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Tuesday, 7 December 2004
Page: 147

Senator MURPHY (10:36 PM) —I intend to make only a brief contribution to the debate on the National Water Commission Bill 2004. I want to focus on clause 44 of the bill. In doing so I refer to the government's explanatory memorandum on the bill and go to page 5 in the explanatory memorandum as it relates to the function of the National Water Commission. Its explanation of clause 7(1)(a) says:

Amongst other activities, the Commission could be expected to: undertake analysis; inform policy making by governments; help facilitate coordinated government action to achieve national outcomes; promote debate; enhance communication with (and between) communities, stakeholders and decision makers; and otherwise promote national water reform through initiatives and actions to advance the objectives and outcomes of the NWI.

I refer to the second reading speech of the Minister for Transport and Regional Services. At the end of it the minister says:

The National Water Commission will be instrumental in ensuring that water issues in Australia continue to capture the public's imagination and energy in working towards practical water solutions. The importance of water to securing Australia's economic and environmental future demands no less.

Clause 44 of the bill goes to the public availability of assessments by the National Water Commission. Clause 44 says:

(1) The NWC may make its assessments under paragraphs 7(2)(a), (g), (h) and (i) and 3(a) and (b) available to the public only with the agreement of the Minister.

(2) The NWC must not make any other advice or recommendation available to the public.

I am not sure how you actually intend to achieve national outcomes, promote debate and enhance communication with and between communities, stakeholders and decision makers if you are not making any information available. We should make this information available. Of course, the minister should reserve the right to direct the commission not to make things available, as is the case with some other government organisations, but the minister should then table an explanation in both houses of parliament as to why that direction has been given. There could be some good reason for giving the direction, but the minister should explain that. If we are to promote debate and, as was said at the end of the minister's speech, agree on `the importance of water to securing Australia's economic and environmental future demands no less' and on the need to capture `the public's imagination and energy in working towards practical water solutions', we should make information available. It should be a transparent process. If you are going to put $2 billion into it, it should be transparent.

We should have a process where people are able to see what this commission's views are and what they recommend to the government. I will be moving an amendment to give effect to that. I will move that the commission will be required to make publicly available its assessments and recommendations within a period of six months after making those assessments and recommendations unless otherwise directed by the minister. The minister shall reserve the right to direct the commission not to make publicly available those assessments and recommendations, but the minister must then table an explanation for the reasons for taking that course of action in both houses of parliament. I think the public deserve no less if they are to be able to make an informed assessment as to whether this is actually going to work. They ought to have access to the information that this is going to generate, and that is what is important. I will move that amendment in the committee stage of the bill, and I hope the government will support it.

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Western Australia—Minister for the Environment and Heritage) (10.41 p.m.)—I seek leave to incorporate a speech in the second reading debate from Senator Lyn Allison. I believe it has been circulated.

Leave granted.