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Tuesday, 16 August 2011
Page: 8253

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (22:20): Yet another delay of the draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan has caused considerable angst for already desperate irrigation communities. The plan was supposed to be finalised by mid-2010. It was delayed with the guide to the draft of the final basin plan then released on 8 October 2010. The draft was then due in July this year, put back to August, then mid-October and now November. Some are wondering if it will be released at all.

The delay of the draft created more uncertainty for regional Australia. Uncertainty: that was the word members of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Regional Australia heard again and again as we toured the basin from late last year through to the May release of our 253-page report, Of drought and flooding rains: inquiry into the impact of the guide to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

At the start of that report there were seven pages containing the committee's 21 recommendations. I commend them to the minister. I commend them to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, headed by Craig Knowles. The MDBA is, as we have heard time and again in this chamber, an independent organisation. It need not keep delaying this draft. The 21 recommendations had unanimous bipartisan support. The regional Australia committee was headed by the member for New England, the Independent who keeps these flimsy shambles of a minority government in office. Surely, if ever a committee chair needed listening to by a government it is the one who heads this committee. But, no, this government is not listening and is not heeding the wise suggestions of the committee headed by the member for New England. These suggestions have the support of the six Labor, four Liberal, one National and one Independent members who form the regional Australia committee for the purposes of this inquiry. Investment in irrigation centres in the Riverina has been at a virtual standstill since the flawed guide came out. Confidence has not been helped by the delay of the draft by the MDBA, and the government's tardiness to act on the 21 recommendations. This is supposed to be the year of delivery and decision if you believe the words of the Prime Minister. Then again, fewer and fewer Australians are believing what the Prime Minister says these days. Now it has been revealed the Labor government has been wasting water funds. It has been revealed that the government raided the nation's $5.8 billion irrigation infrastructure fund to pay its own bureaucrats and fund projects outside the Murray-Darling Basin. Shame!

National Irrigators Council analysis shows the federal Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities has allocated: $195.8 million to cover the office costs of the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, Ian Robinson; $190 million to fund the water minister's department expenses; $59 million to fund the Murray-Darling Basin Authority's drafting of the Basin Plan; $13 million to repay the Snowy River's Mowamba borrowings account; $8.5 million for communications strategies—more spin; and $5 million for a Queensland coal seam gas water recovery study. Shame! National Irrigators Council Chief Executive Danny O'Brien had this to say:

The department and the Minister have been picking off chunks of the infrastructure fund like vultures around a carcass.

After four years the federal government has spent only $70 million on infrastructure projects within the Murray-Darling Basin. It is using the rest of the $5.8 billion infrastructure fund established by the Howard coalition government as a slush fund for television ads, consultants, bureaucrats and focus groups. National Irrigators Council analysis shows the federal government has allocated almost $2.4 billion of the $5.8 billion Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure Program fund to many projects which are urban or outside the Murray-Darling Basin. Meanwhile the government has pumped $1.6 billion of its $3.1 billion buyout fund into buying one million gigalitres of irrigators' entitlements for the environment. Shame! The purchased water is managed by Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, Ian Robinson—as I said—yet the government's own documents show Mr Robinson's office is funded from the $5.8 billion infrastructure fund.

We have to get the water issue right. It is too important not to. If nothing else, let the latest delay ensure the MDBA gets it right so that hardworking family farmers, those in the Riverina, can continue to grow the food and fibre for this nation. We should expect and demand nothing less.