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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 761

Mr HUNT (11:59 AM) —There is much agreement and there are areas of disagreement in relation to the future of the Murray-Darling Basin. The point of agreement, which provides some element for common ground in this motion, is that there was a $10 billion plan built upon a series of principles. That plan firstly allocated almost $6 billion towards a once in a century re-plumbing of the irrigation efficiencies, the lining of dams, the lining of channels, the movement from flood irrigation to either centre or inline pivot irrigation or even drip irrigation where appropriate. This once in a century re-plumbing of the basin has largely been stalled under the current government, mostly for ideological reasons. I know this because I have worked with the farmers of Coleambally and the Murray irrigation area up and down the river. They sought access to that funding for re-plumbing rural Australia to make real savings that could be shared between the farmers as a benefit for their investment and the river environment through an efficiency dividend for the public.

For example, the Murray irrigation area offered a saving of 300 billion litres, which would have been of great assistance—real, tangible and ongoing on an annual basis—to the people of South Australia. This would have been a saving of approximately $3,000 per megalitre for permanent entitlements through upgrading their infrastructure and investing in on-farm and inter-farm savings. That was rejected out of hand by Senator Wong on the basis that she was not willing to have public money going to perceived private investment. In fact, the benefits would have been public. It was an ideological betrayal of the plan, with the net effect of preventing permanent water savings that could have benefited farmers, our food security and our food productivity. This water could have been of assistance to downstream communities for their environment or other things in South Australia. But it was forgone. It is time that the government returned to this notion of a once in a century re-plumbing of rural Australia. The bulk of the funding—the $10 billion—was set aside.

The second great point in this debate is in relation to the buybacks. What we did was set aside almost $6 billion for reinvestment in rural infrastructure and a once in a century re-plumbing of rural Australia, $1.5 billion for buybacks and $1.5 billion for structural adjustment. In addition, there was a billion dollars set aside for, among other things, upgrading the capacity of the Bureau of Meteorology in flood measurement. That amount has been distorted greatly, with all of the emphasis going onto buying out our food security and our farmers at a time of great vulnerability. What was have seem is that the project has been inverted. In particular, the Basin Plan, the direction of which we supported, proposed and created, was distorted when the minister of the day gave riding instructions to the committee of that day and when the authority produced a report in line with the riding instructions from the current Prime Minister and the previous minister. When rural Australia revolted, the government dropped the authority like a hot spud. That is the reality of what happened. That is exactly what happened. We know because we have dealt with the people involved. We know that they were acting on riding instructions. We know that the promise that Julia Gillard made to the people of Adelaide through the front page of the Adelaide Advertiser at the start of August during the election campaign to adopt holus bolus everything that the authority recommended was nothing more than a deception.

Let me deal with the last point. The last point is that right now we are seeing a practical failure of policy. There is a flood pulse going past South Australian irrigators, who are on perhaps two-thirds of their allocation. I have discussed this with our agriculture spokesperson, with Senator Joyce and with Senator Birmingham. We hope that the South Australian members of this parliament, no matter their political persuasion, will agree that, where there is a flood pulse that will otherwise go out to sea and given that the Lower Lakes are full, that flood pulse should be harvestable by South Australian irrigators up to the full level of their entitlement. That is a statement that I am making before the parliament. That should be harvestable. It is something on which we seek bipartisan agreement.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr S Sidebottom)—Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.