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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 2050

Mr HUNT (12:45 PM) —It is a great pleasure to rise to speak on the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Bill 2004 in a bipartisan way with my colleagues the member for Scullin and the member for Grey, who are both in the chamber and both speaking to the same issue. I want to start this discussion at the Mornington Peninsula and, in particular, at the Gunnamatta outfall, which is at the southern end of the Mornington Peninsula. At that outfall at Gunnamatta Beach, 150 billion litres of secondary treated sewage flows out to sea every year, only 20 metres from the shoreline, at a rate of 420 million litres a day.

This has three important consequences. Firstly, there is an obvious environmental effect. Secondly, at what is one of Australia's great surf beaches, there is a clear health risk, which has been verified through recurrent anecdotal evidence from numerous surfers, swimmers and users of that beach. Thirdly—and this brings me particularly to the water efficiency questions outlined in this bill—there is an outright waste of water. That is water which we have captured and have in the system but which we throw out to sea rather than reusing.

In this speech, I want to do two things: I want to address the question of Australia's national water infrastructure and I want to address the question of water efficiency. In looking at the question of water infrastructure, I want to make three points. The first is about the need for closure at Gunnamatta and reuse of all of the water which goes out of there. The second is about a proposal about which I am passionate—the need for a national ocean outfall strategy, aimed at ending all outfalls in Australia by 2025. That is a generational goal but an achievable one. The third point is about creating the means to do that through the establishment of a national water trust.

I return to Gunnamatta and the question of water infrastructure. My position, and the position of residents throughout the Mornington Peninsula, is very clear: the Gunnamatta outfall should be closed. A date should be set for its closure. The state opposition in Victoria has set a date of 2015. I have committed to work towards that date for closure, and there is a means to do so. Now we seek commitment from the state as well. I hope we can have a bipartisan commitment on exactly that plan.

The question then is: how do we achieve the water's reuse? This would be a fascinating water efficiency and water reuse model for Australia and, in conjunction with the Clean Ocean Foundation and the infrastructure engineer Mr John Lawson, we have developed a proposal that sets out how it would work. The proposal involves transporting up to 110 gigalitres of water a year from the eastern treatment plant, which firstly has to have its upgrade, through largely existing pipes—with some gaps to be filled in—to the Latrobe Valley, where it can be used for pulp, paper and power production. There is an existing consumption of 110 billion litres of water a year there, and that water currently comes from the Thompson-Latrobe-Gippsland system—110 billion litres of water is drawn out of those rivers each year for that. We can keep the fresh water in the rivers and use the recycled water for those industrial purposes, which are going ahead in any event. These existing fresh water users need no longer draw on our precious river water; they could be using the water which is currently wasted and disappears out at Gunnamatta.

I welcome the fact that the state have committed to examining the feasibility of this. My understanding is that they have taken this proposal, which we put on the table in a meeting with the Deputy Premier last year, sufficiently seriously to take the managing director of Melbourne Water off line and place him directly in charge of this project. So the pipeline from the eastern treatment plant to Latrobe Valley is a real proposal. It will cost money, but I believe that it is feasible and that it will be a national model.

At the national level, I am proposing that Australia needs a national ocean outfall strategy with, as its bottom line commitment, an end to the annual dumping of 1,500 gigalitres of sewage at 142 outfalls around Australia. That amount of sewage is being dumped off our coasts, onto our beaches and into our coastal waters each year. For over two years I have been proposing a national ocean outfall strategy to end that. I believe we need to set the target of ending all ocean outfalls by 2025 and we need to work towards that goal. We need to do that through the process of recycling and reusing our water—not for the drinking system but for agriculture and industry. Agriculture and industry consume far more water than the urban areas of Australia do. So that option is a tremendous national goal. Once again, I repeat to the House that I am committed to the idea of ending all ocean outfalls in Australia by 2025 and to working, as I have with colleagues from this side of the House—in particular, the member for Grey—towards the goal of a national ocean outfall strategy.

