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Wednesday, 11 December 2013
Page: 1552

Senator McKENZIE (VictoriaNationals Whip in the Senate) (19:04): I rise very briefly tonight to speak on something that occurred today in the other chamber, where proud coalition members from Murray-Darling Basin communities moved and second motions that disallowed a legislative instrument. It was an instrument which the previous minister, Minister Butler, the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Water—in a cheap political act one day before the federal election proper started—introduced. I speak of the legislative instrument whereby the critically endangered category included the whole Murray-Darling Basin: the River Murray and associated wetlands, floodplains and groundwater systems from the junction with the Darling River to the sea. As for the scope, the number of communities and the number of businesses and farmlands that were physically encapsulated by that had an entirely new set of environmental regulations and designs overlaid on them as a result of this cheap political trick by the former minister. So I think it is great news for the 10 million Australians that live and work in the Murray-Darling Basin, who produce our food and raise their kids there, to have that taken away from them. I think of my own state of Victoria, where over the last number of years we have come to terms with the conversation around the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and its impact on our capacity to grow food and balance the needs of the rivers with the needs of the community. So to be 'using' these communities again and putting another onerous layer of green tape on people that just wanted to get on with the business of growing the great produce that they do right through Murray-River communities, particularly in Victoria, was just another blow to these communities that have seen drought and flood in recent times and also the uncertainty that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan conversation brought within those communities and that they had thought was over. So I stand with the New South Wales Irrigators' Council, who were championing this movement over in the other place, and similarly with the National Farmers' Federation, who were making very clear the desire of producers and communities to get rid of that extra layer of tape.

This government is serious about decreasing regulation without sacrificing environmental standards. This goes to some of the commentary that Senator Fifield was making in the previous debate around aged care, that somehow the opposition thinks that this relationship is between quality—or in this case environmental outcomes—and the amount of red tape and green tape. It is simply not the case. Similarly, later this week I look forward to when we can work with the states to ensure that we do get bilateral approval and assessment processes under the EPBC Act so that communities and businesses can deal with one set of regulatory framework rather than multiple sets without decreasing environmental standards and outcomes. I think that is an important thing to reiterate, that that is what we actually need to happen.

I want to share with the chamber today some of the commentary from the stakeholders that are involved in this. I think that Tom Chesson from the National Irrigators' Council is very pleased. He bemoaned the fact that farmers were not actually consulted when Minister Butler rushed this critically endangered instrument through, despite the explanatory statement that was lodged with the instrument stating:

A draft conservation advice was placed on public exhibition, and public comments were sought as required by the Act.

You would think that if you were going to overlay over these communities and these productive spaces you would actually talk to the irrigators—there are a fair few out there across the Murray-Darling Basin. The fact is that the act requires government to seek public comments and public commentary, and yet the former minister had not even talked to the National Irrigators' Council when he launched this legislative instrument. How typical of Labor. They will be the first ones in here tomorrow complaining about the government, but they were the ones who did not consult. They made policy on the run, and this is an absolute corker of an example. I am absolutely rapt that Mark Coulton and Andrew Broad and I think Angus Taylor and—help me out colleagues—

Senator Ruston: Tony Pasin.

Senator McKENZIE: Tony Pasin, there you go—moved and seconded this motion to get rid of this legislative instrument and free the Murray-Darling Basin to get on with doing what it does best, which is to grow fabulous food.

I found it very interesting that what brought the minister—it goes typically to another decision around the agricultural industries that the former government made, and I am thinking about the decision that former Minister Ludwig made about the live cattle export market. When political pressure is brought to bear—

Senator Bilyk interjecting

Senator McKENZIE: Senator Bilyk, you can roll your eyes all you like, but it was not good scientific evidence that this decision was based on.

Senator Bilyk interjecting

Senator McKENZIE: It was not that we had had a long and exhaustive consultation right throughout the Murray-Darling Basin as to whether these areas were critically endangered—

Senator Bilyk interjecting

Senator McKENZIE: No, no, no! I am pretty sure—


Senator McKENZIE: Sorry, Mr President.

The PRESIDENT: Senators, there should be silence during this debate.

Senator McKENZIE: Thank you, Mr President. It was actually a group called the Humane Society International. Now you want to talk about foreign investment problems and our agricultural industries being controlled by foreign boardrooms, this was a classic case of the then minister for the environment being controlled by a foreign activist group. The Humane Society International championed the listing of the Murray-Darling Basin and Macquarie Marshes et cetera under this particular legislative instrument and category. So rather than using good process, the former Labor government, as they rushed and hurtled towards the last election, typically threw this in as the 'kitchen sink'. They thought it was going to get them the votes that they might have needed. I see Senator Ludlam from the Greens in WA is here. Labor might have needed a couple of percentage points from Green votes right across Australia or to get back some of their core vote, the left-leaning progressive Labor voters who bled to the Greens—hats off, Greens; hats off—over successive elections. Butler was trying his very best to hold some of the seats that he knew Labor were facing losing. It is why they swapped the leaders when they did; it is why they ended up putting in legislative instruments to keep their mates happy. But the Australian people had the last laugh, didn't they? They saw through the farce that was the previous three governments—Rudd, Gillard, Rudd—and made their views very, very clear on election day. They were very clear on who they wanted to take this country forward and the program that they wanted implemented.

In the very short amount of time I have left to me, I would like to say, on the second last day that we sit here for 2013, we are a frustrated government in the Senate as the opposition refuses to accept the outcome of the election, refuses to accept that the Australian people want the carbon tax repealed. Regional Australia wants the carbon tax repealed; the communities and businesses in the Murray-Darling Basin want the carbon tax repealed so that we can get on irrigating, so that we can get on growing great food and so that we can get on processing and manufacturing the high quality products that come out of the Murray-Darling Basin.

It is a fabulous result to have this motion disallowed, and I commend the government. I am proud of my Murray-Darling Basin communities—Echuca, Cobram, Yarrawonga, Mildura, Shepparton and the rest—and I am proud to be part of the government. (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: I just remind the honourable senator that when referring to people in the other place, you should use their correct title and not just their surname.

Senator McKenzie: Apologies.