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Thursday, 14 February 2013
Page: 1458


Mr LYONS (Bass) (14:26): My question is to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.. Will the minister update the House on the government's commitment to improving Australia's water security? How have dams factored into the government's approach, and what kinds of issues need to be taken into account in the building, funding and approval of dams?

Mr McCormack: This will be good!

The SPEAKER: The member for Riverina will also show his ability to abide by the standing orders.

Mr BURKE (WatsonMinister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) (14:26): I want to thank both the member for Bass and the member for Riverina for their comments on that question. It is no surprise at the question coming from the member for Bass, because he is aware of the whole midlands project that we have done through Tasmania: the building of the Milford Dam, the building of the Headquarters Road Dam, establishing a new irrigation area through there—just as the member for New England would be aware of the work we have done in augmenting the Chaffey Dam. Where you have the correct location and where you have the right proposal, there are occasions where the footprint of dams can be increased, done in a way that works and done in a way that is environmentally responsible.

When I read Simon Benson's article today, I saw something that was not economically, environmentally or in any way responsible, but I will congratulate whoever wrote this document for breathtaking logic. What they have proposed in that document, and what government policy absolutely rejects, is that you can use your dams in this magical way so that they will provide against drought, provide against flood and provide renewable energy. If you are managing a dam to avoid drought, your dam has to be constantly full; if you are managing a dam to avoid flood, you need to keep your dam empty; and if you are managing your dam to be able to provide hydroelectricity, you need to keep the dam flowing. Only the opposition could come up with a dam policy where they have dams that will be always full, always empty and always flowing! But that is what they have decided to release.

Let us not forget what happened the last time there were major dam proposals in Australia. When the Traveston Dam was proposed, who was it who was there, in this parliament, and on the site, campaigning against the building of the Traveston Dam? It just may well have been the Leader of the National Party, there, in the front line, saying all the reasons why it was so bad to build a new dam. I thought, well, maybe there has been an occasion where the opposition have had a rethink and they want to ditch their old view on this and move forward. I had a look at whether they have been out there in social media arguing in favour of the policy today.

The opposition leader has not touched it. The shadow minister for the environment did something about Gotye last night; he has not gone near the policy today. But the member for Paterson did decide to comment on the policy today. His tweet was to tell us that under no circumstances will there be a Tillegra Dam. The one thing they are willing to back is the old-style opposition to dams, which they have always followed. They have a policy that they have now put out and that they want to run a million miles away from, because they know when you promise everything to everyone in every contradictory fashion, it is a policy that cannot work.

Mr LYONS (Bass) (14:29): Speaker, I ask a supplementary question. In the minister's answer, he talked about some of the problems that can arise if dam policies are not implemented responsibly. Can the minister also outline the impacts this approach would have on consumers?

Mr BURKE (WatsonMinister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) (14:29): I thank the member for the supplementary question. I wish the member for Riverina had chimed in again but he has gone quiet now.

Honourable members interjecting

The SPEAKER: Do not encourage him to break the standing orders.

Mr BURKE: The impact on how the opposition plan to pay for this is extraordinary, because they have decided to come up with this incredibly clever idea—that must have sounded really smart around the table—that industry will come in and it will be private investment that will pay. That way they do not need to put down the dollars to fund it. Often roads are done in this way. But when roads are done in this way, what does the private investor get back at the end? It is called a toll. That is how the return ends up being paid.

How do you pay the toll on private investment on a dam? It gets paid in one very simple way. What they have decided to launch in their policy is something that will be paid for every time someone receives a water bill. What they have decided in their policy is that if it is an agricultural area it will be the irrigators who pay for it every time they get their bill. So what we now have is that people will know exactly how they pay for the dams policy for the 100 different dam proposals. Let's not forget that in the whole of Australia we have only got about 500 large dams. If you add 100 to that, people will sure know it is being done; they will know it every time they buy fresh fruit, every time they see the outcome of the increased prices for the farmers and for domestic supply, and they will know every time they get their water bill exactly where the policy lands. (Time expired)

Mr Dutton interjecting

The SPEAKER: If the member for Dickson is going to chime in, he could at least get his timing right.