So how do we do this? This brings me to my third point. The mechanism for achieving this outcome, I believe, is the creation of a national water trust. I believe that a national water trust could help to achieve (a) the financial backing and (b) the process of intergovernmental cooperation and commitment towards a 20-year plan. How do you establish a national water trust? I have previously argued in this House that the basis for that should be a capital transfer from the Commonwealth—we have to play our part—into a national water trust. One of the possible sources that has been identified is a percentage of five or 10 per cent of the proceeds which would come from the sale of the third part of Telstra. That is one option, and it is a serious option. It is an option that I have presented consistently in this forum and in other fora.

That capital would lay the foundation. If there were an amount of $1 billion paid out at the equivalent of 10 per cent per year—but because of interest it will last for approximately 20 years—the total amount paid out would be double the initial capital, allowing for a 20-year depreciation. If you make it contingent on matching state funds—given that most would be spent in any event—that gives a total value of about $4 billion for a $1 billion commitment. Or if, as has been argued by some, there is a 10 per cent take from the sale of Telstra part three, that would provide a $3 billion capital trust for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work on Australia's water infrastructure.

The water trust should apply to two things. It should apply to work on our rivers across all states and it should apply to our national urban water infrastructure. I welcome the statement that the Prime Minister made in Adelaide only a few weeks ago that national urban water reform will be one of the government's major priorities on the environmental and infrastructure side going forward. So how would the water trust work? I am proposing that the national water trust would effectively work through three phases—each of which would be seven, seven and six years respectively.

In the first phase we would identify projects of a seven-year duration in each state. We would apply to the national water trust for a commitment that would be paid out over those seven years towards reforming our treatment systems, our piping systems and our reuse systems—aimed at ending the waste of 1,500 billion litres of water nationally per year, the environmental impacts and the health impacts. These are feasible things. Why? Because this is done around the world. In Europe it is standard practice to reuse and recycle grey water. In many other parts of the world it is standard practice. In fact, their water systems would not survive unless they were reusing for agricultural and industrial purposes that water which they capture, own and which is already within the system.

So, in that context, I believe that it is feasible, it is possible and it is aspirational to establish a commitment to close the Gunnamatta outfall by 2015, a commitment to work towards a national ocean outfall strategy which ends all ocean outfalls by 2025 and a commitment to establish a national water trust as the means for so doing. I believe that a national water trust, managed by the Commonwealth but with the cooperation of and in conjunction with the states—in the same way that the Murray Darling Basin Commission has been a tremendous success—can work towards upgrading our urban water systems, ensuring that the water is not wasted and addressing significant projects, such as the problem of stormwater, which has not been adequately addressed in any of the states. So we have a gap, we have a proposal and we have, I believe, a solution. I am committed to working towards this for as long as it takes to achieve any of those outcomes.

The second great part of this debate is about the question of how we personally use our water—water efficiency. The Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Bill 2004 sets out a series of mechanisms which together will have an impact over the coming years by saving billions and billions of litres of water. By 2021, 610 billion litres of water will be saved under the efficiencies set out in this bill. In particular, the bill is about labelling the efficiency of washing machines, dishwashers, toilets, showerheads, urinals and taps—all those elements of basic domestic water use which are part of our lives and which we have taken for granted. The bill sets out a series of steps on that front. I commend those steps and I commend the bill.

In summary, my position is clear. I believe that Australia needs a national ocean outfall strategy. I am committed to that strategy and to the generational goal of working towards the ending of all ocean outfalls and the recycling of all domestic water by 2025. Secondly, as a prime case under that, I am committed to working towards the closure of the Gunnamatta outfall by 2015. Thirdly, I believe that the mechanism to achieve this is a national water trust. It is something I am passionate about and something I know that many of my fellow colleagues are also passionate about.

This is something that can be achieved. It can be a great legacy, not for us but for future generations. We can create for them the same sort of progress that previous generations created for us, with the very establishment of our piping and water systems. The challenge for us today, in the Australia of the early 21st century, is to lay out for the Australia of the mid-21st century, a water system which protects our water, reuses our water and, above all else, protects and enhances our coasts.