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Tuesday, 25 November 2008
Page: 7235


Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) (7:43 PM) —The definition of critical human water needs appears in proposed section 86A of the bill and is defined under subsection (2) as:

… needs for a minimum amount of water, that can only reasonably be provided from Basin water resources, required to meet: (a) core human consumption requirements in urban and rural areas; and (b) those non-human consumption requirements that a failure to meet would cause prohibitively high social, economic or national security costs.

I do find it somewhat extraordinary that we have coalition senators, including those from Adelaide, suggesting that the provisions around critical human needs should be limited to the extent that Senator Nash’s amendment suggests.

I want to make this very clear so that opposition senators and the shadow minister, who is here, understand what is being proposed here. This is part of the bill which sits within the referred provisions. The referral bills passed by New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia and currently under consideration by the Victorian Legislative Council would not confer on the Commonwealth parliament the power necessary to pass a bill with an amended definition of ‘credible human water needs’. The amendment that is being proposed by Senator Nash—be careful, Senator Birmingham, that you understand what you senators are doing—would, if carried and retained by this parliament, require the scope of the referral to be renegotiated with the states and for each state to amend its referral legislation, significantly delaying the passage of what we on this side regard, and many regard as important legislation. This definition was agreed in the IGA, to which I referred in my summing up speech on the second reading, and it was the subject of extensive negotiations with the states and public consultation both in the lead-up to the negotiation of the agreement and in the negotiation of a comprehensive water bill in 2007.

Just so we are clear about the history and the approach to this: it is the case that, under the new regime, the authority will be required to set out the methodology by which it determines critical human water needs and conveyance water in the Basin Plan. The application of the definition will draw on the contingency planning work that has been underway between governments in the southern basin since November 2006. Communities which are dependent on basin water resources are those communities who rely on basin water resources, and these are likely to be all of the communities within the basin and, obviously, some communities outside of the basin that are provided with water from the basin to meet part or all of their critical needs, such as Adelaide.

The first limb of the definition that is in the bill, ‘core human consumption requirements’, generally refers to full restricted urban demand, no outdoor use and fully restricted domestic and stock use. With the second limb of the definition, ‘non-human consumption requirements that a failure to meet would cause prohibitively high social, economic or national security costs’—and I emphasise that again: ‘prohibitively high social, economic or national security costs’—a starting point may be that these requirements are zero but that uses may then be considered on a case-by-case basis. For example, the authority might draw on the principles in the Murray-Darling Basin dry inflow contingency planning overview report to first ministers May 2007. So this is a definition—and Senator Nash and Senator Birmingham might want to know this—that your government applied under contingency arrangements that you are now essentially seeking to change. Those agreed definitions—agreed by first ministers in May 2007, under the previous government—include:

I. the impact of not providing water would cause prohibitively high social, economic or security costs;

II. there are no viable alternatives to provide the good or service that requires water; and

III. the recipient of the water has developed a water efficiency plan incorporating industry best practice water efficiency targets.

Examples that have been provided to me of uses that may meet—and I emphasise ‘may meet’—these criteria include water for hospitals, schools, aged care, defence facilities such as Thales ammunitions factory at Mulwala, food production, and other important industries that provide significant employment in regional Australia, such as, OneSteel, Nystar and San Remo.

I suggest to Senator Nash that there are some very compelling reasons, both in policy terms but also, frankly, in terms of the cooperative and constitutional arrangements which underpin this legislation, and, in the light of that, she should not proceed with these amendments.