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Wednesday, 15 October 2008
Page: 9167

Mr RIPOLL (12:29 PM) —The purpose of the Water Amendment Bill 2008 is to amend the Water Act 2007 and to give effect to the Murray-Darling Basin reform intergovernmental agreement signed by the Prime Minister and the first ministers of each basin state, being New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland, and the Australian Capital Territory. This was done at the July meeting of the Council of Australian Governments.

It is about demonstrating the Rudd government’s commitment to a reform process that goes right across the whole of government in a whole range of areas—particularly in the way that we deal with the states, and in the way that we use the COAG process to create efficiencies and better policy to work as one country, trying to achieve an outcome that may be based in one region but often affects people right across other states and jurisdictions. It is particularly important to note in this debate the partnership that the Commonwealth has entered into with the states and the effort that our minister is putting towards working with each of the ministers in the states to ensure that a strong process is in place, that an effective policy is maintained and that we get the outcomes that are needed at a national level in what is a very stressed water basin. This is a very vexed issue right across the community.

On that particular issue, there have always been many great debates in this place broadly on the issue of water. But I think there have been no more heated debates than on the Murray-Darling Basin and what that means to our national identity, to farmers, to our culture, to tourism and to those regions that are affected and the people who live and survive around the water that is provided by that particular basin. It is fair to say that the previous government, now in opposition, will come into this place and will argue, oppose, hinder and put in place all forms of barriers to stymie any good work that this government is doing in terms of this particular water issue. The opposition is particularly annoyed at the way we might be using the COAG process properly to ensure that we actually get some outcomes and results in this particular area. The matter of the fact remains: the previous government had—

Mr Pyne —The fact of the matter!

Mr RIPOLL —And that as well. The previous government had 12 long years to take action. They had 12 long years in times when there were, perhaps, other options and more opportunities to act—more options and other opportunities to put in place mechanisms and work with the states that would have meant, perhaps, that what we need to do today would not be necessary in the same form. This is something that is lost on, or perhaps not acknowledged by, the opposition. They criticise what we do when we take strong, decisive and firm action on very important issues and matters. But for 12 years they dithered. For 12 years they sat on the government benches, not taking action in these particular areas at the same time as they purported to be the representatives of the very people that they did not act on behalf of. I find it an atrocious and disgraceful manner in which they now carry themselves when it comes to these particular bills and motions.

In particular, I am acutely aware of how important the issue of water is—as is the member for Blair, who is sitting next to me. It is important right across Australia. I know how critical it is in South Australia—I know the problems they are going through there. I know how important it is in Victoria and in particular cities across the country. I know the desperation that certain communities have felt as their water supplies dwindle to almost zero levels; and I know the desperation that has been felt in our shared communities in the Ipswich and western corridor regions. In Queensland, we have been under heavy water restrictions for many years, and there has been an escalation of those water restrictions.

The simple fact of the matter is that we just are not getting enough rain. Our dams are not filling up, and over 50 or 60 years no real infrastructure or commitment was made by any previous state government in Queensland to tackle the future needs of that state in terms of water. It is now left up to the Bligh government, and the Rudd government at a Commonwealth level, to actually tackle the very difficult, and sometimes vexed, issues. I can understand that from a community perspective. Now the hard decisions need to be taken by government to ensure water security. I do not think this is something that should be debated in this place in terms of a partisan view. It is something that ought to be debated in this place in terms of ensuring water security for each and every region in Australia. How do we ensure agricultural security? How can we ensure the security of our cities? How can we ensure that we provide the right mechanisms, regulatory reforms and the right legislation to ensure that water is properly measured, paid for, acquired and used for the purposes it is intended to be used for? At the core, these are the big issues that we are discussing here today.

It is also fair to say that, while governments make big decisions on these matters, the community will come with us. They will come with us, and they will support good, strong moves—decisive action in terms of protecting their water security. At the heart of it, they understand how important that is. I have seen no better example than in Queensland, where we went onto level 5 and level 6 restrictions and people made personal commitments to reduce their water consumption. A target was set of 140 litres a day per person. Not only were those targets met but people achieved well beyond those targets—down to 120 litres and falling, at one stage. It might be easy to say that it was just people making efforts in difficult times, but the reality is when some water did return to our dam systems, and our dam levels did rise, a bit of an experiment took place over a particular weekend in Queensland. People were again allowed to use their hose—for the first time in years, for some. To my pleasant surprise, people actually did not abuse that water. The consumption levels actually did not rise. As a Queenslander, I am really proud of that—people have changed their habits.

