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Tuesday, 25 November 2008
Page: 7253


Senator NASH (8:50 PM) —by leave—I, and also on behalf of Senator Siewert, move amendments (1) and (2) on sheet 5622 revised 3:

(1)    Schedule 2, page 294 (after line 2), after item 50, insert:

50A  At the end of section 21

Add:

Basin Plan not to permit taking water for additional uses outside Basin

         (8)    The Basin Plan must ensure that no water is taken from Basin water resources for use outside the Murray-Darling Basin unless, prior to 3 July 2008, water would have been taken from Basin water resources for that use.

Note:   3 July 2008 is the date the Commonwealth, the Basin States and the Australian Capital Territory entered into an intergovernmental agreement on Murray-Darling Basin Reform.

         (9)    The Basin Plan must not permit:

              (a)    the construction or operation of water infrastructure; or

              (b)    work in the nature of a river flow control work;

if the primary purpose of that construction, operation or work is to enable water to be taken contrary to subsection (8).

Note 1:  water infrastructure is defined in section 7(3).

Note 2:  river flow control work is defined in section 8 but has a meaning affected by subsection (10).

       (10)    For the purposes of this section, river flow control work has the meaning it would have if paragraph 8(2)(b) were repealed.

(2)    Schedule 2, page 318 (after line 32), after item 162, insert:

162A  At the end of Part 12

Add:

257   Prohibited water infrastructure operations

         (1)    An infrastructure operator must not:

              (a)    construct or operate water infrastructure; or

              (b)    undertake work in the nature of a river flow control work;

if the primary purpose of that construction, operation or work is to enable water to be taken from Basin water resources for use outside the Murray-Darling Basin.

Note 1:  infrastructure operator and water infrastructure are defined in section 7.

Note 2:  river flow control work is defined in section 8 but has a meaning affected by subsection (3).

         (2)    Subsection (1) does not apply if, prior to 3 July 2008, water would have been taken from Basin water resources for that use.

         (3)    For the purposes of this section, river flow control work has the meaning it would have if paragraph 8(2)(b) were repealed.

These amendments by the coalition quite simply amend the bill so that the Basin Plan does not permit taking water for additional uses outside the basin. I think this is an area that has had a particular focus—certainly over the last few months at least, if not longer—on the issue of building the pipeline to take water from the Murray-Darling Basin for urban water use in Melbourne. A number of witnesses have certainly raised this issue, not only through the inquiry process but out in the communities and throughout industry as a whole, noting the complete stupidity of putting in place a pipeline to take water out of the Murray-Darling Basin when, from what we can see, the intent of not only the Water Act 2007 but also the Water Amendment Bill 2008, which seeks to amend the act, is to ensure the future sustainability of the Murray-Darling Basin. Perhaps I could make a couple of comments about the water savings currently available through the buyback process that the government are undertaking, and we have seen recently figures on this provided to the Senate, through the estimates process. All this does relate very clearly to the building of the pipeline and the taking of the water, because it will give a contrast in terms of what the government are doing with their focus on water savings in the basin.

The intent of the government with the $50 billion plan was to buy back entitlement of around 34,000 megalitres of water. It became apparent after some negotiations that it could not go through to completion and there looked to be only 22,000 megalitres of water available to that entitlement. As recently as four or so weeks ago, senators were given to understand that only 9,000 megalitres of that entitlement had moved onto the register and, of that, only 849 megalitres were real water allocation. The reason I raise that is that it is particularly important to compare and contrast that to the 75,000 megalitres of water that will be taken from the basin for urban water use in Melbourne. If I may just add to that point: there is no restriction on requirement for usage of that water for Melbourne once that water is taken from the basin.

We have heard quite a deal of discussion around critical human needs. It is not only critical human needs that that water can be used for in Melbourne; it can be used for anything that the state government chooses. I know that the minister will say that this water is going to come from water savings, and that has been very clearly stated to quite a great extent not only by the minister but by other members of the government. It is very apparent that, if there are any savings to be made in the Murray-Darling Basin, those savings should remain within the basin.

Much work has been done to ensure that we retain water in the basin. Indeed, the minister would say that the buyback process is the quickest form of getting water back into the system. We actually disagree with that, because we think water efficiency is by far the most important way to get water back into the system. The minister talks consistently about water savings in the basin, which is why we find it incomprehensible that the government would not agree to an amendment to this bill that will require water savings to stay within the basin. That is essentially what these amendments require.

The amendments are specifically targeted to ensure that no water that has already been taken out for a purpose prior to 3 July can be taken out from that point. The simple objective is to ensure that we do all we can to reach sustainable levels in the Murray-Darling Basin. Also, the social and economic impacts on the communities that are going to have their water removed as a result of the bill have not even been determined by the government. That has not even been looked at. I would put forward that that is one of the most crucial things that the government should be turning its mind to when looking at taking water out of the basin. I am sure that the minister will come up with a number of arguments as to why it is okay to suck 75,000—


Senator Wong —How about your hypocrisy?


Senator NASH —I had not mentioned the word ‘hypocrisy’. Maybe I should just jump on that. I had not got to hypocrisy yet. Thank you, Minister. I was getting to that: the hypocrisy of the government in what it is doing by bringing this bill into the Senate and then allowing potentially 75,000 megalitres a year to be sucked out of the basin for Melbourne’s urban water use. I might add that Melbourne is allowing around 400 gigalitres of stormwater to run off into the ocean and is doing absolutely nothing about it. So while they are not doing all they can do to ensure their own sustainability, the minister is quite happy to support the taking of that water out of the Murray-Darling Basin. Perhaps I am misguided in my intent, but what we are trying to do with the Murray-Darling Basin is to make it sustainable for irrigators, farmers and the environment—right across the board—so that there is a balanced and fair share of water.

Having recently travelled from one end of the basin to the other, I have seen the enormous amount of work that irrigators and communities are doing to ensure that they do all that they can in terms of efficiency and sustainability. When they are going to those lengths to do all they can to make the basin sustainable, I can only agree with the overwhelming outcry from these communities right throughout the basin over the agreement to take 75,000 megalitres of water a year out of the basin. I would call on the minister to listen to those communities. I would say that, in her quieter moments, the minister probably agrees with me, given the amount of work she is doing to keep water in the basin. The government wants to allow that amount of water out of the basin each year when, as so many of the witnesses to the inquiry said, the basin is in crisis—they used various words. It seems absolutely—and I use the minister’s own word—hypocritical that the government should be doing that.