way street, that the locally owned schemes are disadvantaged significantly in relation to this particular proposal and that no-one has thought through the consequences. If you want to have it so that you can go on the state register, you should also allow the people on the state register to come into the irrigation schemes if they choose, and that is the Pioneer Valley example. But it needs to be thought through, and it has not been.

Senator NASH —I will ask another question on this before we move off. Just so I understand this clearly, say you have an irrigation district that somebody, as you mentioned in that example at the beginning, wants to sell out to the state register. Wouldn’t there then have to be a requirement that the infrastructure provider would have to allow access to that state body to be able to provide the infrastructure to that person within that community group?

Ms Mattila —They do. If the state government wanted to come in and provide that service to that person, that would be what would actually have to happen.

Senator NASH —That would have to happen, wouldn’t it?

Ms Mattila —But if you ask the New South Wales government, ‘Is this what you want to do?’ my understanding is that they have advised that they do not want to do this. The cost to the state government would be prohibitive. It is not sensible.

Senator NASH —No, it is not.

CHAIR —On that, Senator Nash—

Senator NASH —Sorry. It was quite important; otherwise it would have never gone in.

CHAIR —You are probably one of the better behaved ones on this committee, apart from Senator Siewert and me.

Ms Mattila —The state government thinks that this is an odd thing to do as well—I am speaking for New South Wales. We do need to clarify it with them—you really should ask them—but that is my understanding of their position, and I have actually asked.

Senator XENOPHON —To follow through on those things, firstly, you referred to correspondence between your organisation on one hand and the ACCC and the minister’s office on the other. Could you provide to the committee some representative correspondence—not necessarily everything—to give us an idea of the flavour and substance of that correspondence.

Ms Mattila —Yes.

Senator XENOPHON —Secondly, you referred to the fact that, in situations where there is a breach, the corporation gets prosecuted, not the responsible party, in a sense, and then it is between the corporation and the person or irrigator responsible. What happens in those situations? Is the corporation’s only comeback under the terms of the contract?

Ms Mattila —It is not a contract; it is a membership arrangement.

Senator XENOPHON —Sorry. So it is a civil remedy.

Ms Mattila —Yes, that is right.

Senator XENOPHON —Is that what happens? That is it?

Ms Mattila —There are a number of other things that can be involved. If you have someone who is creating environmental damage, it may be that the decision is made that access to the water is terminated. I have not actually seen that happen—the only time I have ever seen that happen in a corporation is where there was water theft—but that option is generally there. People tend to be very well behaved because they know that is an option.

Senator XENOPHON —But it is the ultimate sanction?

Ms Mattila —It is the ultimate sanction. The state government cannot do that because they are within the locally owned organisation. All the state government could do if the state government took action against a particular irrigator is that they can issue them with a fine. Generally fines are not terribly effective, not just with irrigators but for all sorts of reasons. The more effective remedy is basically you are in a community which takes a very dim view of people who do not comply with environmental obligations and a very dim view of people who create problems for the corporation. So the community pressure is actually far more effective than fines that would never be imposed. In 1993 I did a paper for the New South Wales government on the blue-green algae scare. It is one of the earliest things I did. What came out of that was land and water management plans. It was a recommendation that I made at the time. The reason that those land and water management plans are in like a business plan is because the state governments were not prosecuting people for environmental breaches and it was far better to get a group of disparate people around the table and make them sit and negotiate through these sorts of issues. That way everyone could see everyone else’s point of view and it actually builds community responsibility for the environment and for the local economy.

CHAIR —Senator Siewert, have you concluded your questions? I will go to Senator Nash.

Senator SIEWERT —I have got a question on a different issue, so of Senator Nash is pursuing this issue—

Senator NASH —No, it is on a separate issue.

Senator SIEWERT —Okay. I want to change tack a little bit. There has been a lot in the media recently around the impact of mining in the Murray-Darling Basin, particularly where there is groundwater involved. Have you got a position on that in terms of the impact of mining, and do you think we should be looking at moving to protect the Murray-Darling Basin from the impacts of mining?

