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Thursday, 1 November 2012
Page: 8892

Senator JOYCE (QueenslandLeader of The Nationals in the Senate) (19:27): I rise tonight to touch base with the issues pertaining to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, for which the number has been announced today. I think it is very important that now the number has been announced there is a process of negotiation that opens up between the state governments to put on the record that we have got to find out exactly where the state governments are so that we are not left in some sort of quandary as to their position—and also where peak industry bodies are on this number and, most importantly, where the towns are.

I think it is important at the start that we also get a few other facts and figures out. Everyone of us here, to get by, to get through the day, is going to take around 2,000 litres of water for the food you drink and the clothes you wear. You might not think you are consuming that, but you are. It is part of the process. To maintain your lifestyle—your food and clothing—takes about 700,000 litres of water a year. You might not think you are directly associated with irrigation or water, but if you dig down through it you most certainly are.

We note that 2,750 gigalitres is the nominated figure at this point in time and in excess of 750 gigalitres has already been got back through programs such as the Living Murray agreement. There was about 500 gigalitres in that. We are talking about 3,500 gigalitres of water. That water is what is required to look after, feed and clothe about five million people a year. We have to always look at the other side of this equation. When we are talking about water and the environment we are also talking about our capacity to feed people. When we reduce our capacity to feed people—and we might say that it is for the benefit of the environment—either somebody somewhere else in the world who we used to feed or someone domestically we used to look after is not being fed, or we import food. We know that the global food requirement is escalating, so in doing so we expose people overseas to starvation or, in some instances, a time of privation and death—or, at the very least, we force up the price of food in our nation.

It is fair to talk about the environment but we should also acknowledge that it is not a one-way street. This is not something that comes with no cost. It comes with a cost. Just because you cannot see the cost does not mean the cost is not there. That is why, as we go forward towards the culmination of the negotiations aimed at trying to come to a conclusion on this, we have to be so careful.

The other place where caution is required is the effect on regional towns. This is not so much about the farmer, because they will be compensated and paid out; it is about the person who lives in the town. That person has paid their mortgage off on their house. That house is a reflection of their efforts to pay for it over 30 or 40 years. Reflected in the bricks and mortar are their endeavours. If you take the economic rug away from a town and diminish the value of that house then you have stolen from that person, whether it is the pensioner who has retired in a country town, the person who built the motel business, the person who built the tyre business or the person who bought the chemist shop. You must accept your responsibility to these people. That is why we have to be ever so careful about how we manipulate the economic fundamentals in these towns. There is no way that these people are getting compensated. They just wear the cost.

There is the reality of the water requirement for the production of food. This nominated amount and the water that has come back thus far have the capacity to deal with, clothe and feed five million people a year. People talk about us becoming the food bowl for Asia. As part of the Asian century we are going to be their food bowl. That is a great statement. It is wonderful, but let us put some meat on the bones. How are we actually going to do that if we are closing down our productive farming areas? Where is the alternate farming area that we are opening up to compensate for the area we are closing down that feeds and clothes five million people? If we do not do that then these are just fallacious statements made with the expectation that people are naive and will not actually drill down through the statements. How on earth can you provide food for Asia when you are closing your food production capacity down?

I get very concerned when I see people very close to this debate, such as Tony Windsor, making statements that are completely and utterly factually wrong. Here is a classic one. Mr Windsor had an inquiry into the latest iteration of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan expressing the desire for an extra 400 gigalitres of water and $1.7 billion. I do not know how on earth you could actually do that. The numbers just do not stack up. In his own media release he got everything wrong. First of all, he got a classic one wrong. He put out a media release on 26 October saying that the bill which talks about the sustainable diversion limits that allow the five per cent increase and decrease had been passed. It had not. He was the one chairing the inquiry into it. What a remarkable trick.

The unfortunate thing is that he also got the figures wrong. He said it was 500 gigalitres of water. No, it is not; it is 710 gigalitres. Maybe if his inquiry had gone for longer than 27 minutes, which was its duration, he would have realised that the bill he was talking about had not been passed. This is a concern. These people are put forward—sometimes I think pushed forward—by the Labor Party as the oracles to assuage the community and say that everything is fine. The first thing you must make sure of is that you get your facts right.

Lately Mr Windsor said we should not be concerned. An article by Lenore Taylor states that Mr Windsor said:

Based on everything … Tony Burke has told me, and all the figures on the record, the real amount of water that has to be delivered to the environment is at most 800 gigalitres … farmers should look hard at the actual numbers rather than the rhetoric because they may never get a better deal than this.

Mr Windsor, 800 gigalitres is more water than the whole of South Australia uses. It is more water than the whole of Queensland uses. It is a substantial amount of water. I hope this is not the case, but if he thinks there is nothing much to 800 gigalitres then maybe he would like it to come out of his area and see how they feel about it. It would bring economic devastation.

We are giving our best endeavours to get to some conclusion. Why would I, as part of the coalition, try to work as best I can with the Australian Labor Party, with Senator Feeney and his cohort, to get a resolution? Because I know full well that if I am not part of that process then the Australian Greens will be. We saw yesterday the perfect example of what happens if you rely on the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Greens: they always get the numbers. The WEMA Bill was a perfect example of that. They can get it through because they have the numbers. So we must remain at the table in negotiations on this, because the worst thing that could ever happen to people in regional Australia is if they had to start relying on Senator Sarah Hanson-Young to protect the future and the economic viability of their towns.

I say to the people of the basin: we are doing what you asked us to do—to stay at the negotiation table and to try to bring this to some sort of conclusion as best we can. We do not remove the opportunity to pull out of it if we have to, but we will do our very, very best on your behalf to try to come up with some resolution that you can live with.