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Thursday, 11 October 2012
Page: 8071

Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (18:17): I rise to make some remarks on the tabling of the report of the Rural and Regional Affairs Transport References Committee and I will be brief because I know that many of my colleagues want to make a contribution. Firstly, I thank the secretariat for the work that they are continuing to do in relation to the Murray-Darling Basin. It is indeed a very complex issue, and I take my hat off to them for the work they are doing in support of the committee by putting the information and our views forward. While we on this committee may not always agree, we all have a very genuine interest in ensuring that we get a better environment for the future and we are absolutely prepared to put in the time and the effort to look at the detail of all of the issues before us when it comes to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and its impact on our community and on the environment. I have to say this is in stark contrast to the Standing Committee on Regional Australia inquiry into the recent amendments, the bill coming forward changing the sustainable diversion limits. This committee is chaired by Mr Tony Windsor. It held no hearings and has tabled a report based on no submissions from the stakeholders. While we on this committee may not always agree, I believe we are very genuine in our attempt to properly consider the detail that relates to these issues.

One of the things that concerns people out in the community is the fact that the government simply does not understand the potential impact of permanently removing water from these rural communities. People genuinely think that this government does not understand, and I support them in that belief. The government simply does not understand what impact that is going to have and not only what it is going to have but what it is currently having. The uncertainty that this has created—and we have already seen a significant amount of buyback—and the very negative impact that it has had on our rural communities cannot be understated. Another of the concerns of those in our rural communities is the fact that equal weighting has not been given to the impact on the environment and the social and economic impact. Again, we have seen that in a report this week on recovering the additional environmental water, looking at 3,200 gigalitres, for which only the environmental effects were modelled. The government has failed to look at an equitable environmental, social and economic impact when it comes to our rural communities. When talking about the constraints, there was no modelling or assessment of whether the constraints tested in the study could be relaxed.

I think this contributes to making this whole process an absolute dog's breakfast. When we look at the target of 2,750 gig—and colleagues on the committee will be well aware of this and support me in saying this—there is simply no evidential basis for the proposal of that figure. When we tried to get figures out of the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder for the water that they already had bought back, and I think it is about 1,400 gig, and where there had been potential environmental benefit from the reclaiming of that water, they simply could not give us an answer. What they did do was to give us a response of 3,451 pages expecting that miraculously we could turn that into an answer for the committee. That is simply not good enough. Indeed, we asked for a summarised brief which to date—and I stand to be corrected—has not arrived back at the committee.

It is no wonder people in the community have no confidence that the government can get this process right. At the end of the day—and I concur with the comments made by my very good colleague Senator McKenzie—this is about impact on people; the very human impact of these decisions and what is happening has to properly be taken into account. With this report, we have tabled a number of recommendations.

There were a variety of views among the committee on the report and the recommendations that should go forward, but I believe they are very sensible recommendations that really do highlight the lack of proper process that has been in place, from this government and from the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, to try to determine a proper outcome. It seems that every time we turn around there is yet another dog's breakfast moment of something that has, again, not been done properly.

Finally, one of the things that really concerns people out in the community, that we are very well aware of, is the fact that the government has focused so strongly on water buyback and not nearly so much on improving water efficiencies, infrastructure, the environmental works and measures work that needs to be done. It is $1.9 billion, I think, on water buybacks compared with about $494 million on investments in the infrastructure—which we know can make a real difference to the sustainability of water usage into the future without the impact on our communities of permanently removing that water through buyback.

I am conscious that other colleagues want to make a contribution and I just note that out in our rural communities there is so much concern—not only about the end point of permanently removing that water but about the dog's breakfast process that we have seen to date from the government, from the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, in trying to get to an end point. I commend our committee—while we do have different views—for being prepared to properly and diligently look at this process, look at the outcomes, and try to assist in the process of getting the right outcomes for rural communities.