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Thursday, 21 October 2010
Page: 1172

Mr TRUSS (Leader of the Nationals) (4:20 PM) —If there is one word that sums up the Gillard government it is ‘mess’. It is the Prime Minister’s own word to describe her government’s Home Insulation Program. That is indeed a mess: four dead, 200 or more house fires and a billion dollars to fix. The Building the Education Revolution—the Gillard memorial halls—in which at least 30 per cent of the money was wasted, is a mess. Since Labor softened the refugee rules 175 boats have arrived bringing 8,300 arrivals, there are more detention centres and there are people wandering free—that is a mess. The Green Loans Program—hundreds of trained assessors with nothing to do—has been abandoned because it is a mess. New workplace laws that have left half a million people worse off and uniform workplace safety laws, where the deal is off, are a mess. The emissions trading scheme was the greatest moral issue of our time. Now, ‘It is never going to happen in my time as Prime Minister.’ It is a mess. There was the 150-person assembly to try to dream up a new climate change policy and the three new committees. It is all a mess. The mining tax was always going to destroy jobs and Australian industry. The changes to the tax were made in a deal with the big boys. Now the deal is falling apart and it is another mess.

Now the Murray-Darling Basin scheme perhaps could be the biggest mess of all. The government has allowed the processes to determine the future of the Murray-Darling Basin to degenerate from widespread goodwill to massive desertion and anger. It could become the biggest mess of them all. Whole towns and communities face closure. Our food bowl could be decimated. Australia could be dependent on food imported from other parts of the world, from countries where tropical rainforests will be destroyed to create farms, from countries like China, where 50 new dams are proposed on one river alone. We are going to get our food from those countries rather than properly manage our own capability to produce the food we need for our country.

When the government had a chance to develop a comprehensive package of measures to restore the Murray-Darling to health, while protecting the producers of our food and fibre and strengthening regional communities, it betrayed the trust of everyone with its lack of transparency and its lack of imagination. Now the government is resorting to a television advertising campaign to deliver spin because it has no substance. It has gone around the proper advertising guidelines with another national emergency and plans to spend tens of millions of dollars on another government advertising campaign. It is another mess. The government has no solutions. It does not know where it is going.

The government’s guide to the draft plan is all about how to share the pain that is being created from the proposed plan. But the government has not provided any information about why this amount of pain has to be borne in the first place. It has not explained why it is now necessary to have 3,000 gigalitres or 7,800 gigalitres to deliver the environmental outcomes. I will remind the House that, when the Living Murray Initiative was launched, a detailed study was done about the environmental needs of the Murray-Darling Basin. On that occasion it was assessed that 1,500 gigalitres would be necessary to deliver the water that was required for environmental purposes. Why has this figure gone from 1,500 gigalitres to 3,000 or some other figure? What has changed? The government has not provided any of that information. The government has provided no detail about how the environmental management plan will work. It has not provided any information on how it plans to manage the various water reserves provided for particular environmental purposes. None of that information has been provided. People are just being asked to bear pain without being trusted with the reasons for that pain.

The reality is that the Living Murray Initiative proved that in a well-managed way you could use a relatively small amount of water to deliver good environmental outcomes. Everyone knows that the Murray-Darling Basin needs more water for its environmental needs, but why does it now need double the amount that was considered to be necessary when the last environmental impact assessment was done? One of the keys to the success of the idea associated with the Living Murray Initiative was that the environmental water was going to be managed and managed carefully.

You can use environmental water more than once. If you put it into an area and lock it in a wetland so that a bird breeding season can be completed, you avoid what happens in nature when whole generations of birds die because the breeding season lasted longer than the water supply in the wetlands. If you manage the water, you can make sure it stays in the wetlands until the breeding season is completed, then you can release the water and perhaps send it downstream to some river gums so that they can be appropriately watered. Maybe later on it can be used for irrigation or some other purpose. That is the way in which environmental water can be managed and managed in a way in which you deliver real results without having to take vast quantities from those who use it productively. Is this new plan going to ditch that method of careful management and simply take water off people because someone has an ambition or because some green group demands that a greater amount of water be provided?

Let us also remember that, when the previous government launched the National Water Initiative, developed initially by John Anderson and then legislated by John Howard and the member for Wentworth, $10 billion was set aside to modernise the Murray-Darling Basin. It was to be for the benefit of the environment, the irrigators, the basin communities and, indeed, the nation as a whole. A key element of that program was $5.8 billion to effectively replumb the basin by introducing more effective water meters and reducing seepage and evaporation. Some buybacks may well have been appropriate, particularly where there were willing sellers, and the engineering and management initiatives would have provided a win for all.

In reality, of that $5.8 billion—although the minister could not answer the questions yesterday—it seems the government at this time has spent as little as $300 million, which is a little over five per cent. It is possible to make the engineering changes to replumb the system for better infrastructure, to use better distribution systems on farms and to use better management to save the water that is needed for the environment. You do not have to take it off people; you can save it and still deliver productive outcomes without resorting to the lazy way out that this government has adopted. The lazy way out is taking and buying water out of the system rather than re-engineering it and getting into the position where you can, in fact, save the water that is necessary to deliver to the environment.

One project reported on in the Weekly Times last week estimated that $43 million—not $43 billion but $43 million—can save 1,100 gigalitres of water, which is about one-third of what is alleged may be required. Savings in the Narran Lakes and the Menindee Lakes can also make significant differences to the way in which the amount of water required can be reduced. The report in the Weekly Times referred to the flooding of areas around Lindsay Island wetlands. They could cut the amount of water required to achieve the environmental outcomes from 1,200 gigalitres of water to 90 gigalitres. They could save 295 gigalitres in the Murrumbidgee River catchment through relatively cheap improvements. The Canberra Times reported last weekend that the study that identified these amounts has been mothballed. There are ways to do this properly, but once again the hallmark description of this government will prevail. It will be a mess. It will be another mess because this government cannot deliver programs.