That is an important fact in this debate: people will change their habits. People will change, given the necessity and given the right government leadership and direction. They will also make the tough decisions that are needed. That is what is at the core of this bill. The Commonwealth government is prepared to put serious money on the table, $12.9 billion, to ensure that the necessary changes and reforms are actually followed through.

We are prepared to sit down with each and every one of the states to negotiate in good faith about the future of the Murray-Darling Basin. We are prepared to acknowledge the difficulties that exist. We are prepared to acknowledge the ecosystems and the agricultural importance. We are prepared to work with each and every one of our ministers, our own members, opposition members and the community to ensure that we find a solution.

Not everyone is going to be happy with that solution; not everyone is going to agree with that solution. But for 12 years there has been an absence of action. After 12 years of idly sitting by and watching this great water catchment be depleted of its water resources, after hearing the voices of people concerned and understanding just what that would mean long term for this country, not acting in my view was a shameful, wilful and disgraceful act that the previous government should be very ashamed of. They will come in this place and they will argue. They will argue the toss over funding and different mechanisms and who should be doing what and what they should be doing and where, but the reality is that it has been left to us to take the action. It has been left to us to make the difficult decisions. I am more than happy, as I have done on other occasions on similar issues, to stand up in this place and put my name on the record and speak about these matters because I think they are of vital importance to this country.

Right now in Queensland—again, using my home state as an example—we have taken some very tough, very costly but very important decisions about Queensland’s water security into the future. On our shared boundary between Oxley and Blair in the western corridor is the Bundamba recycling water facility. There is also the pipeline that is going through a number of electorates in Queensland. We are building a water grid. We are ensuring that Queenslanders’ water security is ensured, whether they live in Brisbane, on the Gold Coast, on the Sunshine Coast, out in the bush or out west past Ipswich, whether they are beef farmers, agricultural farmers or whatever and whether they use water for recreational purposes,. That is our responsibility, and that is a responsibility that we are more than prepared to take onboard and to act on.

I am prepared to accept criticisms from the other side. I will wear their criticisms more than happily because I know, at the end of the day, that it is our minister and our government that are prepared to take action. We will sit down with the states, and we are doing that now. We will use every avenue open to us to move forward. We will consult with the community, something which is a foreign concept to the opposition. We will actually talk with people who are involved in this. While the other side have always purported to be the friends of the bush, small business and the farmer, it is just not reflected in what they actually do; it just seems to be what they say. It is just like when, as a bit of a joke, they used to come in this place and say that they were the best friends that workers ever had or the best friends that Medicare ever had. We understood the joke—everyone got it—but the problem is that people actually suffer through lack of action and for the past 12 years there has been that very stark mark of a lack of action and a lack of understanding of the very nature of the issue and how important it was to ensure water security for the next 40, 50 and 60 years. It is not just about the next election cycle.

I am more than happy to put my name on the public record. I am more than happy to come into this place and stand up to back our legislative changes, to back our minister, to ensure that our government has the support of the backbench. What we are doing is improving strategic water planning and improving management arrangements and we want to do that for the whole of the basin and not just look after one particular interest group or one particular region within that basin. We want to make sure that we improve the water market and the charging arrangements, as I said earlier, and we want to provide a uniform approach to regulation. I think these are the key factors that will actually deliver the water security that we are talking about.

I heard the previous speaker talking about options and alternatives—desalination, water recycling and harvesting of stormwater. These are all good ideas. There is nothing wrong with any of those ideas, but the problem lies in this: for 12 years, when the other side had the opportunity to do something about those good ideas, which they do not own, they did nothing. So, when the critical time comes, we are left with no options any more, because the options that the previous speaker was talking about do not exist today. Today we need to take action. We need to take firm, decisive action and leadership on this issue. That is the expectation of everybody that needs this water and needs this basin to be properly regulated and managed. That is the task that we will take onboard. That is the task we are taking onboard with this bill and that will deliver for Australia’s future water security.