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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 2053

Mr WAKELIN (12:59 PM) —In speaking to the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Bill 2004, I note that it is the first such bill in the world, and I compliment this government on that initiative. There are many problems with water and if ever a commodity or a resource was taken for granted, it is the resource that we call water. Some of the problems and issues described in this debate include: imperfect cost reflectiveness in water pricing; low public awareness of water and waste water prices; the widespread practice of central metering; poor information on the relative significance of end users and on the water efficiency of different models; and the incentive for developers in commercial and residential property to minimise capital costs rather than lifetime operating costs.

This legislation specifically deals with labelling and better information for consumers, particularly the urban consumer. We know that about 75 per cent of mains supplied water is used in agriculture. We know that 16 per cent is used in household water—about 35 per cent is going on the garden—and about four per cent is going to the commercial sector. We have seen a 13 per cent increase in water usage. The aim is to achieve five per cent less water usage by 2021. When you look at that sort of collective saving, it is about 610,000 megalitres by 2021, and that will be more water than is actually in Sydney Harbour.

We know a lot more about water now than we ever have. Can I just share this comparison with the House. Water is priced at about a dollar a kilolitre—that is, 1,000 litres will cost a dollar. We know that for a well-known soft drink, it would cost $1,000 for the same volume. So we value a litre of soft drink at about a thousand times a litre of water. That might just give a little idea of the culture of Australia and the Western world concerning water usage. Of course, within the Western world we do have good, clean reliable water which is of great value to us, compared to much of the rest of the world. So a well-known soft drink is valued at 1,000 times the value of a glass of water from the tap.

Australia's history has all sorts of hallmarks in terms of water. I will go to a couple of the more famous ones. Perhaps there is none more famous than C.Y. O'Connor and the Mundaring weir. I apologise to the Western Australians, if I have that reservoir wrong.

Mr Stephen Smith —So far, so good.

Mr WAKELIN —Thank you. I believe the Mundaring-Kalgoorlie pipeline was built by C.Y. O'Connor. There is a tragic and interesting story there about how the water got there and how the project impacted on O'Connor's life. I will quote from my own electorate. The Morgan-Whyalla pipeline was built in the 1940s, and it involves about 350 kilometres of pipe. We also have Port Lincoln, Wudinna, Kimba, Whyalla, Coober Pedy, where we have desalination, Eyre Peninsula, where we rely on underground basins, and the Polda and Uley Wanilla basins.

This bill speaks to the urban situation. I want to remind the House that you do not survive anywhere in this country without water—whether it is urban, regional, rural or remote areas. And they all have differing needs. I mentioned the infrastructure that has gone in over the last 100 to 150 years. If I could quickly refer to Port Lincoln and the project there. It is worth $1.8 million and the funds were provided from the Clean Seas Program under the Natural Heritage Trust, an initiative of the Howard government. The project involved making far better use of the waste water from Port Lincoln and protecting the ocean outflow and the aquaculture industry—a vital industry in that part of the world.

I have a little anecdote from the township of Wudinna. They had a water crisis meeting there a year or two ago and the sprinkler was watering the lawn. The local council chairman felt a bit guilty about this. Then he remembered that the watering was only occurring because of their initiative to supply their own local water. They had prepared for such dry times, and so he felt a little less guilty about watering the lawn. In other words, the ability to do much more for ourselves is very important, and that is at the core of this legislation. There they were on the Eyre Peninsula at a meeting on the water crisis. They were reliant on the central SA Water pipe system but the Wudinna community had taken the initiative itself. With local money and some help from the Commonwealth, they had taken the initiative to provide their own water to a very large degree.

The national culture has become used to this evolution in the use of water. It has been occurring for over 200 years since European settlement. So the whole issue around water pricing, water usage and how we do it in the future is vital to how successful we are in changing the culture. The members for Moore, Scullin and Flinders have given excellent contributions, following on from the second reading speech of the member for Goldstein, the former Minister for the Environment and Heritage. This has given us the spark to think about what we need to do in the future. COAG has been mentioned. Can I also mention the Murray-Darling Basin and the need to strike the balance between urban and rural and remote. The Murray-Darling Basin Commission is an iconic organisation doing great work—and all the best to Wendy Craik as she takes over as executive officer at the Murray-Darling Basin Commission in the weeks ahead.

But the main issue is the distribution of water. There is much focus on it. There are many resources going to this wonderful resource and the need for improvement. But we cannot overlook the 80 or 90 per cent of the landmass of the rest of Australia. Whether it is water harvesting, whether it is the humble tank containing water coming from the roofs of houses or sheds; whatever it is, the Commonwealth needs to consider the partnership that the member for Flinders spoke about in terms of making sure that every Australian is considered in this debate.

In conclusion, I remind the House, this government and the opposition, that it is not just a state and territory responsibility in terms of rural and remote, it is very much part of the national culture. The federal government needs to be very aware of the need to distribute the water resources of this great nation in a very fair way and not be too preoccupied, as important as it is, with issues like the Murray-Darling Basin. In conclusion, the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Bill 2004 is an excellent initiative. It is the first in the world. Congratulations to Dr Kemp and to our executive for bringing it forward. I am sure it will serve Australia well. But this is only the beginning, and we have much more to do.