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Monday, 25 June 2018
Page: 3742


Senator RICE (Victoria) (13:55): This bill, the Water Amendment Bill 2018, is the result of a dirty deal between the National Party and the Labor Party. Despite Senator Moore's rose-coloured glasses, her fantasy that we are now living in the best of all possible worlds and that the river is suddenly going to be healthy again, it is a complete lie. It is fantasy. We have the National Party, the Liberal Party and the Labor Party coming together to sell out the river and sell out river communities. It is tragic. It stands out starkly as a symbol of corporate Australia getting its way. Big business is getting its way, using its corporate muscle to get deals done that are in the interest of big business, not in the interest of ordinary people and certainly not in the interest of our river environment. But this dirty deal, this stark symbol of corporate Australia getting its way, stands out for its audacity and its impact. The Murray-Darling is the lifeblood of south-eastern Australia. It is dying, and the legislation that we're debating today is going to make things worse.

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan was developed supposedly to tackle this looming environmental and social disaster. However, the Basin Plan has failed. It was politicised from the start, and this bill is adding insult to injury. You don't need to take the Greens' word for it. Have a listen to the evidence that has been presented to the South Australian royal commission. As reported in the Fairfax press last week, Richard Beasley, SC, the counsel assisting Commissioner Bret Walker, said that the $13 billion Murray-Darling Basin Plan is a fraud on the environment that may be unlawful. That's a pretty serious allegation. Is this legislation going to improve it? No, it is going to make this fraud on the environment even worse. Richard Beasley said that the plan and the related Water Act had been set up to fix a dying system that has had too much water taken from it and has suffered environmental degradation. The article went on to say:

However, the setting of water savings at 2750 billion litres a year—itself at the low end of scientists' estimates of what was needed—had been cut by supply measures that would not kick in for perhaps six years or longer, if at all, Mr Beasley said. Water savings, though, would take effect now.

Despite the fact that we've got legislation that is pretending that everything is now absolutely okay, the impacts of this are going to resonate. They are going to flow down the river and have massive impacts on river communities, the river and the people that rely on this river.

I want to paint a picture of what this means. During debates in this place, we've heard a lot about devastation to the health of the Darling River and the Coorong. There are dying rivers, dying communities and parched farms because of the massive water take by corporate cotton farmers in the upper reaches of the basin. This is big agribusiness working hand in hand with the National Party to get what they want. We have seen the evidence. The evidence is starkly staring Australia in the face. And anyone can tell you that this is wrong. The government has made the wrong decisions.

The PRESIDENT: Order, Senator Rice. It being 2 pm, we will move to questions without notice.