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Wednesday, 30 May 2012
Page: 6398


Dr STONE (Murray) (12:11): Minister, I want to refer to the regional adjustment assistance fund. I know you referred to it earlier in relation to the carbon tax damage to economies in Gippsland and how you looked to try and help out there. I am wondering: can this regional adjustment assistance fund also be extended to where damage has been done by this government's policies in relation to water buyback in the Murray-Darling Basin?

As you know from the budget there is another $40 million being brought forward to buy back even more water from irrigators, the food producers of Australia, especially those congregated in the southern part of the basin, in northern Victoria. We have had seven years of drought. We have had two years of floods. We all know, from the Murray-Darling Basin inquiries undertaken by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Regional Australia and from the socioeconomic impact assessment released by the authority in May this year, that there is a serious consequence of the government's policy to pursue water buyback. This includes stranded assets in the irrigation systems like Goulburn-Murray Water and the lack of economies of scale, essential for food processing to continue. If you only have half your number of irrigators dairying, producing milk, then quite self-evidently you do not have Fonterra, Murray Goulburn, Bega, Kraft and so on with the economies of scale to stay in those northern Victorian irrigation areas.

You also, in your remarks immediately before, suggested that there was support for food processing. I am a little intrigued as to where that is. Perhaps you can enlighten us as well in terms of what funds you do have. In my area, as you are more than aware, we have lost Heinz at Girgarre; we have had Murray Goulburn put off half of its workforce at Cobram and a very significant part of its workforce at its Rochester plant; and we have had Coca-Cola Amatil, which owns SPC Ardmona, contract its workforce by about 30 per cent—and there is more to come. We are wondering just what this support is that you are looking to give to the regional economy as it faces this extraordinary problem of its irrigation water being removed as part of this government's agenda. It is pandering to the Greens, who have said: 'If you take water out of irrigators, this is a good thing. They waste it; they're profligate. Why don't you simply focus on irrigation, take the water from there and put it into the environmental water holder's bucket, stand back and just see who's left after a period of this policy?'