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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 8672

Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (18:19): As I have previously said, this letter is extraordinarily well written and it means what it says. It says here, as you have just read out that once the proposed register has been implemented—assuming that we can get to that point successfully after public consultation to enable the establishment of this register within 12 months—and data is available then the government commits to have a review on the level of foreign ownership of water entitlements, I guess to consider the data that is identified through that process to see whether there are any other further actions that should be taken. We are not pre-empting any further action. We are not suggesting that there will be further action. We have not agreed with the Greens that there would be further action.

All we have agreed to is that assuming that we successfully get to the point that we are intending to get to, of having this register in place within 12 months, then what we are committing to do is to have a look at the data to see whether it means that we should be making any appropriate public policy decisions to use that data in an appropriate way.

You have been around long enough, Senator Wong: you know that that does not mean that we are pre-empting a decision and that there is a whole range of steps first. There is public consultation to deal with the implementation and any technical issues. And if we get to that point then we can cross the next bridge, and that is to start collecting relevant data. Once we have collected relevant data for a period I would have thought it stands to reason that you would consider that data, which is what we have committed to do, to see whether any further responses should be pursued.

At this stage, I cannot foresee what I do not know. I do not know what the data will show. I do not know where we will be at the successful conclusion of this process, after relevant data has been collected for a while. So let us cross that bridge when we get there is what I would say to Senator Wong.

Let me make this final point again: this whole debate has now come down to a disagreement about not whether we should keep the current threshold of $252 million, not whether we should increase it to $1 billion—as Senator Wong has previously argued—but whether it should be reduced from $252 million to $50 million, or $15 million or even lower. Now, what we would suggest to the Labor Party and to the Senate as a whole is that we have very carefully considered this. We took a particular commitment to the Australian people at the last election and we would respectfully ask the Senate to let us implement our policy.