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Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Page: 361

Mr SECKER (BarkerOpposition Whip) (19:31): I rise to speak tonight about the importance of reform for the Murray-Darling Basin. The mighty Murray flows through the Riverland and Murraylands and into the Lower Lakes in South Australia, which are all areas of my electorate of Barker.

As a farmer myself, I acknowledge the importance of food security and the role a sustainable water system plays in that security and sustainability. Without the mighty Murray in Barker, the citrus growers and grape growers in the Riverland and the Barossa, the dairy farmers in the Murraylands and the fishermen in the Lower Lakes would no longer exist—together with the many vegetable growers. More than this, the people who have made a life in river communities would no longer have a home, as the river is the centrepiece and oxygen.

Last year I was a member of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Regional Australia for the length of the inquiry into the Murray-Darling Basin. I note that the honourable member for Braddon was on that committee as well. In fact, we worked on a similar but not quite as extensive an inquiry in 2003-04. So we have both put in a lot of work.

This committee worked extremely hard. We spent many months visiting basin communities, including in December and January—which is almost unheard of in standing committees—and we visited the basin communities up and down the system. There was no bias. We sought out the stories and knowledge of those who live and breathe the river, from the top, the bottom and the middle. I do not believe I have blinkers just for the state in which my electorate lies. I believe the key to lasting reform is to approach the basin as a whole. This was the plan Prime Minister Howard initiated and the plan the coalition is still committed to. We from this side of the House understand that all states must work together; otherwise, it is not reform at all.

The alternative to reform is to sit on our hands and do nothing. I would like to think that no-one who has the best interests of the basin and its communities in mind would think that doing nothing is a good idea or even an option. I have been to meetings with local communities and I agree that South Australia has been efficient for a long time. We have had to be efficient to survive. However, the interstate disputes over the basin water are ruining this country's chance for lasting reform.

In South Australia, Labor Premier Jay Weatherill's threatened High Court challenge to any final basin plan is most unhelpful. Dragging the process out further only delays reform and action to ensure the health of the basin. The federal Labor government has already dragged its feet on infrastructure spending, money that the Howard government left, yet Labor is still struggling to get the job done. It has only spent about five per cent of that $6 billion figure for infrastructure.

What I find puzzling about the situation with the South Australian Labor government is that Mr Weatherill is fighting directly with the federal Labor government. I note that even Senator Penny Wong has told the South Australian Labor government to get on with it. Speaking at the Press Club today, Minister Wong said, 'I do think South Australia and the nation will be best served if it can be resolved. I think the fighting between states has not served the river well or the basin well. That was always the view I put when I held the portfolio.'

It is not about accepting a raw deal for South Australia for the sake of reform. I was right there, fighting for a better deal, when the first draft plan was released. I have met with basin communities in my electorate, in the wake of the latest draft plan, and the authority and its chairman, Craig Knowles, have worked hard to get the balance right. I do not believe we should be playing politics with this issue—it is too important. I am happy to support the draft plan. Everyone can find fault with a plan but I think the balance is pretty right when you have one group saying there is not enough water and an opposing group saying there is too much water—generally, you have to think that things are not too far off the measure.

I would like to see some other little changes but in the interest of reform I believe that we have to support a plan and get on with the job. I certainly do not want to see the reform fly out the window due to interstate fighting. Let us make a start on reform, at least.