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Tuesday, 26 May 2015
Page: 4498


Mr HUTCHINSON (Lyons) (12:31): I rise in support of the National Water Commission (Abolition) Bill 2015. Some may wonder that the focus of this bill is on the Murray-Darling scheme when there are also other components of this bill that very much reflect on water policy more broadly around the country, particularly in my home state of Tasmania. Notwithstanding the contribution of the member opposite, that there are conspiracy theories around abolishing the Water Commission for roles that will become the function of a more than competent body in the Productivity Commission seems quite fanciful at best. The Labor Party are so good at the politics. They are much better at the politics on so many things than those of us on this side. It is very disingenuous to hear the comments made by those opposite in opposing this bill, because it is only an oversight bill. All of those functions will be able to incorporated within the capacity that exists in the Productivity Commission and also in the Department of the Environment.

There have been consultations with those interested bodies, not least of all the National Farmers Federation. Whilst the word 'lobby' was used, I would use a different term of phrase. I would say that the argument was made. The case was argued and the verdict was delivered, and there has been consensus on this being an efficiency measure that is not diminishing in any way, shape or form the principles, as I have mentioned, of the National Water Initiative. They are going to be adhered to. This ties into irrigation and water policy more broadly, which I want to touch on within my state of Tasmania, particularly around urban pricing principles.

We heard a little bit about Labor's record. Mr Deputy Speaker, let me tell you, in terms of the initiatives that were made out of those original bipartisan—acknowledged—National Water Initiative programs that were rolled out and the discussions that were held in that context, Labor's record in Tasmania was a disaster. We had a situation with councils in 29 municipalities within Tasmania where their capacity to manage water infrastructure had become untenable. It was something that was simply not possible with a relatively small rate base. It was agreed that responsibilities for urban water be taken over by a single body. At the time, as part of that arrangement, there was an amount of money, $500 million, to support the new organisation to start the program of reinvesting in urban water infrastructure around the state of Tasmania. I do not know where that money went to. Nobody knows where that money went to. It was Premier Bartlett and Treasurer Aird at the time. It is question that was asked in The Examiner even as recently as Monday this week: what happened to that money? It is a very good question. Indeed, environmental management of water around Australia is now a given. It is not an optional thing; it is absolutely a given.

The other aspect of this bill is the implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. It is interesting to look at the context of what has happened in more recent times with water policy, particularly in relation to the Murray-Darling Basin scheme. In recent years, governments have been actively participating in water trading, buying back entitlements that had been lifelines for many farmers, that had been their capacity to make a living in this land of drought. The perverse irony of governments buying back water at times at prices as high as $800 a megalitre from those people who aimed to make a living was not lost. At the same time in my state of Tasmania, we were having schemes designed whereby entitlements to water were being traded, depending on the location around the state, for around $1,100 a megalitre.

The irony was not lost on those of us who have taken more than a passing interest over the years in markets and how markets work. It was quite countercyclical to what was happening in the Murray-Darling Basin, where water was being bought back by government. At the same time in Tasmania, albeit with bipartisan support, we had irrigation schemes in public and private partnerships with substantial contributions from the irrigators and the farmers involved—95 per cent secure water was being sold around my state at that time. It was a very stark contrast. There is an absolute revolution going on in the island state, and it is going to enhance and set in stone my state's reputation for producing high quality food and fibre. More than $1 billion at the completion of the second tranche of schemes will have been invested with state, federal and private partnerships to deliver 95 per cent secure water on the island state.

Tasmania only has two per cent of the nation's land mass, but we are truly blessed with a unique maritime climate where 13 per cent or thereabouts of our nation's runoff occurs in Tasmania. That is twice as much as the Murray-Darling Basin, and this is the significant thing. Often, of course, it falls in the wrong places, and whether it be in the hydro-electricity schemes around the state or whether it be more recently within the irrigation schemes around the state, this has been the challenge—to capture rain in the places it falls and to distribute it to the places that are very dry. Certainly parts of the east coast and parts of the Midlands of Tasmania are some of the driest areas in Australia; for example, there is 17-inch rainfall in parts of the Derwent Valley; around Ross and Tunbridge 17- to 18-inch rainfalls are the long-term averages. As one Tasmanian irrigator rather poetically described it:

The rain-bearing westerlies that unburden themselves after passing over the mountains of the Tasmanian west coast are on a constant circumnavigation in the latitudes called the Roaring Forties. The westerlies flow around the world, their path impeded only by South America. They arrive back in Tasmania, their clouds pregnant with water after visiting the Amazon.

It is a beautiful picture that is painted there. As I mentioned, though, a lot of that water falls in the wrong place. The key for farmers is to capture that water, to harness that rainfall run-off, for future use before it runs out to sea. Frankly, the infrastructure involved is beyond the scope of any individual farmer, but the cost has been demonstrated to be willingly shared by those farmers, and in some cases also urban communities, that will benefit largely from this investment. There has been a willingness by farmers to take very much a long-term view about what it is they are doing by investing in these water entitlements, which of course are tradeable instruments as well.

