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Wednesday, 8 December 2004
Page: 42


Senator BROWN (12:42 PM) —What a great opportunity for tackling the problem of environmental degradation as it applies to Australia's river systems has been missed in this National Water Commission Bill 2004. We are a country which the minister's own second reading speech said is the driest of all the inhabited continents on the planet, yet we are amongst the biggest water users of any people on the planet. Crunched between those two realities are the river systems of the nation. For decades now those who know the rivers, from the Indigenous people through to the scientists, have been sounding the alarm bells.

We know from recent scientific study that in the decade of the Howard government the greatest of the nation's river systems, the Murray-Darling, has had a rapidly deteriorating natural ecosystem. One of the signals of that rapid deterioration is the destruction of the river red gum ecosystems through want of action by the national government. In those systems 75 per cent of the trees are stressed, dying or dead, up from some 50 per cent in just the last couple of years. One would expect legislation establishing a National Water Commission would have time lines, goals and clauses in it which had teeth to tackle the prodigious overuse of water, the extraction of water from the river systems, and urgently meet the needs of the dying ecosystem that the Murray River is.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a third time.