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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 2062

Mr TUCKEY (1:38 PM) —Australia is recognised internationally as the driest populated continent in the world. There is one continent that is drier and that is Antarctica. In other words, there is no doubt that, amongst all the resources that Australia has, water represents the one that could more than any other constrict our growth and our economic performance. I consequently welcome the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Bill 2004, which moves in a particular direction in an attempt to improve—in the words of the bill—efficiency in the way that we consume water.

In this place we always seem to get stuck on populism and minutiae. I note that the second reading amendment proposed by the Labor Party says that we should have said more about household use. It is a bit like the household use of energy. Residential consumers in Australia use 13 per cent of the energy consumed throughout our nation and the transport sector uses 40 per cent. If you add all the wheels that turn in agriculture and mining, probably 50 per cent of the energy consumed in Australia goes around in wheels. Yet we keep talking about power stations. Those sorts of issues, in my mind, are fundamental to this debate.

In the life of this parliament, notwithstanding the shortage of this resource, the facts have shown that we are in a cyclical drought situation. That is not some modern occurrence. Statistics show that, in 200 years of European occupation of this nation, 40 years have been recorded as droughts. The South American continent was virtually depopulated at one stage due to drought, and we go there today and see its huge water resources. These things are cyclical. But in a period of massive reduction in available rainfall to deliver water to our communities, what have we been doing? We decided to reopen a trench called the Snowy River and ship a great quantity of good freshwater to the ocean. Why was that done? Because an Independent candidate won a seat in Victoria, in the very populist process involved, and a fella called Bracks needed his vote to form a government. You would get a lot of drinks out of that fella Ingram sitting in the parliament. You would get a lot of industry out of that water that flows down the Snowy to no great effect.

Mr Forrest —It hasn't happened yet.

Mr TUCKEY —They have been pouring it out; I have seen a picture. But it is not getting anywhere. It is water that was desperately needed in other parts of Australia for good economic purpose. Both sides of this parliament were running around thinking that there were a few votes in it and that it was good policy. And a particular individual became Premier as a result of getting that Independent to side with him.

We are frequently told by responsible scientists that there are 22 ways of addressing the perceived problems of the Murray-Darling system. I use the word `perceived' advisedly because I think that if we revisited the history of that river we would see that on many thousands of occasions there was a lot less water in it than there is at this moment. What is the only one of those 22 issues that the politicians of Australia are prepared to address? Running more water into the ocean. We do not have enough, but all people want to talk about is putting more of it into the sea. The fish might be impressed with that, but I am not sure that it is doing much good for Australia.

They are the first two factors. Why are we coming along with the minutiae when in fact we have policies that are approved on both sides of this House? The Labor Party, who want to talk about the minutiae at your kitchen sink, are also arguing for greater quantities of fresh water—this wonderful and very scarce resource—to flow to the ocean because they think there are some votes in it. In this place we ought to have the guts to stand up to those people who make silly propositions like: `Close your economy down for the purpose of some sort of ecological benefit which is hard to measure.' I find it outstanding.

I picked up the Financial Review the other day and saw an article extracted from the Wall Street Journal that said how proud green activists were to have stopped the gigantic hardware chain in America called the Home Depot from selling sawn native timber. Yet nobody seems to make the connection with the blinding out of Malaysia by the smoke of slash and burn agricultural activity in Sumatra, Indonesia, and why it is happening. Everybody up there will tell you: `You won't buy our sawn timber, so we will permanently wipe out a forest and replace it with palm oil so that McDonald's can cook their chips.' And nobody parades up and down in front of McDonald's. There has never been a forest destroyed by the simple act of cutting down some trees, but one is destroyed when you replace entirely the flora involved, be it with soya beans in Brazil, or cattle grazing, or slash and burn and palm oil plantations in Indonesia. If people wanted to set out to destroy forests, they would have picketed the Home Depot, because these are the circumstances that arise.

We have a similar situation with water. To suggest for a moment that you might build another dam in some prospective location is like suggesting that you might build a nuclear power station in the middle of Sydney. We are not allowed to build water storages anymore—and we talk about water efficiency! At the Liberal Party conference in Western Australia the other day, I was appreciative to hear the state leader say he would govern by commonsense. Isn't it about time we did that?

Those are just the fundamentals. But all of a sudden we have a new initiative. It is all right to close down the economy and deny future generations proper economic income, provided you pay the incumbent for what you steal. This is done on specious grounds. It is called compensation. I am pleased to see the member for Kingston come in. He represents a seat in Adelaide, in South Australia—the last state in Australia to introduce water restrictions, yet the most deficient in water storage.

