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Monday, 13 October 2008
Page: 5789

Senator FISHER (4:34 PM) —I rise to express some disappointment with the majority report issued in response to this inquiry by the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport into water management in the Lower Lakes and the Coorong, including consideration of the Emergency Water (Murray-Darling Basin Rescue) Bill 2008, and note indeed that there is some common ground between the minority report issued by the Greens and Senator Xenophon and the additional comments made by coalition senators. Thankfully Mother Nature, in respect of the Lower Lakes and the Coorong, has delivered us some time. This report makes it clear that the government needs to get on and utilise that time, to get on and do it. There are some things we can do; let us get on and do them. What this inquiry has demonstrated more fundamentally is the shortcomings in the government’s approach to the Murray-Darling Basin in the broad. In short, the Coorong and the Lower Lakes are potentially not only a tragedy unto themselves but also a tragic microcosm of what can happen and will happen in other spots—not hot spots but rather dry spots—across the country if the government continues its current approach.

As part of this inquiry we heard evidence from stakeholders who had not been consulted by the government in the formulation of approaches to resolve the dire circumstances facing the Coorong and the Lower Lakes. We heard evidence of new solutions—funny, that. When there is a failure to consult with stakeholders, it should not be surprising that all the alternatives have not been identified and then assessed. What this inquiry demonstrated is the need for the government to deliver what Kevin Rudd has promised in terms of evidence based policy—in all facets of governing the country but particularly in respect of water. What else did we hear as part of this inquiry? We heard about the Wellington weir proposed to be constructed at Wellington in South Australia. We heard that thus far there has not been a clear purpose expressed for the building of the weir. We heard that environmental impact assessments have not yet been completed in respect of the weir. And yet the proposition is to go on and build it. We now have more time, says South Australian Minister Maywald, in respect of the weir. But again, in terms of the weir, there is a demonstration of a failure to commit to evidence based policy—why are we doing things; how are we going to do them; and when?

We heard about capital cities and in particular their reliance on the Murray-Darling Basin system. We heard evidence about the ability to wean Adelaide off the Murray inside 10 to 12 years, yet we heard from a state minister who refused to commit to doing so. Instead we heard vague and confusing evidence: ‘Adelaide’s already on the Murray. Why would we take it off when it’s already on?’ Adelaide as a capital city is not on the Murray at all—nor, for that matter, is Melbourne. Yet we heard evidence about the north-south pipeline. Funny—but it will be far from funny; it will be or odd and undoable, I would suggest—it will be to have the city of Melbourne put on the river system. It is not currently on it. It will be put on it supposedly to serve critical human needs. Once on, no Victorian government will want to agree to take it off. That is the plan. That is part of the plan.

Senator Sterle indicated that, in the government’s view, there is not enough water. In the same breath, he referred to evidence by Dr Buchan that all users of the river system and the basin system are equal. Governments have to make hard decisions. They are faced with very hard choices. There is not enough water in the system, there are users who want more than is available and you say that all users are equal. Well, I am sorry; governments have to take some hard decisions and prioritise. We need this government to demonstrate its evidence based policy for resolving the problems facing Australia, particularly in the Murray-Darling Basin. We look forward to the second term of reference of this inquiry, to further investigating and causing the government to actually do what it promised in the election.