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Thursday, 8 February 2007
Page: 8

Mr FORREST (2:19 PM) —My question is addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services. Would the Deputy Prime Minister outline for the House the impact on regional economies of major new investment in water infrastructure, particularly in my electorate of Mallee? How will the coalition government’s water security plan generate more jobs?

Mr VAILE (Minister for Transport and Regional Services) —I thank the member for Mallee for his question. Obviously, as has been pointed out this week, the value of irrigated agriculture in Australia is significant—about $9 billion worth of production. That production feeds and clothes some 60 million people both in Australia and in export markets overseas. What has been identified—and the member for Mallee as a practising engineer would understand the technical detail of this—is that up to 30 per cent of the water that is diverted through irrigation out of Australia’s river systems is lost due to poor infrastructure, through absorption and through transpiration and the like. What we are proposing to do with the $10 billion package that has been put forward is address that very issue.

The notion of being able to create more from the water we already have, without another drop of rain falling, is not necessarily a new or revolutionary idea. It has been around for a while. Some of the comments that have been made following the Prime Minister’s announcement of our water plan bear this out. One of those comments was made by Col Thomson from the New South Wales Irrigators Council. He said:

This package is bold and breathtaking in its scope and intent. The core issues raised by the Prime Minister are not new to New South Wales Irrigators members, nor are the proposed solutions any different to what has been identified and in many areas already put into practice.

The difference between the circumstances now and those in times gone by is exactly what the Treasurer pointed out: the ability of the Commonwealth to pay for what is needed to be done.

We, as a government, have a record on this in recent years. In relation to the question asked by the member for Mallee, last year we invested $167 million in the Wimmera-Mallee pipeline to save billions of litres of water in that area. Just for the stock and domestic circumstance, 103 billion litres will be saved in the Wimmera-Mallee pipeline system by removing 85 per cent of the waste from seepage and evaporation.

Earlier than that, back in about 1999, along with the South Australian state government and irrigators, we invested about $15 million in the Loxton irrigation system, where we secured that entire irrigation system into pipes. It addressed a drastic circumstance, and we saved almost 4.8 billion litres in that Loxton irrigation system in the member for Barker’s electorate. It was in 1999 that we invested that. Last year, we invested in the Wimmera-Mallee pipeline. This year, we have put on the table $10 billion to save 3,600 billion litres of water coming out of the system and to put it back into the system, with 50 per cent of that becoming available for industry, for irrigators.

We have consistently identified the ability to save water through investment in infrastructure, and that is exactly what we are doing in this circumstance. The Prime Minister is going to meet with the premiers of the relevant states this afternoon. We urge them to come on board with this plan. This is a bold and breathtaking plan. As Col Thomson said, it is bold and breathtaking in its scope and its intent. Its intent is to fix up a problem that has been identified and that has existed for many, many years. Where we are able to look after the interests of both industry and the broader environment as far as the watering system in those rivers is concerned, it should be done.

The last point I want to make and to continue to reinforce is that the reason we can do this is that we can do it without having to borrow any money. We can do it because of the good economic management that has been practised in this country over the last 10 or 11 years. That is why it has never been able to be done before, and that is why it can be done now. That should be clearly recognised.