We already have examples of successful large-scale multiuse irrigation schemes in Tasmania developed under this public-private partnership model which have proved to be a very efficient use of capital—more so than the sum total of individual storage schemes on individual farms. For example, the Craigbourne Dam was a truly groundbreaking initiative in the Coal River Valley in my electorate. The Meander Dam was the first large-scale dam built in Australia for nearly 30 years, and despite the protestations of the usual suspects—particularly the Greens—this project has been an absolute success. It has been an absolute success from an environmental point of view, it has been an absolute success from a recreational point of view, it has been an absolute success in mitigating damaging floods that have occurred in the Meander River and the South Esk River over subsequent years, and it has provided that reliable supply of water that has enabled farmers to invest with confidence and to digress into other areas that they would not have considered possible.

The Cressy Longford Irrigation Scheme, again in my electorate, is a significant scheme based off the back of the water that flows out of the Great Lake down through the Poatina power station, generating hydro-electricity in Tasmania. Of course, more recently the Midlands Water Scheme—the largest in the state—is irrigating 20,000-odd hectares of land. With good soils and now with reliable water, the opportunities are really endless. The South East Irrigation Scheme has rather expensive water—$2,400 is the entitlement there, because they are taking that out of the Derwent and bringing it over along through Brighton and Tea Tree into the south east, which is a very, very dry part of the state—but it will support horticultural enterprises. As an example, I think of Houston's lettuces, a family business that has grown off the back of producing lettuces that now go into pretty well every supermarket, certainly on the east coast of Australia. They are grown in my electorate in the south-east of Tasmania. There are also the Lower South Esk and the Whitemore irrigation schemes.

There are wonderful stories of the differences that irrigation water has made not only to the lives of the producers involved but also to the communities involved. At the end of it all this is about jobs, this is about wealth creation, this is about opportunity and diversification. I mentioned the story of the Houston family. In 1957 Maitland and Bunty Houston migrated to Tasmania from Ireland with six children; they were chicken farmers. When Maitland could not sell chickens he was growing a few lettuces on the side, and the only thing that Woolworths wanted to buy from him were the lettuces, not the eggs. He was smart enough to realise that that was where the future lay and he is now, as I say, one of the biggest suppliers to the major supermarkets around the country. I think, for example, of Rob and Jo Bradley, with access to water on their 1,200 hectares—two properties at Woollen Park and Rosemount in the Longford-Cressy area—which they have really transformed. Rob won a Nuffield Scholarship and took a trip to the United States and the UK to investigate how to integrate livestock and pasture into an irrigated cropping system, improving soil quality and delivering a profitable and sustainable farming enterprise.

The opportunities for even the most traditional of farmers are starting to be realised. This is truly the exciting thing about this, where you are seeing breeders of beef or store sheep that now have the option of being able to finish that livestock—and back that up with the free trade agreements that as a government we are delivering; there is a world of opportunity for these people to take advantage of bringing good soils together with reliable water.

I am thinking of the Swan scheme, on the east coast of Tasmania—again, in my electorate. Brown Brothers owns the vineyard just south of Bicheno, between Bicheno and Swansea. Off the back of the scheme that has just been announced—the $60 million that has been contributed by the Commonwealth government, along with $30 million by the state government and nearly $50 million of private investment—they will be expanding their footprint in vineyards by 150 hectares. That means jobs, and it means opportunity on the east coast of Tasmania in those communities that really struggle.

So, this is the story of water in my state. It is the story of a collaborative, bipartisan approach, from a political point of view, to the private sector working very closely with government and led ably by Chris Oldfield. And I must acknowledge the work that has been done by Chris Oldfield and his team in developing these schemes and delivering the opportunity to so many Tasmanians and so many Tasmanian communities. I also acknowledge, in the Southern Highlands scheme, Richard Hallett, who has been an absolute champion for a scheme in and around the Bothwell area, which is one of the driest parts of my state. That was one of the schemes and probably will be the first scheme that will be completed under the tranche 2 schemes that were recently announced by the Prime Minister at Evandale when we announced the $60 million for the tranche 2 schemes. And I want to acknowledge Tim Lyne at Swansea—again, a vineyard owner and somebody who has championed the delivery of reliable water into that area—and Marcus McShane, who has been instrumental in supporting the North Esk scheme at Evandale, which will be an opportunity for farmers in that area to diversify enormously.

This is an exciting story, and, as I said, it contrasts very much with the situation we see in other parts of the country. I urge those who are interested in water infrastructure to look at the models we are using there—the collaborative models that are being used around the country.