Ms Mattila —I will draw a slightly different example. Some years ago one of the coalmines in Newcastle broke into the groundwater that fed the Hunter River. I do not know whether you remember that. These sorts of things can have very serious impacts in terms of groundwater, and I think groundwater is actually one of the areas that has been almost totally ignored and neglected. There needs to be a lot more work put into it. We have significant areas of groundwater around Australia where there has been no proper modelling or mapping. In Queensland in particular and also in the Northern Territory and parts of Western Australia, areas like the Yarragadee, the Nangarra mound in WA, the Burdekin in Queensland, there has been virtually no work done on groundwater and maintaining the integrity of groundwater systems. Apart from the Murray-Darling Basin, there needs to be a lot more time, work and effort put into protecting those groundwater systems, making sure that as far as possible we do not have problems of contamination. We also need to look at the issue of groundwater areas that impact on the Great Barrier Reef, which is a slightly different issue to the mining issue.

Senator NASH —Something you mentioned in your opening remarks I would like you to expand on a bit. It was the question about how we make the decision as a country as to whether we want irrigated agriculture. I think that links to a broader question of whether we want sustainable rural and regional communities. How do you see that decision being made? I think it is a very important point that a lot of these decisions being made about a number of areas with regional Australia at the moment are coming back to whether or not we want a sustainable regional and regional rural Australia—

Ms Mattila —And where is it.

Senator NASH —And where is it. That is a long way of saying, how do you see us getting to some kind of process to make that decision, if you like?

Ms Mattila —I must admit that at this stage this is my personal opinion because there are different people with different views. The Bondi Group has very set policies that are set out in its constitution and we do actually pass policies. But, stepping back to my own personal views on this, I think we need to be very careful about what we are doing. I do not think that there has been enough assessment done in relation to where the water is being bought—

Senator NASH —Yes.

Ms Mattila —and how it is being bought. As I said, one of the reasons that I handed around the Libecap article is that there is a little bit in there on the social and economic impact on the United States of that particular buyback, but if you also go through the literature, there are articles by the Smithsonian—and I did mean to bring those with me but it was a bit hard to print them out. We need to actually look at this and ask, ‘What impact is this going to have on towns? What environmental impact does it have if you take all of that water away from a particular area?’ Because it may not give you the best environmental impact.

I drove between Mildura and Griffith about two years ago. Mildura is an area of high-security water and permanent plantings. I crossed the border around Dareton, as you do, and drove to Griffith. Between Dareton and Griffith there was not a blade of grass or a live animal—there was not even road kill. When I got into the area around Coleambally, the native animals had congregated around the irrigation areas because there was water there and the local farmers were actually looking after emus, of all things, and kangaroos, because there was no food for the native animals further out. We have also got to remember that the Murray-Darling Basin area, when Europeans turned up, was saltbush and salt pans. It was not a productive area. When you look at those areas around Carnarvon in Western Australia—which is now one of the most productive areas in Australia—you see that irrigated agriculture manages the land. It makes it productive. If you let it revert to its natural state, it may not give you the environmental impact that people think it will.

Senator NASH —That is a good point.

Ms Mattila —We need to think this through. As I said, the US have had the experience of doing pretty much what we are doing now. The only difference is that we are buying it for the environment; they bought it for their cities. But the impact, in my view, is similar. We need to think this through. What we are doing is going to have a major impact on the Australian economy. It is going to have a major impact, probably not so much on Queensland but on New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. If the figures are right and there are around 4,500 gigalitres of permanent entitlement in the southern Murray-Darling Basin—and that figure, as I said, is from trying to drill down as well as I could—if we pull out 1,500 for the environment, that is a third.

Senator HEFFERNAN —How much?

Ms Mattila —There are 4,500 gigalitres in the Southern Murray basin.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Not the Murray?

