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Monday, 12 October 2015
Page: 7307

Senator McALLISTER (New South Wales) (15:13): I also rise to take note of answers to Senator Wong's question to Senator Colbeck. I am glad that Senator Canavan has formed such a clear view about what is necessary in relation to the Murray-Darling Basin, because it is not at all clear to anybody else that that kind of clarity is enjoyed across the government benches. We all woke up this morning to reports on the front page of The Australian indicating that there is in fact significant disarray and disagreement within the coalition about who exactly is in charge of water. Is it Senator Ruston? Is it Senator Joyce or is it indeed Senator Hunt? Or do all of them share some role in implementation—

Senator Brandis: Senator Hunt—you have promoted him!

Senator McALLISTER: I am sorry, Minister Hunt—or is it in fact something that is shared by all three of them? We are not clear What is more alarming, of course, is that we are not at all clear about the overall direction that is intended by the government in relation to these matters. That is much, much more important.

The question was asked today about whether the National Party is in fact capable of taking the interests of South Australians seriously in relation to water, or of taking the responsibility for the environment. Unhappily, the experience over many years has been that members of the National Party have consistently shown themselves unwilling to truly consider a triple bottom line.

I want to make it clear that I do not believe that this represents the position of many country Australians. In fact, in previous roles I have had the good fortune to meet with farmers across New South Wales who were extremely concerned about the health of the environment in their area, caused by the overextraction of water resources and the consequential ecological impacts that occur on the floodplains and wetlands around New South Wales rivers. I know that those people were good farming people. They were the sort of people that many people on the National Party benches might expect to vote for them year after year. But those people were destined to be disappointed if they looked to their National Party representatives for a serious, science-based approach to the problems that were besetting the river system in the Murray-Darling Basin.

A point, too, is that on the Liberal side there are plenty of people in the regions, in the towns and in our big cities who also look to the Liberal Party for leadership on questions of the environment. Again, sadly, they are routinely disappointed because the Liberal Party, tethered to their National Party cousins, are completely unable to take seriously the consequences of ongoing environmental degradation.

So ultimately, of course, it is left to the Labor Party to take responsibility for the big environmental decisions in this country. We have seen it in forestry and in marine conservation, and we saw it again when it came to the Murray-Darling Basin where, ultimately, responsibility for forming a plan that could be accepted across communities once again fell to Labor.

You might have expected, having reached a final settlement on a question that had bedevilled the Federation since our commencement, that the National Party might have been pleased to support such a plan. But no—what did they do? I point to Barnaby Joyce in particular. Minister Joyce spent years undermining Labor's approach to Basin Plan implementation. He was critical of water buybacks and he advocated moving water across the continent. He never really accepted in any foundational way that the system had been overallocated, that mechanisms did need to be put in place to recover water for the environment and that unless we addressed that in a serious and consequential way there would be no ongoing sustainability or economic viability of basin communities.

Now, as part of a deal with Prime Minister Turnbull, they have demanded that these responsibilities be transferred to the National Party. They are apparently upset that even components of the administration of the plan be left with the Department of the Environment, when—if we think about it—the allocation of environmental water should be undertaken by an environment department with expertise in the environmental assets that this water is supposed to be protecting and enhancing. More than that, what we see is a situation where—once again—the Liberal Party and the National Party are completely unable to resolve their underlying philosophical differences about how the environment ought to be protected. They are unable to resolve at a personnel level the differences within their government and it will be to the very great loss of the environment in this country. (Time expired)