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Monday, 25 June 2018
Page: 3856


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (20:39): I move:

(1) Page 6 (after line 11) , at the end of the bill, add:

Schedule 2 — Modifications of Basin Plan

Water Act 2007

1 At the end of Part 2AA

Add:

86AK Primacy of environmental considerations in delivering 450 GL of additional environmental water—modifications of Basin Plan 2012

(1) Section 7.09 of the Basin Plan 2012 has effect as if:

(a) the words “while maintaining or improving social and economic outcomes” were omitted from paragraph (a) of that section; and

(b) the words “economic, social and” were omitted from paragraph (d) of that section; and

(c) the words “and benchmark conditions of development” were omitted from paragraph (d) of that section.

(2) Subsection 7.17(2) of the Basin Plan 2012 has effect as if paragraph (b) of that subsection (including the heading) were omitted and substituted with the following:

Improved environmental outcomes

(b) The efficiency contributions to the proposed adjustments achieve improved environmental outcomes compared with the benchmark environmental outcomes.

2 Application

(1) The modifications of the Basin Plan 2012 made by subsection 86AK(1) of the Water Act 2007, as inserted by this Schedule, apply in relation to a supply measure or an efficiency measure, whether the supply measure, or the efficiency measure, was notified under section 7.12 of the Basin Plan 2012 before, on or after the commencement of this item.

(2) The modifications of the Basin Plan 2012 made by subsection 86AK(2) of the Water Act 2007, as inserted by this Schedule, apply in relation to an efficiency contribution that relates to an efficiency measure, whether the efficiency measure was notified under section 7.12 of the Basin Plan 2012 before, on or after the commencement of this item.

I circulated the amendment in this chamber and it was referred to a number of times already through the second reading debate. This amendment seeks to ensure that the promised 450 gigalitres that was essential in securing South Australia's support for the original Murray-Darling Basin Plan is in law, that we lock it in so that it happens.

We know that back in 2012, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was finalised and voted on in this place on the basis that the remaining 450 gigalitres were to be promised. Yet what we've seen to date is that every time there is an opportunity for Victoria, New South Wales or, indeed, the big corporate irrigators to run an argument against delivering the 450 gigalitres, they take it.

Last year there was the exposure of the corruption going on throughout the Murray-Darling Basin, particularly in the northern basin, which is what this overall bill deals with in terms of water in that area. I must point out that it doesn't deal with the corruption, the rorting or the fact that more water is being taken out of the system than the river can manage, but it does indeed deal with the northern basin. Every time these allegations were raised, we had Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and the big irrigators saying, 'Well, if you try to hold us to account, we won't give you the 450.' Over and over and over again, we've seen upstream states hold the river, South Australia and the environment to ransom. Indeed, I would argue that they try to hold the Senate to ransom as well, because every time we raise issues of what's going on in the Murray-Darling Basin, we get told, 'We're going to run away from the Basin Plan and you'll never get your extra 450 gigalitres.' It's not good enough. This is absolutely not on.

This amendment says: 'Okay, if we agree in this place, and if the states have all agreed'—which they say they have—'that this 450 gigalitres of water is required to meet the objectives of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, to keep the river alive and to ensure that the environment is looked after, then let's put it in law. Let's make sure it's locked in, that it must be delivered and that it can be delivered, and not give any wriggle room to those who want to continually stifle the opportunity for us to return the water to the river.' We need this 450 gigalitres, as previously promised, to ensure that the environment thrives, that the Murray mouth is able to stay open and that our Coorong and the Lower Lakes in South Australia can survive. The 450 gigalitres is critical to the achievement of the plan's original intention—the ultimate purpose—to restore water to the river to keep the river alive. If we don't, in five years time, 10 years time or 20 years time there isn't going to be a river. There won't be enough water left in the Murray-Darling Basin for the farms that rely on it or for the communities that rely on it. For those of us living in South Australia, at the bottom of the system, we already know how vital it is to ensure that we restore the river's health. Already, we can see that as the drying periods are coming upon us, there just isn't the water in the river to keep it flourishing and alive.

For South Australians, this amendment is crucial. Our state was promised this water. It's time we put it in law and make it a reality. For South Australians, this isn't just about a number of 450 gigalitres; it's the difference between clearing out the salt of the Coorong and the Lower Lakes and not. It's the difference between keeping the mouth of the Murray open and not. It's the difference between watering 35,000 hectares of flood plains and not. Without the 450 gigalitres guaranteed and delivered, the whole purpose of the plan is put into jeopardy. Without this water, the river is put into jeopardy. It is a core component to the whole objective of having a plan to manage the Murray-Darling Basin so that the water is shared equally and that the river can flow from one end to the other and keep the river system alive. It is not optional. This 450 gigalitres is the difference between life and death for the river.

Our position when it comes to the Murray-Darling Basin plan has been consistent all the way along. It needed to be based on the best available science, and science said we needed at least 4,000 gigalitres to give the river any hope of survival. This is the science of the CSIRO—originally the MDBA—despite which, we know now, they've watered that down, they've reduced that number, because of political interference not because the facts support it.