Ms Mattila —Just the Murray.

Senator HEFFERNAN —There is 5,700 there, isn’t there?

Ms Mattila —I have been trying to get to the figure myself.

Senator HEFFERNAN —I think it is 5,700.

Ms Mattila —Well, if you pull out 1,500, it is a lot of water.

Senator HEFFERNAN —No; if we buy back—sorry to intervene but, under what is proposed, if we spend the money on both the savings and the buybacks and the science is at the 60 per cent percentile of the equation, there will be a zero allocation for low-security licences when we have done it all.

Ms Mattila —Yes, and it will all be in high-security, which we do not really have much of anyway.

CHAIR —Senator Nash, do you have any more questions? We are running close to time.

Senator NASH —How about I very kindly cede to my colleagues who have more questions?

CHAIR —Senator Siewert?

Senator SIEWERT —No, I asked my extra question.

CHAIR —Senator Heffernan, do you have a question—not a lecture, a question?

Senator HEFFERNAN —No.

CHAIR —You may ask your question, Senator Nash. Do you have a question?

Senator NASH —I did, but now I have completely lost my train of thought, Chair!

Ms Mattila —If you wanted to send us some questions that would be fine. We will make our best effort to answer them.

CHAIR —Senator Siewert.

Senator SIEWERT —Ms Mattila, There were questions on notice, which you said you would look at, on where and how you thought we should be amending the bill to address those issues around transference and how to fix up the problems that you have raised. If you could give us answers to those questions it would be very much appreciated.

Senator NASH —I just want to clarify, Ms Mattila—now that I have got my train of thought back—your comments about not enough assessment being made. Do you think there is a real risk, then, that the government is making decisions on buyback of water at the moment that may not be actually going to deliver the outcomes they want, in terms of the environment, and that the government should not be doing it until the where, what, why and how have been more thoroughly assessed? Would that be a fair comment?

Ms Mattila —I think that that is probably the fairest thing to say—that we do need to think through the issues a little bit more than we have. As we know from last time, there has not been a socioeconomic impact statement done on the buyback. It is meant to be done in May next year. I think that we need to be clear that it is quite clear that the basin is actually overallocated. However, one of the things that we need to sort through is what we are going to focus on. Are we going to focus on high security water? Are we going to focus on permanent plantings—because you must have water to do that? Are we going to focus on general security water? Are we going to focus on crops that you can either plant or not plant depending on the environmental conditions? From what I can see, those sorts of issues have not been thought through in enough detail.

The ACCC’s brief does not go that far; it is only about the water market and trading rules. The thing that I would come back to, which I think is straightforward in the act but which seems to have got confused, is that the government owned corporations, in my view, should be caught by the Water Act, but for some reason the ACCC has taken the view that they are the Crown. However, as a lawyer I say that they are not the Crown; they are statutory corporations. Statutory corporations, as a matter of law, are generally not the Crown unless they are so closely linked to government that they have virtually no separate, independent existence. So it seems that that area under the act needs to be looked at more carefully because it seems to me that entities such as State Water, Goulburn-Murray Water and Lower Murray Water are not the Crown; they should be covered by the Water Act.

Heaven help us—we all remember Work Choices. At that time, those entities were of the view that they were caught by the Work Choices legislation. If they are caught by Work Choices, it seems to me that they would also be caught by the Water Act; there is no distinction between the two. So I think that that is something where, perhaps, the Senate should go back and ask the question: are these state government irrigation corporations exempt simply because there is a view that they are the Crown, and are they the Crown? My view as a lawyer is that they are not. They are different from departments of the Crown and ministers of the Crown. In general, state government corporations would under normal circumstances be caught by the Trade Practices Act and by this Water Act. But it is, perhaps, something that the Attorney-General could answer.

Senator NASH —Thanks very much.

CHAIR —On that, Ms Mattila, I thank you for your time today.

[4.13 pm]