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Tuesday, 25 November 2008
Page: 7259

Senator BIRMINGHAM (9:13 PM) —I would like to echo Senator Nash’s and Senator Siewert’s support for this amendment moved by the opposition and the Australian Greens. This is a very principled amendment. It is an amendment that does draw a line in the sand and say ‘enough is enough’ when it comes to additional extractions from the basin system to go elsewhere. It says, ‘No more can or should be accepted.’ The clear line that the Australian Senate should be driving home tonight is that some things just do not make sense.

This amendment is a principled one that would apply as equally to any other proposal. If there were a proposal to hook Sydney up to the Murray-Darling system, or to hook Perth up to the Murray-Darling system or, had Adelaide never been connected, to hook Adelaide up—

Senator Parry —What about Hobart?

Senator BIRMINGHAM —or to hook Hobart up, with all their plentiful water supplies in Tasmania, this amendment would apply equally to all, because it says enough is enough. But of course it is being driven by something that makes no sense at all, and that something is one particular act—the north-south pipeline, or Sugarloaf Pipeline. That makes no sense at all, as has been so well articulated by a number of my fellow senators already.

There are many people who are passionately opposed to this. As Senator Xenophon did, I acknowledge the Plug the Pipe coalition and, particularly, Chris Harrison and Ken Pattison, who are in the gallery tonight. I acknowledge that they have travelled to attend the Senate committee hearings both for the inquiry into the Coorong and Lower Lakes and for the inquiry into this bill. They lead opposition to this that is not just based in the Goulburn Valley region; it stretches far beyond that through much of Victoria and through much of the Murray-Darling Basin. That opposition is driven by the basic understanding of anyone who has looked at this—that is, that it is just simply wrong. It is the wrong thing to be doing to put another major urban centre on the teat of the Murray-Darling Basin system at this critically important time.

Yes, the objective is that it is achieved from savings. As I said in my speech in the second reading debate, I hope very much that those savings are achieved, because it is important to the river system overall that the infrastructure savings that we on this side are very passionate about—from all sorts of projects, including the Food Bowl Modernisation Project—are achieved and that we do save the thousands of megalitres of water that can be saved from more efficient alternatives. But the proposal to share those savings—a third to the environment, a third to the irrigators and a third being piped off to Melbourne; the 75 gigalitres—is just madness. It is just total and utter madness.

A far better proposal—a proposal that would mirror the plan laid down by the coalition government at the outset of the whole national approach to managing the Murray-Darling Basin—is the fifty-fifty plan, whereby there would be some 50 per cent for the environment and 50 per cent for irrigators. That plan would actually see more water going back into local irrigation communities in the Goulburn Valley. It would ensure that they are able to sustain the levels of production that they would hope to and that they are able to do more with less, and it would see more water going into the Goulburn River and the Murray River and ensure that we actually get better outcomes.

The big question is: what about Melbourne? Well, the question for the government is: why not help Melbourne and Victoria find some alternatives? Why not actually do as the government are doing in other places—for example, in Adelaide, where they have offered funding to help with the building of desalination plants, and where they have offered support to help with other groundwater storage and capture? Why not pursue other alternatives? As Senator Siewert mentioned, 400 gigalitres of stormwater flows out each year from Melbourne. Why not help capture some of that and reuse some of that instead of building a pipeline to take 75 gigalitres away? Why has the minister not picked up the phone and called Premier Brumby or any of the Victorian ministers and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got an idea; how about we do something other than this pipeline—let’s think about alternatives to building this pipeline’? They are the questions that need to be answered. Having already put a billion dollars on the table, why can’t they, if need be, find a little bit more—though I cannot understand why it would be necessary—to find an alternative to secure Melbourne’s long-term water supply that does not require building this pipeline?

The minister made reference today to the CSIRO’s sustainable yields report, and she has made reference to it a number of times since its release yesterday, saying that it demonstrates the enormous challenge the basin faces going into the future and that it demonstrates how important it is going to be for us to do more with less throughout the basin. Surely it also demonstrates that building this pipeline is the wrong thing to do, that, if we are about securing more environmental flows and if we are about securing our irrigation industries with the maximum amount of production potential, we should have a system that secures Melbourne’s supply without the need to build this pipeline. With that, I endorse the amendments and look forward to the minister explaining how and why this can be justified.