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Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Page: 6020

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (20:49): Minister, the government has announced another water buyback tender, despite a recommendation in the recent House of Representatives Standing Committee on Regional Australia report that non-strategic buybacks cease immediately. When will Labor heed the advice of the report rather than persisting with haphazard buybacks which continue to have a negative impact on regional communities? The standing committee worked long and hard to produce a comprehensive report which supports farmers and irrigation communities as well as the environment. The report contains the detailed findings of the 12-person multiparty committee's investigations into the economic and social impact of the guide to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. It has the potential, if carried through, to achieve a much-vaunted triple bottom line in any future Basin Plan. However, despite the committee's recommending that the Commonwealth immediately cease all non-strategic water purchases in the Murray-Darling Basin, Minister, just last week you opened a new round of buyback tenders. Please do not try to convince me that this is a strategic buyback, because I do not believe it is. I appreciate this latest round is apparently from South Australia and Victoria. Perhaps you could confirm this. You might also validate whether this is because the New South Wales cap has been reached until 1 July.

The minister has stated that reform cannot and will not happen without buyback. There are many people in my Riverina electorate who are disappointed, frustrated and angry with this latest buyback. One is Griffith Business Chamber's water spokesman, Paul Pierotti, whom I understand your department has spoken to. He said the new round was a further example of you, Minister, saying one thing and doing another. He said the changes made to the program whereby the government implemented smaller but more frequent tenders did nothing to address the core concern of water being taken from productive use without compensation to communities. 'The fact they have done this shows that they do not have they do not have regard for affected communities,' he said. I would also like to add that this shows scant regard, I believe, for the hard work done by the member for New England, whose support is crucial to this government staying in office. 'It is fine,' Mr Pierotti continued, 'to come out and say you support the committee's findings, but where is the action?' Indeed, Minister, where is the action?

If a parliamentary committee with more Labor members than coalition members, headed by a key Independent whose support for the government keeps it in power, can make recommendations which are then blatantly ignored the very next week then what does it say? I sincerely hope it is not a slap in the face to the member for New England and a committee which has worked so hard for eight months to get a bipartisan agreement which recognises a triple-bottom-line approach, with the possibility of a win-win situation for regional economies and the environment.

Committee members as well as community members, farmers as well as environmentalists, have all recognised that a healthy Basin Plan can be delivered without destroying communities and industries, yet once again, Minister, Labor has made a decision which creates more concern for the regions, without so much as a thought for the people, jobs and long-term sustainability of those regions.

Minister, what do you say to the truism that the biggest building company in Griffith has not had one job, not built one single house, since the Murray-Darling Basin Authority released its ill-conceived, ill-researched guide to a draft to a plan on 8 October last year? Housing prices in Griffith have dropped 30 per cent and business is down by half due to continued uncertainty. The regional Australia committee's 253-page report, Of drought and flooding rains, was a much-needed fillip for irrigation regions, districts where farming families grow the food to feed our nation, our people. But, Minister, will you follow the 21 recommendations or just nod when the member for New England tables in parliament the result of his and other committee members' hard work and pay it mere lip-service?

The coalition when last in government set aside $5.8 billion in the Water Act for water savings infrastructure. Up until now, only $68 million of this, as I understand it, has been spent on initiatives which have actually delivered water—21 gigalitres—into the basin, whereas federal Labor has spent $1.5 billion on water buybacks.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Proceedings suspended from 20:5 4 to 21:3 4

Mr McCORMACK: Before the pause in the debate I was making the pertinent point that until now Labor has splurged $1.5 billion on water buybacks yet, of the $5.8 billion for water savings infrastructure, less than $70 million has been invested. Minister, is this acceptable from a government that purports to have a real focus on the needs of regional Australia? In the recent budget the government's planned spending is $195.8 million on Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder management of water holdings—that is, licence fees on water entitlements—and $8.5 million for water for future communication—that is, the Basin Plan television advertisements. All of this money is coming out of a fund that is meant to invest in water-saving infrastructure in the basin. Why is this so, Minister?