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Monday, 7 November 2016
Page: 2961

Mr PASIN (Barker) (17:08): I rise in support of the Register of Foreign Ownership of Agricultural Land Amendment (Water) Bill 2016. Well I might, because it was Mark Twain who said, 'Whiskey is for drinking, but water is for fighting over.' I have heard that code many a time. As the member for Barker and, effectively, the member for the River Murray, in South Australia, I understand the passion that comes along with water entitlements.

I grew up in south-east of South Australia. It is a little known fact that there is more irrigated horticulture in the south-east of South Australia than in all of the South Australian river communities, from the river Murray. So across the electorate, you could say, including in an area of the Mallee in Barker, which one would think would be reasonably parched, we see irrigated horticulture and agriculture. It was Neil Craig, then coach of the Crows, who said, 'If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it,' and that is exactly what this bill seeks to do. If we are to manage foreign investment in this country in the interests of our nation—in the national interest—we need to know exactly the extent, nature and scope of that investment.

Over the course of what is now close to four years of government, what you have seen is measures by our government towards the establishment of, initially, a land register, or a register of foreign ownership of Australian land, and, now, taking the quite sensible extension of that concept through this bill, to a register of foreign ownership of water entitlements in the country. Those opposite are suggesting that we have not gone far enough, and that may well be right. There is always more work to do. I see this bill as part of a continuum as we work towards a really deep and conscious understanding in this country of land and water entitlements, particularly when we relate it to agricultural endeavour.

To those opposite, I say that you had a long time between 2007 and 2013 to embark upon these proposals, but we saw nothing. To those opposite who might criticise us in terms of this bill not going far enough, I say that it is most certainly a step in the right direction. I need to acknowledge that those opposite are supporting the government on this bill.

You have heard me say this before, and I said recently in the party room, my formative years were spent on our farming property moving, in summertime, heavy irrigation pipes across onion crops. I would suggest that they were some of the best and the worst times of my life. The work was hard and back-breaking, but I saw what irrigated agriculture can do. My family had the opportunities borne of their water entitlement and water infrastructure that they would not have had otherwise.

All who have contributed to this debate have quite appropriately identified how important water entitlements are. This is a nation that is known as the driest continent on earth. We need to make the most of our water entitlements. Getting back to the spirit of this bill, we need to know exactly who has an interest in this asset—that is, water entitlements across the nation. It needs to be managed in the national interest and this bill is most certainly a step in that direction.

I remind you that Mark Twain said, 'Whiskey is for drinking, but water is for fighting over.' We need to know exactly who and what entities have interests in Australian irrigation entitlements so that this nation and this parliament can manage those assets, because if you cannot measure it you cannot manage it. I commend the bill to the House.