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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 11925

Dr STONE (5:31 PM) —I rise to argue very strongly that all of the amendments to the Water Amendment Bill 2008 be supported. In particular I am understandably concerned about amendment (6), which talks about making sure that we do not allow further extractions from the Murray-Darling Basin for non-basin use. In particular, this amendment focuses on something like the north-south pipeline, a project which would take some 75 gigalitres minimum, but up to 100 gigalitres, to deliver water out of the Murray-Darling Basin—out of the most degraded tributary to the Murray, the Goulburn River.

That water would be delivered to Melbourne, which has options. Those options include recycling—not necessarily for potable use, but for all of its industrial and outdoors use. Also in Melbourne they could do a lot more with their Eastern Treatment Plant. They could look at their stormwater harvesting—or rather the lack of it—and desalinisation plants. We know that Melbourne has alternatives which could drought proof it. It is not a sensible or happy alternative to have it hooked into a drought-stressed part of the basin which, as I said, has already been officially designated the most degraded in the system.

Let me also say that I am stunned at the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, who is sitting at the table, denying these amendments. He, himself, recognised the environmental impacts of this pipeline when he designated it as a controlled action under the EPBC Act.

Mr Garrett interjecting

Dr STONE —He denies it; that is interesting. The minister says that he did not designate it as a controlled action under the EPBC Act. The government did—is that what you mean, Minister? You are denying it and washing your hands of it. That is very interesting; let me take note.

Someone in the government designated the pipeline as a controlled action under the EPBC Act. The minister, under his hand—he is denying it so someone forged his signature—said that there was a series of conditions applying to that pipeline. Those conditions included such things as not using the environmental reserve out of the Eildon Dam—there are 30 gigalitres there—and making sure there were environmental plans for the numbers of vulnerable species. The third major area of conditions was that water already saved through the investment of the Living Murray or Water for Rivers programs could not be not sent to Melbourne.

Those conditions in themselves recognised the problem of the pipeline and its pure absurdity in robbing Peter to pay Paul in taking water out of a drought-stressed, climate-change-affected part of the catchment over the range to Melbourne. Sadly, the minister—and we now begin to understand why—has let the ball drop on those conditions. We already have Premier Brumby quite happily having water from the environment reserve in Eildon, some 10 gigalitres, go to another city—that is, the city of Bendigo. So we have no real trust in the minister for the environment upholding that condition. We have already seen wriggle room given to Premier Brumby about water already paid for and saved under the Living Murray and Water for Rivers programs.

Let me tell you what we sacrifice when we send a pipeline with the precious water out of the basin over the Great Divide to Melbourne. We have rural communities there who are food producers. They produce many billions of dollars worth of food annually which has produced export earnings for the state, including the biggest exports of milk powder commodities out of Geelong, and has also supplied Australia with cheap, clean, green dairy products, fruit products, meats and a whole range of wines and vine fruit. All of that is now in jeopardy because this government says that the pipeline will go ahead. We do not have any cost-benefit analysis. We do not have any environmental analysis. There is no social impact assessment. Again, in his words just a few minutes ago, the minister has knocked that amendment out.

This pipeline is going to go ahead because basically people who live to the north of the Great Divide do not vote Labor, and therefore there is not a vote to be lost, the state governments thinks, by taking the water from the basin to Melbourne—which has options. I say to you, Minister: have some principles, start to think about the environmental impacts, the social and human impacts and the food security losses to Australia. I call on the minister to uphold his EPBC conditions. He has already denied they are his. I beg that he goes back and looks at his own documentation, because he will live to rue the day that he let this pipeline go ahead on his watch. And the people of Melbourne themselves, when they come to understand the travesty of justice that has occurred, will be asking Premier Brumby why he let it happen. Certainly the people in my electorate know why it is happening: it is about politics, and they are deeply traumatised and distressed by the fact that they cannot go on being food producers, their children do not have a future, the environment will be severely degraded and food will not be provided. (Time expired)