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Monday, 12 October 2015
Page: 7305


Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (15:03): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Tourism and International Education (Senator Colbeck) to a question without notice asked by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (Senator Wong) today relating to the allocation of ministerial responsibility for water.

I think the answer was really instructive in a bizarre sort of way because, bereft of any knowledge, information or clarity, Senator Colbeck had to stumble and mumble his way through a couple of minutes of prevarication. That is quite normal, I suppose, on that side of the chamber. The really interesting matter before us is what is seriously happening with the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and the plan that this new government under the honourable Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has.

We know very clearly that there is a lot at stake here. I just want to put on the record what is at stake. James Horne, the inaugural chair of the Murray-Darling Basin Officials Committee, in 2009 said:

… merging the two portfolios could have several important implications.

Horne said the job of implementing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan would fall to Joyce as Agriculture Minister, which would be "anything but straightforward".

"It involves ensuring adherence to the new, reduced sustainable irrigation limits that are already agreed but not yet implemented," Horne said.

"It also involves implementing water planning in a comprehensive way that has never been seen before in the Basin. This planning is a key element in ensuring an end to the environmental degradation seen in many areas of the Basin in recent decades."

That basically describes the situation we have.

We know that there was a deal done. In order to get ongoing support for this government, the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull had to make an accommodation with the Nationals, and we are now struggling to find out what has actually happened. Who will have responsibility for water? Will it be the Hon. Barnaby Joyce, the former senator? Most of us who have been here a short while would have enjoyed his contributions here in the chamber. But that contribution in this chamber would not have given you any great confidence, particularly as a South Australian, that we were going to see the Murray flow and enjoy nine out of 10 years of water flowing out into the sea without the continual years of dredging.

The Hon. Barnaby Joyce is now in the House of Representatives as the member for New England, Tony Windsor's old seat. He will take an agricultural view. I have no doubt about that. It will be to support farmers. It will be to support use of water. It will not be an environmental view. The silent partner in this agreement is the environment. I have no confidence that this minister will take an environmental view at all.

There was some hope with the announcement of Senator Ruston as having responsibility for water that perhaps she would get a guernsey in how it would be managed and that South Australia and those further down the river from the Hon. Barnaby Joyce's electorate would enjoy some representation. We know that there was a water minister in South Australia, a Nationals water minister, who took a very, very keen interest in water usage, the environment and the degradation that had occurred over many, many decades. We had some hope, but the fine print has not been sorted out.

If you ask the Parliamentary Library who has responsibility for which area, they will tell you that it has not been sorted out yet. It is not on the website, and there is usually a confidential exchange of charter letters which are generally not made public.

The public in South Australia will take a very keen interest in this matter. Several Liberal MPs have already put their concerns on the public record. All of the Labor team will put their concerns very fully on the record, including in every electorate of South Australia, to make sure that we do get what we need: the three S's—social sustainability, economic sustainability and environmental sustainability. Thank you.