The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists has also said that 4,000 gigalitres is the bare minimum. Yet this plan didn't even deliver that. This total amount gets reduced, gets cut down further and further and further. All this amendment bill tonight is doing is saying: let's at least sandbag the 450 that was promised and is yet to be delivered.

It's the science that matters here. The science says climate change isn't a trivial omission from the original plan. The Murray-Darling Basin Plan doesn't even talk about climate change. Yet already we have this government, other upstream states and the big corporate irrigators finding every which way to reduce the amount of water that should be returned to the environment through this process. The science says that you can't rely on historical water flows to calculate the future needs of a rapidly warming planet, yet none of these figures are even factored into these calculations. All the science says this 450 gigalitres is what is needed. All the science says we actually need more.

This amendment makes sure we can at least secure what the original intent was. The delivery of the 450 gigalitres is currently contingent on it being demonstrated that there is no negative social or economic impact. If we don't deliver the 450 gigalitres we will find out that there ain't going to be a river in generations to come. The next time the drought hits, as the climate warms, there is not going to be enough water in the river for it to survive. This requirement that the government stands up and spruiks day in and day out on this issue is meaningless. They misunderstand that, unless you have a strong underpinning of guaranteed water for the environment, the river is going to die; and that is the ultimate impact on the socio-economic issues for the basin and the basin communities.

If we're serious about looking after the communities, they need to know that the river's survival is paramount and that it is supported by the figures that are being passed and endorsed in this place, and not just for this year and not just for five years time but for decades. For decades we have debated how we share the amount of water in this river fairly, and for decades it's been the environment and the river that continue to be short-changed. Ultimately, it's the communities who rely on a healthy river that will suffer; it's not the big corporate irrigators, who're going to bank all their money and put all the cash, paid for by the taxpayer, in their back pockets and bugger off after this process is finished. They're not the ones who're going to be upset when the river's not healthy; it's going to be the communities that are left there with a river that is unhealthy and can't sustain and underpin those communities.

This amendment removes the requirement that the delivery of 450 gigalitres is simply a condition of it having neutral or positive socio-economic impacts. And that is because these are a farce; they don't tell the true story to those communities who desperately want to know that the river is going to be there for the future—not just for the end of this government's term, not just to when the end of this planned process has finalised. They want to know that this river is going to sustain them into the future for generations to come. Calculate that into your impact on socioeconomic factors. If that were the true calculation, this government would not be finding every which way to reduce the amount of water that's being returned to the environment and the river.

We know that we just can't trust the state governments of Victoria and New South Wales on this issue. Every single time they have an opportunity to slam the delivery of the 450 gigalitres or wriggle out of it, they take it; they try to manoeuvre themselves so they don't have to be part of this process. Give them an inch and they take a mile. That's what the Victorian and New South Wales governments are doing at the behest of the big corporate irrigators upstream. They don't give two hoots about what happens to the health of the river in years to come. They don't give a damn about what happens to the communities that rely on the river, and they certainly don't care about what happens in South Australia at the end of the river system. During the process of the negotiations over the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, the only way South Australia would come to the table—reluctantly—was if this 450 gigalitres was delivered. This was reluctantly agreed to at the time by the upstream states and the federal government. It wasn't put into legislation; it was simply: 'Oh, yes, when we get to it—wink, wink, nudge, nudge.' It was a side deal. As a result, exactly what we thought would happen did. Those who never wanted it on the table in the first place are now the first to say it should be done away with.

For those in this place tonight who are from South Australia—and there are a number of us—I implore you to think very carefully about what this amendment will mean for our home state. We were promised this water. What is the excuse for not putting it in the legislation? The assistant minister is going to stand up and say, 'It can't be done.' That's only because the upstream states have bullied your government so badly. It's only because, on this issue, the upstream members of your own party room have you bent over a barrel singing the tune of the big corporate irrigators. They are never going to do what is right by the river. They don't care about the health of the system going forward, and they certainly don't care about the communities and the smaller farms throughout the basin.

I have spent quite a bit of time in the last few weeks down at the Lower Lakes and the Coorong in South Australia, talking to locals about what's going on down there. They are in despair. People in the electorate of Mayo are in despair. Of course, the bottom of the river system is right there. After years of debate on this issue, they thought that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan would be the thing that would, finally, be a circuit breaker. Billions of dollars were put on the table to make it happen. No other reform in this place has had so much money thrown at it yet been rorted so badly. Now, right at the end of the process, we see the upstream states and the Turnbull coalition government, at the behest of the National Party, saying, 'Oh, yeah, that 450 gigalitres—we'll deliver it if we can.' No, you deliver it now, you deliver it in full, and you stick by your promise. South Australians are not going to sit by and be ripped off again and again. If you're a South Australian in this place, do the right thing by your state and stand up for the river. (Time expired)