The reality is that we will not build dams and we want to run rivers to the sea that have never run to the sea continuously. We want to do these things and here we are debating whether or not we can have some water efficiency. Of course we should have water efficiency. Nobody knows better than I do how that is supplied in the irrigation sector. I lived in a small country town called Carnarvon back in the 1960s where they pumped water out of a dry riverbed and used it most inefficiently. The government came along, quite properly, and said, `We are going to put meters on your bores.' Immediately, a couple of young farmers—a couple of young horticultural operators—flew to Israel and came back with the first drip irrigation. When South Australia was still whingeing about water supply, people in Western Australia went to Israel and came back with highly efficient irrigation initiatives yet to be discovered anywhere else. I have been around and I have seen that some areas have not picked them up yet.

Yes, water efficiency is a great idea, but water conservation means storing it, keeping it for the purposes of future generations. While we are about that, what about water harvesting? In my state, the Gallop Labor government have just announced they are going to build a gas-fired, hydrocarbon-energy-consuming factory to desalinise water. There are some interesting aspects of that. Quite recently, the Western Australian people discovered that there was insufficient electricity supply into Perth on a really hot day to simply keep the airconditioners going. They did not have enough energy. They had generating capacity but they could not find any fuel to put in the tank. So what are they going to do on the hottest day in Perth in a few years time? They are creating a piece of equipment that will be a massive energy consumer at the same time. They will produce this water in the wintertime presumably. I do not know where they are going to put it—

Mr Cox —Is it gas-fired or electricity-fired?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Order! The honourable member for Kingston will cease interjecting.

Mr TUCKEY —They are going to have it electricity-fired and it was electricity that the state was short of. Of course it was gas that was providing the additional base load. So these are the realities. We are going to have a high-emitting, energy-consuming, countercyclical operation. Just how dumb can you get? Why would that be the choice? In Sydney, Perth or Adelaide, one of the great collection mechanisms for rainfall is our road system. We have an established collection infrastructure, but apparently nobody wants to put—or they are afraid of putting—collection points in that drainage system, with rising mains to pump that water to storage.

When I was the minister for local government and planning I pleaded with state agencies to make water harvesting and storage—a dual reticulation system, if you like—part of the subdivisional requirement for new subdivisions. That could have been used for ornamental lakes and other things. Within the established urban centres, collecting this water and pumping it back to existing storages is quite practical. Some would say, `Oh, dear me. You will have the pollution of the streets.' Of course, most of the water that is stored in dams around the place probably comes off a cow paddock.

Let me remind this House that all the stormwater and, as best I can ascertain, all the grey water associated with the property on which I am now standing flows into the Murray-Darling system and is consumed by communities all the way down the river system to Adelaide. And of course they put it back as it goes. I do not know what we can say about the member for Adelaide as to whether he is an intellectually brilliant person, but I have to say that I have received no information that drinking that water has had negative effects on the health or intellectual capacity of South Australians. By the time they drink it, it has been recycled through the streets and the sewerage schemes of numerous communities. In other words, considering that all water delivered back to the community goes through very high-tech water purification arrangements, this water should be being collected and pumped back.

Let me make a comparison with the proposal in Western Australia to put in an energy-guzzling desalinisation plant. The simple fact is that, instead of having a conflict of energy consumption, were you to be pumping stormwater back to the reservoirs in the hills of Perth—and, by the way, you would start in the communities most adjacent—you would be pumping in the low-consumption period, which is winter, when there is plenty of energy available.

There is another factor there: dryland salinity. This is of considerable interest to me because I represent an electorate where this is a huge and ever-increasing problem. It is now recognised that this problem is caused by rising watertables and underground palaeochannel aquifers that are extremely saline—and, I might add, these acquifers are the major contributors to the salinity of the Murray-Darling system, not farmland clearing. The reality is that, out in my electorate, if farmers could pump that water out of the ground and some investment had been made in solar desalinisation technology—something equivalent to a hothouse—then they could be removing and reducing the problem of dryland salinity, which would regenerate their farmland. Operating in a dryland situation with some irrigated activity means that they would certainly have better supplies of stock water for their livestock and so on. I think that technology is relatively simple. Every boy scout knows to take a piece of plastic with him when he goes out into the dry areas so that he can obtain a bit of water from the same processes. There is even the opportunity to pump saline water from Perth up to Kalgoorlie through the existing pipeline, using oil pipeline technology separation techniques. So we would get two achievements for the price of one. You can also use renewable wind and solar generated electricity to electrolyse those bad waters and turn them into hydrogen, which can be used as a fuel.

So there is a lot to be done and there is a lot more thinking to do. I welcome this legislation. I find that the Labor Party's second reading amendment deals with the chickenfeed side of it and should be treated with the contempt it deserves. This parliament has to get away from populism and get into the realities of the most precious resource available to Australians, the shortage of which in the long-term can do the most damage to our economic progress and the high living standards that we enjoy.