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Tuesday, 16 September 2008
Page: 23

Senator IAN MACDONALD (3:04 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Special Minister of State (Senator Faulkner) to a question without notice asked by Senator Fisher today relating to the Murray-Darling Basin system.

I just want to repeat it, because I cannot believe that Senator Faulkner did not understand the impact of the question. The question related to the Labor government paying an amount of $24 million to buy a water entitlement of some 14 billion litres to feed into the Murray-Darling system. If you did not know too much about that proposal, one might say that it is a good initiative. But there are some concerns about that purchase, which my colleague Senator Heffernan raised in the Senate a couple of days ago, which really do demand some serious investigation by the relevant authorities. I note that Sir Rod Eddington, who is the Labor government’s trusted adviser in several areas, is a member of the board of the vendor company which is receiving the $24 million.

The purchase was to put 14 billion litres into the Murray-Darling system. But, at the same time, this Labor government is facilitating the Victorian Labor government taking out of the Murray-Darling system some 74 to 110 billion litres of water for the north-south pipeline in Victoria. I emphasis that they are paying $24 million to get 14 billion litres into the system and giving away for free something like 80 billion litres. Something like five or six times the amount of water that is being put into the river, they are allowing out. What hypocrisy, what absolute stupidity of this government and a minister, Senator Wong, who is quite clearly incapable of dealing with the very difficult issues of water in Australia. The senator is an abject and complete failure in her task as Australia’s water minister.

Senator Sterle interjecting—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Sterle!

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Thank you for your protection, Mr Deputy President, but I do not need it from someone like Senator Sterle. Nobody takes too much notice of what he might say. Senator Wong, the minister, has been an abject failure in relation to water and certainly in relation to the Murray-Darling system. Mr Garrett gave EPBC Act approval for this pipeline, which will suck some 80 billion litres out of the Murray-Darling system to go down to Melbourne to flush toilets. It did not take him all that long to make that decision.

It seems funny the way that the Labor government and Mr Garrett deal with applications under the EPBC Act. You see, up in my state of Queensland Mr Garrett has just made a number of decisions under the EPBC Act—quite quickly—to stop developments in Cairns and Townsville and much needed coal port developments in the Rockhampton area. It did not take him long to determine those. But it has taken him at least nine months—because that is as long as he has been there—to not make a decision on the application under the EPBC Act in relation to the Traveston Crossing dam in Queensland, an environmentally disastrous proposal by the Queensland government.

I am just making this point: what is the difference between the decisions that Mr Garrett makes elsewhere and the decision that he has made in relation to the north-south pipeline and the decision he has not made in relation to the Traveston Crossing dam. The answer is this: the decisions that he has made in Queensland have been against developers, who would have helped with some of the infrastructure that we need. In relation to the Victorian decision, it was an application by his mates in the Victorian government. In the Queensland decision, he clearly should rule against it, but it is an application by his mates in the Queensland Labor government to allow approval for that particular dam. This whole incident and the impact of Senator Fisher’s question clearly show that the Labor Party is in disarray when it comes to water policy. This needs to be emphasised.