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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 698

Mr HUNT (7:40 PM) —In addressing the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Amendment Bill 2010 I want to put the issue of water management into a broader context. The coalition has a proud role in having been the authors, the progenitors, and I was fortunate enough to have had a role as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage at the time of the creation, development and passage of this bill. This bill and the notion of urban water efficiency fit into the three-taps approach which we take to water conservation and management in Australia.

The first of those taps is in relation to water efficiency. Water efficiency can be either urban—mostly the subject of this bill—or rural. I will deal with those two elements in a minute. The second of the taps is in relation to stormwater reuse and recycling. The third is in relation to the capture, management and harvesting of water in times of flood so as to ration that water for use in times of drought and to mitigate floods. Those three taps—water efficiency, stormwater capture and recycling and the potential for new dams—represent the essence and the heart of what we want to achieve with water conservation and management in Australia through Commonwealth action. The first of those goes to the heart of this bill.

This bill relates to water efficiency labelling and standards. In 2005, the coalition created the world’s first national Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Scheme, the WELS Scheme. That dealt with water efficiency labels on shower heads, washing machines, toilets, dishwashers, urinals and taps. These labels give consumers a relatively easy-to-understand set of star ratings and water consumption information on the water efficiency of different products. The scheme has been widely supported through industry, though some view that the scheme has not been sufficiently stringent in dealing with noncompliant products—and I understand that. The 2007 House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Heritage review of plumbing standards found that the committee ‘shared HIA’s optimistic view that the WELS Scheme is an important step towards a nationally consistent water product labelling scheme’.

In addition, the WaterMark certification is a trademark owned by Standards Australia. Licensed plumbers are generally obligated to install only plumbing equipment which has WaterMark certification. We recognise that the overlap between the WELS Scheme and the WaterMark certification has caused some inconsistencies, and this bill seeks to overcome that problem by allowing the minister to make a requirement for the WELS registration to have WaterMark certification, simplifies the matter by ending the duplication problem and there is widespread support for it. This was a recommendation of the 2007 House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment and Heritage review of plumbing standards. In particular, Dr Mal Washer, the member for Moore, on our side has been instrumental in bringing these ideas to the fore, ensuring that they are on the public record and that there is generally bipartisan support. I acknowledge his role and accept that this is an area of common action with the government.

In the context of our three-taps approach, I note that, whereas there is strong agreement on this bill, there is deep disappointment that the national replumbing of rural Australia, which was championed with $5.7 billion under the previous government, has largely ossified under the current regime. There has been delay, denial and rejection of serious attempts to upgrade Australia’s irrigation infrastructure with potentially 600 or 700 billion litres of water savings per annum going begging as a result, whether for the Murray irrigation area, Coleambally, the farmers of Bourke or the farmers of the Murray-Darling Basin region of southern Queensland. There are areas throughout the Murray-Darling Basin where farmers have put together proposals which have been denied. In particular—and the member for Farrer is here—the Menindee Lakes project has been waiting for three years to begin. It was ready, it was on the table and it should have been upgraded and begun.

Having said that leads me to the second of the areas which constitute our three taps, and that is stormwater harvesting and recycling. Both of these are areas primarily of state jurisdiction, but for which there needs to be Commonwealth leadership. There has been very little done in South Australia, which has enormous stormwater harvesting potential, as is the case in Victoria.

We then move to the recycling component of that, and that is an element of personal passion. Whether it is the Gunnamatta outfall, which has recently been the subject of a commitment to close by the new Baillieu government in Victoria, or the hundreds of outfalls around Australia, this is a wasted resource. It is a source of pollution, and this is the moment in history when we should be gathering that water, recycling it and using it for industry and agriculture rather than using drinking water when a viable alternative is available.

Finally, we capture our water in dams. Our population has almost doubled since we had any serious work on dams over 35 years ago. Certainly on the eastern seaboard there has not been a major new dam in over 20 years, and we have had significant population growth. We need to look carefully at those places which could feasibly and environmentally be seen as places for capturing and storing water. The most likely option is the expansion of existing dam sites. That is a sensible way to go, and allows us to capture water in times of flood, to mitigate those flood actions—where possible—and to use that water in times of scarcity. That is what has always happened; it is what should happen and we should not be afraid of addressing an issue which is about ensuring that we have the adequate supply of water for the population that is real and in place in Australia today.

Having said that, we support this bill; we thank the government for their cooperation and we will offer it safe and swift passage.