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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 2059

Mr FORREST (1:23 PM) —I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak to and support the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Bill 2004. In response to the member for Cunningham, I think nobody is pretending that this small measure is a panacea. I agree with him: an enormous amount needs to be done from here on in. But I dispute his claim that this government has not shown leadership on the issue of water. I will take the opportunity in my contribution to refute that.

Water is the nation's most precious resource, as other members have said, but it is also the one which is under the most threat. As a continent we are blessed to have an enormous amount of natural resources and an enormous amount of resources in the people who have come to this land and developed it, creating the prosperous economy that we have. But, if we ever hope to grow, we have to find a way to address the profligate way in which Australians use water. I have spoken many times in this chamber on the issue of water. Some of my colleagues often say to me, `Do you talk about anything else?' I guess that comes as a result of my background as an engineer. It was one of the prime incentives for me to come to this place.

I was impressed with the member for Flinders, who argued that we need a national water trust. He will have my full support on that concept, but I suggest that we have already made an important start. I am proud of the fact that it is a federal coalition government that has finally shown some leadership in respect of addressing the nation's water problems. Time and time again, before my time in the parliament, section 100 of the Constitution, which says that water is the states' responsibility, has been used as the excuse for the Commonwealth keeping out of providing a leadership role on the issue. Despite that, we have had some excellent initiatives in which the Commonwealth has been involved.

The member for Grey mentioned the Murray-Darling Basin and the fact that we now have a formal commission which is governed and ruled by a ministerial council of all the state ministers for water, including the chairmanship of the Commonwealth. It is an excellent model upon which to build a directive in relation to the idea of the member for Flinders of a national water trust. We are now on our way to fulfilling the member for Grey's wish that the focus move on further than just the Murray-Darling Basin. I refer to the announcement of a national water initiative that goes beyond the Darling and Murray rivers and the stress that is occurring to those important national rivers; it includes the whole of the nation. I understand that Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia have now submitted projects and initiatives in an attempt to provide the capital to meet that need and to save such a precious resource.

In reference to this bill, I am interested in information that has been supplied by the Parliamentary Library. As someone who represents a large irrigating constituency, I am making this reference because of the constant insinuation that, as irrigators are the largest users of water, that is where the entire focus should be. Yes, of course that is necessary; and yes, of course initiatives are already under way, which I will be referring to later. But I think the challenge for the nation also includes all those water users in urban, metropolitan, provincial and rural city environments.

Whilst the initiative in this bill is a small thing, I think it is a very important and significant thing. When you buy a motor car today, it is a requirement that its environmental credentials, particularly its petrol consumption by standard tests, are indicated—and you will see a yellow square on the windscreen of motor cars, if you are fortunate enough to have the funds to purchase one. We have seen the initiatives of energy ratings on electrical whitegoods. With that model and concept in mind, it is of great credit to the member for Goldstein, who, as the former Minister for the Environment and Heritage, pushed this issue and secured commitments from the states that they would introduce the necessary complementary legislation in their state legislatures to ensure that we get a similar label, not just for whitegoods such as washing machines and dishwashers but for all fixtures associated with the use of water—shower rosettes, taps and all the others. This will become a marketing advantage for manufacturers of those various goods, because all Australians are currently very interested in the issue of water.

Eighty per cent of the Australian population—roughly 16 million Australians, most of them in the southern part of the continent—have some level of water restriction. The issue is very much on their minds as they ensure those restrictions and are subject to the inconvenience. It is a message that this drought that has been occurring for the last 25 years, and is still occurring, has sent to the nation. It is almost a wake-up call. I am delighted to support this bill. Because it is about water, it gives members the opportunity to talk about initiatives in our own constituencies that can offer enormous savings.

I am very positive about the future direction the national water initiative is taking with the leadership of the Commonwealth in partnership with the states to address many of the issues that I believe the member for Cunningham, in his sincerity, was addressing. Yes, there are far too many inefficient irrigation distribution schemes around the nation. I know that the parliamentary secretary at the table representing that great wealth-producing region of Shepparton would share this view. Mine is associated with the Murray River from Tresco and Cohuna in the east and all the way to Mildura in the west. Many of the delivery schemes there are old soldier settlement supply schemes. Some of them are over 100 years old. Yes, they deserve upgrading so that they are efficient water delivery systems. I am positive, now that the momentum has commenced with the Commonwealth showing a lead through the national water initiative, that the next decade is going to be positive for those constituencies out there that have argued for a long time for genuine partnerships. These are very costly initiatives and beyond the capacity necessarily of states, and I rejoice that the Commonwealth is now looking at the opportunities for partnership and is very focused on discussion on this very important water resource.

