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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 12072

Ms LEY (8:20 PM) —I thank the member for Riverina for this opportunity to speak on the very important matters concerning the electorate of Farrer as they relate to water availability in the Murray and the future of the rural communities that mean so much to those of us who represent them in this place. During the course of the current debate about climate change and water, it is interesting how many things become received wisdom in our capital cities and, indeed, across a lot of Australia. We cannot grow rice, we cannot grow cotton, the future projections are all bleak and there will be the same small amount of water in the catchments now for the rest of civilisation. More water must be returned to the Murray and must be returned urgently. Governments must act et cetera, et cetera. I have always worried that by saying something often enough it becomes the truth to those who do not understand it and even to some of those who should know better.

The report by the CSIRO Water availability in the Murray is part of the Water for a Healthy Country national research flagship. The CSIRO has received about $12 million to produce this report. It contains various scenarios for, I think, 18 catchments within the Murray-Darling Basin. When it was released recently, particularly the reports on the Murray and Murrumbidgee valleys, the reaction was of great uncertainty and great confusion. But when I looked more deeply into the report, I found that what was being reported in the media was one of the scenarios that the CSIRO had presented in these reports. In fact, what they have done is come up with four possibilities: one based on historical climate; one based on recent climate, 1997 to 2006; one based on the best estimate of climate change by 2030—so that is a prediction or a model; and a fourth scenario based on likely future development with likely future climate change. I think we can discard that fourth one because there are too many variables. What was reported was the most severe of these three remaining possibilities, and that was based on recent climate—1997 to 2006. Whatever side of the argument you are on you probably do not think that the last few years of rainfall in the southern Murray-Darling Basin are typical or will remain so, so it is disingenuous, to say the least—and downright fraudulent, at best—for this to become the received wisdom. What this particular scenario homes in on is that average surface water availability would reduce by 30 per cent, diversions by 18 per cent and end-of-system flow by 46 per cent, which would be enormously worrying to anybody who read it.

But the best estimate of climate change—which, again, is based on a model—is by the CSIRO’s admission less severe than the recent past. Average surface water availability will be reduced by nine per cent, diversions by two per cent and end-of-system flow by 17 per cent. That is far more manageable. People who talk about this stuff do not realise that there are farmers and communities that are balanced on a knife’s edge at the moment, particularly for general security users with three zero allocations in a row. They listen to this stuff and believe that doom and gloom is all that awaits them. It is irresponsible. I ask the CSIRO to talk up the positives in its reports and to allocate some of the generous funding that it receives from government and partnerships towards the sustainable communities part of its charter.

We need the science and we need the science to be accurate but, when we are talking about this level of scenario based modelling, I wonder whether there might be other opportunities for us to pursue practical outcomes for rural communities rather than to let this hang in the air as something taking away the hope for our future. There is no question that the Murray and Murrumbidgee valleys are struggling at the moment, but people can cope if there is a message of hope. I think it is very important that those like the CSIRO are part of delivering that message of hope.