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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 11927

Mr BRIGGS (5:41 PM) —I thank the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts for the opportunity to contribute to the debate on these amendments to the Water Amendment Bill 2008. Firstly, I want to speak about the comments the member for New England has just made about the Lower Lakes and the Coorong, about Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert. In relation to the barrages, they are there because the rest of the system is overextracted and overregulated. You cannot argue that historically the barrages were not there, so we should return to that situation. To do so you would have to remove all the weirs and locks along the way to give the flow back to the system. It simply does not make sense to argue that we should take the barrages out and flood the Lower Lakes with salt water and that that is how it used to be, because the rest of the system was not regulated as it is today. It just does not make sense, and I will make some comments about that later in this contribution.

I wish to speak in support of two amendments in particular: amendment (6) in relation to the pipeline and the extraction of water for the pipeline, and amendment (15) in relation to the assistance package for the people of the Lower Lakes and the Coorong. I will speak to the assistance package amendment first. The disaster at the Lower Lakes is very hard to understand from this place. The livelihoods of the people down there are suffering enormously. They rely very much on the tourism industry in many respects. The irrigators along the Lower Lakes can no longer access water and have not been able to for some time. We need to help these people in their hour of need. It is not good enough for the minister to throw up his hands and say, ‘We are doing all these different things to reform the system.’ I understand that long-term structural issues are being dealt with. They were laid out in a plan by the Leader of the Opposition and the former Prime Minister in January 2007, and if the Premier of Victoria had not stood in the way—

Mr Shorten —He didn’t take it to cabinet, though, did he?

Mr BRIGGS —I know the member for Maribyrnong, the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services, is desperate to jump over the minister and take the minister’s portfolio but he should let the minister interject if he wishes. The plan was laid out in January 2007, and that deals with the long-term structural issues. But, in the short term, these people need some help to get through what is an absolute crisis in the system. Their livelihoods are being destroyed. Community groups and community facilities, like the golf course and the footy grounds and so forth, which are so important to the Australian culture, are dying because water cannot be accessed or cannot be accessed at a reasonable price. What I am asking for, and what the people of my electorate are asking for, is a bit of help to get through the situation.

I was disappointed on Thursday that the Minister for Climate Change and Water—and I know she is under extraordinary pressure at the moment—claimed that this was a political stunt. I can tell you it is not. The member for Murray said earlier that ministers do not respond on these issues because there are no Labor voters north of the divide. I am happy to say that in my by-election there were no Labor voters, because Labor would not run. They would not run because they are embarrassed about what has happened in the Lower Lakes and their response to it. I urge the minister at the table, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, and the minister for climate change to reconsider their decision on these amendments. It would assist the people in the area. I urge the parliamentary secretary to come and visit me in Mayo and I will take him to the Lower Lakes, and I urge the minister to do the same. It is a disaster and it would be of great assistance to the people of the region if we could get a package of help.

Secondly, I wish to deal with the pipeline—one of the most absurd policy decisions ever made. We have, as the member for New England said, a situation where the system is overextracted already and a government says, ‘I know what we’ll do—we’ll extract more.’ That is simply what they have done. They have said, ‘We’ll extract more.’ It just does not make sense. Explain that to the people of the Lower Lakes, who I notice today are now threatened by the state government with flooding with salt water. The minister is probably not aware, but I am sure his staff are, that the state Labor government has applied today for approval to let seawater go into the Lower Lakes. The government are allowing 75 gigs to come out of the Goulburn River but will not let that prevent the Lower Lakes from being flooded. It is a disgrace. I urge the minister to not approve this application. This is a white flag for the Lower Lakes and a green flag for the pipeline. It is a disgrace and the minister has the power to stop it. (Time expired)