I referred to the Wimmera-Mallee pipeline project in the grievance debate on Monday. I am pleased that the member for O'Connor is in the chamber because we know he is a great champion of piping inefficient water supply schemes. In fact, in the grievance debate, I gave him credit for visiting my constituency back in 1991. He delivered $110,000 for the first stage of a feasibility study on how the rest of the piping of the Wimmera-Mallee could be undertaken. It is a delight now, after three or four years, to have the Commonwealth investing in two further stages of the piping of the Wimmera-Mallee to the extent that now over a third of it is done. This is the largest open channel system in the world. I have made many references to that in the past and we can now boast, after eight years of coalition government in partnership with the state, that 33 per cent of it is now completed and that there is a plan in place to complete the rest of it. When it is finished it will be the largest pipe system in the world, and I will be very proud to represent Mallee when it is finished.

It is very disappointing to be on the receiving end of the unfortunate politicisation that has occurred on this project. I put some faith in the commitments that the member for Goldstein received that the states will do their part in respect of this legislation. I hope the way they behaved on the Wimmera Mallee is not an example they will follow on this legislation. The Commonwealth has constantly been told it has no interest in this project, which is a disgraceful claim given that $33 million of Commonwealth capital has already been provided to keep the momentum going. The Commonwealth provided leadership in respect to the preparation of the first feasibility study. It waited for the states to match that cost, which they duly did, with an announcement from the Treasurer of Victoria some three or four months afterwards. I did not run around playing some cheap game and making a hero of myself. I waited for the due process of the state Treasury to find a proper way to appropriate that amount.

In a similar way, after that feasibility study, the state government recommended that a detailed design be undertaken to get a better estimate of what the cost would be. The Commonwealth quite readily said: `Here's $3½ million. Get that detail done. We very interested in this project. Please ensure that the cost estimate is accurate and much more detailed so that the public can be consulted in respect to where the pipes are going, whose properties are going to be affected and so forth.' Further to that, the Commonwealth said, `Here's another $4 million to do two more stages, so you can keep the momentum of this important water conservation project going.' We waited 18 months for the state to match that amount, but we did not run around playing a cheap game and making heroes of ourselves. The project is far too important for that.

In the community's interest, we waited for proper process. The Commonwealth has now had an indication from Victoria that they would like us to match another contribution of $125 million to keep the momentum of the project going. It is so important to Victoria, and certainly vitally important to the whole of western Victoria, where huge amounts of water become available for the environmental needs of the Glenelg River, which runs to the south through the member for Wannon's constituency. That is just one project. Other members have put their own projects forward.

I certainly support the member for Flinders and his desire for a much more responsible approach to be taken in the use of grey water. I have been very fortunate in my time, in my former life, to visit water projects around the world. It amazes me that on our continent of Australia—the second most arid of all—we have been somewhat profligate compared to what is done in countries like Israel, China and the very arid Middle Eastern countries, for example. So after 10 years in this place, I am delighted that water is very much on the national agenda. I am a little saddened that it has taken the worst drought in 100 years to achieve that focus, but they do say that good things can come from bad things. I will be looking forward to supporting in the future those initiatives that continue to urge the Australian populace to be much more conservation conscious in the use of this most precious resource.

In conclusion, I think this particular bill has an additional attraction for people who are not normally mindful of the preciousness of this resource, busy people in employment and looking after their families—each time they consider the purchase of new whitegoods, such as a washing machine or dishwasher, they will have the advantage of a label complying with certain standards about the item's capacity to deliver water conservation standards. In that respect, I think we lead the world, and I will be very surprised if the rest of the world does not follow. It is the general story of the Australian journey: we lead the world in good suggestions. I am delighted to stand and support the bill. I congratulate all those responsible for bringing it to the House, and I look forward to the cooperation it is going to receive from all the state and territory governments around the nation.