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Thursday, 21 June 2018
Page: 3555

Senator KITCHING (Victoria) (10:37): I rise today to speak on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. One might ask why a Victorian senator might be speaking on the Water Amendment Bill 2018. Victoria, along with New South Wales, has the longest frontage to the Murray River, which is vital for the Victorian irrigation industry. It is the lifeblood of many of the Victorian communities, particularly in the north of the state. We in Victoria obviously have a strong interest in the responsible management of the Murray-Darling Basin. We need to ensure that the needs of irrigators are balanced against the responsibility for the future of the environment and we must preserve it for future generations. Indeed, it was only yesterday that some of the north-western Victorian councils visited me. They are visiting the nation's capital and visiting various ministers and other parliamentarians.

The Victorian government has taken extraordinary steps in recent times regarding water. It has built pipelines, it has improved pipelines to diminish loss of water by evaporation, and it has built, as a PPP project, the desalination plant in the south of Victoria. What the north-west councils of Victoria were speaking to me about was the importance of water supply for that region, particularly for agriculture and livestock management but also to boost local and regional economies. There is quite a large fruit nectar industry, for example, in that part of the state. They also spoke about what has flowed—no pun intended—from a lack of certainty about water supply. They've had young people move away from that area of the state because it's not necessarily tenable any longer to farm in that part of the state, which is drought affected.

The Victorian government recently announced $32 million for the East Grampians rural pipeline, which is coming from Lake Fyans, but that is also reliant on federal government expenditure. Hopefully, this government will be able to support this project. What they're seeking with the East Grampians rural pipeline is to deliver a secure non-potable supply to users, which addresses the extreme vulnerability to climate variability. Further, they needed to give confidence to businesses wishing to expand their operations and encourage emerging investment opportunities that in turn will benefit the regional economy directly and indirectly.

I want to turn to the substance of the bill. There have been 100 years of conflict about the Murray-Darling Basin. In fact, it was part of the 1890s Constitutional—

Senator Birmingham: Conventions.

Senator KITCHING: Conventions. Thank you, Senator Birmingham, that's very helpful. It did form a part of those discussions. It was actually a Labor government that delivered significant achievement in arriving at a plan, and this water bill seeks to deliver on the time lines of that plan. It was negotiated as part of a historic COAG agreement with Mr Burke in the other place, as he was the then water minister. It was finally signed off with the states in 2012 and it was indeed a historic achievement.

Of course, no-one is saying the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is perfect, but it is historic and it is the only agreement in 100 years that's had the chance of ensuring the health of the basin. When the Labor Party were in government, we fought to achieve the plan and in opposition we are continuing a fight to ensure that it's delivered on time. We want the plan implemented in full, because it is the first time in our nation's history that all of the basin states and the Commonwealth have agreed to work together to secure the health of the river. We are committed to protecting the River Murray, and we will always fight to ensure the plan is implemented in full and on time.

What we have seen though in recent months is a lot of grandstanding, particularly from the Greens political party, about the Murray-Darling plan. Of course, this is also the party that advocates for climate change, yet was not able to vote for it when there was a significant chance of achieving and effecting proper legislation to deal with climate change.

We are committed to the plan that we put in place. In opposition we are going to do everything we can, as we are now doing, to force this government to deliver on the plan, notwithstanding some of the views of those inside the National Party, particularly—sadly and regrettably—the former minister. The plan is to return the 450 gigalitres to the river, and it comes with a funding package of $1.77 billion that Labor actually delivered in 2012. The funding is for on-farm water projects to provide the Commonwealth with water and is to remove constraints in the basin to allow the water to get where it is required. But Mr Barnaby Joyce as water minister put the 450 gigalitres of water for the environment in doubt. The Murray-Darling Basin Plan was sabotaged by Mr Joyce as water minister and he turned a blind eye to what really can be properly described as water theft.

Senator Wong has indicated there have been extraordinarily serious allegations of water theft and corruption in the northern basin. Perhaps some in this chamber saw the Four Corners program recently which went into those allegations. It stated in that program that more than 100 years of greed, mismanagement and plundering of one of Australia's most valuable resources was supposed to end five years ago with the introduction of the federal government's Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Billions of dollars of taxpayers' money was committed in a hard-won deal to save the inland river system from the ravages of heavy agricultural use, particularly the thirsty work of irrigating the vast cotton plantations of northern New South Wales and southern Queensland.

On that Four Corners program they raised serious allegations about the way the plan is working and there were accusations of illegal water use—the pumping of water from fragile rivers and the tampering of meters. There were also discussions that were aired on the program between bureaucrats and powerful irrigators, and of course these were quite shocking revelations because the plan was supposed to be managing those interests.

I suggest that, if people haven't watched that Four Corners program, they should do that, but they should also watch two films which are quite poetic and moving and concern mismanagement and greed around water resources. They are French films called Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources. They are set in Provence shortly after the First World War, and they concern the human tragedy of people trying to steal land and control water sources. I would suggest those films for those cold winter nights during the recess. They're very good films.

I want to look also at what the Labor Party have sought assurances on. We want some metering funding so we know what water is used. We want 'no meter, no pump' rules, embargoes on environmental water, and daily extraction limits so the environmental water is protected. We support a South Australian royal commission on water, although it only relates to South Australian matters and, as I said at the beginning of this contribution, Victoria is obviously affected as it has a large frontage on the Murray. So we would support that royal commission. We would like the government to fix the mess that's been created by the Prime Minister and the former minister Mr Joyce, and we would like that done as quickly as possible with a lack of grandstanding—just to get on with it.