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Tuesday, 13 May 2008
Page: 1492

Senator McEWEN (2:20 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Wong. Can the minister outline to the Senate the details of the government’s Water for the Future plan? Can the minister also outline the benefits of the agreement reached at COAG for the long-term future of the Murray-Darling Basin? Is the minister aware of any other views?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —I thank Senator McEwen for the question, as a South Australian senator who has a long interest in ensuring South Australia, particularly Adelaide, has a secure water supply. Recently I announced the details of Water for the Future, the Rudd government’s $12.9 billion plan to secure the water supply of all Australians. Unlike those opposite, the Rudd government understands that climate change means that we need to manage our water supplies better. We as a government are committed to developing new supplies of water that do not rely entirely on rainfall, and we are investing to make the best use of the water we do have. Water for the Future includes our election commitments of $1 billion for the National Urban Water and Desalination Plan, $250 million for the National Water Security Plan for Cities and Towns, and $250 million for the National Rainwater and Greywater Initiative. It also includes at least $3 billion for purchasing water to improve the health of our rivers and $5.8 billion to support infrastructure improvements and better use of water in rural areas.

But, on top of buying water and investing in water-saving infrastructure, we on this side know that the Murray-Darling Basin needs a better long-term approach. The chamber will be aware that at the last COAG meeting the Prime Minister and the premiers reached a historic long-term agreement on the future management of the Murray-Darling Basin which will ensure that critical human needs are met and that there will be a sustainable cap across the basin, for the first time in the history of the basin, on how much water can be extracted. We will also ensure that there will be an independent umpire, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. This was a historic agreement, one that the previous government was unable to secure.

I am asked about other views. It is quite clear that the opposition continue to be intent on playing the same political games on water that they did when they were in government. On the one hand, the shadow minister for climate change, environment and urban water described the agreement as ‘a once-in-a century massive plan to come to the rescue of the ailing river system’. But it appears he failed to tell his leader that, because Dr Nelson slammed the deal, saying it rewarded petulant behaviour. He said:

... the Victorian Government seems to have been rewarded for its petulant behaviour in staying out of the agreement.

On the other hand, Dr Stone, the shadow minister for the environment, heritage, the arts and Indigenous affairs, released a statement with the headline ‘Victoria left short-changed with Murray-Darling Basin deal’. So Dr Nelson thinks Victoria has been rewarded and Dr Stone thinks Victoria has been left short-changed. But this is the real corker—Dr Stone, the shadow minister, also said:

There is further worry when Mr Rudd declared that human consumption of the Murray system water is to take precedence over all other water uses. Does this mean that when Adelaide squeaks, irrigation systems shudder?

I want to know if Senator Minchin shares this view. Is that the view of the opposition, Senator Minchin? And what about Senator Birmingham, who professes to care about Adelaide’s water supply? You should get up in this place, Senator Birmingham, and denounce what your colleague in the House of Representatives has said.

The PRESIDENT —Order, Senator Wong! You should address the chair.

Senator WONG —Through you, Mr President, Senator Birmingham, if he cares about Adelaide’s water supply, should be getting up and saying that he does not agree with Dr Stone, that he does not agree with her statement:

Does this mean that when Adelaide squeaks, irrigation systems shudder?

I would like to know—through you, Mr President—is that view of the opposition or Senator Minchin?

Senator Bernardi interjecting—

Senator WONG —Senator Bernardi, is that the view of the opposition?

Senator Ian Macdonald —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. Could you explain to the minister, please, that question time is for us to ask her questions, not for the minister to ask the opposition questions.

Senator Ludwig interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —I remind Senator Ludwig that you cannot get to your feet when another senator is on their feet speaking. There is no point of order, Senator Macdonald. Minister, your time has expired.

Senator McEWEN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister expand on how Water for the Future will help urban areas secure long-term water supplies?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —In my original answer I referred to the election commitments that we have delivered through Water for the Future, which include the $1 billion National Urban Water and Desalination Plan, which will be available to cities with a population of 50,000 people or more. Senators might recall that under the previous government—now the opposition—the then Treasurer made it clear that the Howard government did not believe that the federal government had any role to play in securing urban water supplies. People in South Australia were very interested to hear that.

We do not share that view on this side of the chamber. We as a government are prepared to put our shoulders to the wheel. When it comes to the issue of urban water supplies, we will deliver on a $1 billion election commitment to assist state governments and the private sector in delivering urban water supplies. We do not agree with Mr Costello’s statement—and I do not know if it is still opposition policy—that the federal government has no role in urban water. (Time expired)