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Wednesday, 14 October 2015
Page: 7659

Senator WILLIAMS (New South Wales) (16:03): I rise with pleasure to speak on the subject of water policy. I am amazed that the Labor Party is game enough to talk about water. Senator Singh should realise that, when we were in opposition, the shadow minister for water, then Senator Joyce, actually worked with then Minister Burke to get bipartisan position—the reason being that then Minister Burke was having discussions with none other than Senator Hanson-Young from the Greens from South Australia, who wanted 6,000 gigs taken out of the water system in the Murray-Darling Basin.

Let's talk about what Senator Wong did when she was the water minister. We know what sort of a finance minister she was. Before the auction of Toorale Station in north-west New South Wales, Senator Wong bought Toorale Station for—how much?—a total of $23.7 million. That was to get water into the Murray-Darling system; to get water down the Murray. She paid $23.7 million for the property—way over its value, I might add—and the property had cattle on it. The department said, 'We want those cattle off the property,' and the owner said, 'Righto, $700,000 and I will move them.' So they threw in another $700,000 for them to take their cattle off the property. How ridiculous is this whole situation! There were ring tanks there that had a heritage order on them. So they could not remove the ring tanks—and that just stores the water back. So there were 93,000 hectares of National Park ready to burn that was full of wild pigs, feral goats and you name it, and no water was going into the Murray. That was Senator Wong's first great move on getting water into the Murray.

Then she went to the Twynam Pastoral Company, the Kahlbetzer family, and paid $303 million of taxpayers' money or borrowed money to run more water down the Murray. One of those properties is on the Gwydir River, up where I live. When the Gwydir River is in flood, guess where the water runs. It runs out of the Gwydir wetlands; it does not run into the Murray—but the Kahlbetzer family said, 'Thank you very much for the cheque.' Then there was Jemalong Station on the Lachlan River. I have harvested wheat there. It is a nice property. It is a good irrigation property. They buy the water back off that, when once in a hundred years—once in a lot longer than a blue moon—the Lachlan runs water into the Murray. They paid $303 million for water buybacks that never put water into the Murray. This is ridiculous! Why the Labor Party would raise this matter of public importance on the issue of water when the fact is that then shadow minister, Senator Barnaby Joyce, worked with then Minister Burke to bring about the bipartisan plan is beyond me.

What we need is a triple bottom line: social, economic and environment. That is why I am very pleased with the agreement that the National Party put in place with Prime Minister Turnbull when he was elected. My leader, Mr Truss, made it quite clear back in January at our meeting at Wodonga that, if there were to be a change of Prime Minister, there would have to be a new agreement with the National Party, because Mr Truss, as Deputy Prime Minister, had signed a letter to the Governor-General saying that he would support Mr Abbott as Prime Minister. This was part of the agreement: water back to agriculture—as it was when Mr Truss himself was agriculture minister and controlled water, and as it is in New South Wales with the Hon. Niall Blair, the agriculture minister and water minister—the two go together.

It was a bipartisan agreement to have the water savings in the Murray—as I said before, set up by then Minister Burke and opposition spokesman for water, former Senator Barnaby Joyce. We have a situation where Labor are talking about water in the Murray and the health of the Murray, which is quite amazing. Remember, the Murray is never going to be the river it used to be, and I will tell you why: man intervened with it. Mother Nature looked after the Murray for hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions—of years. We came along. We put in a barrage in South Australia at the Lower Lakes. We put in the locks. We put in the dams—and even the Greens are not talking about taking them out and giving the river back to Mother Nature. No matter what happens, the Murray will never be the river that Mother Nature made who knows how long ago.

For Senator Wong and the Labor Party to be talking about water when they made such a monumental mess of the management—fancy paying $23.7 million for a property that was worth about $16 million at the time. When they bought it, they did not even look at the property. The department did not ever go and see the property. They bought it unseen: 'We've got to get those cattle off, so here's another $700,000 to move the cattle.' If someone was going to buy my property and said, 'Yes, I'll give you $200,000 to get the sheep off.' Good: I would sell the sheep, keep the money and get another $200,000. That is how outrageous this whole situation is.

We have the opposition, the Labor Party, in this debate leading with their chin. They must be suffering severe amnesia and have forgotten what they did when they were in government and the monumental mess they made of the whole scheme. Keep it going. We will look after the water, and I hope Minister Joyce has it very soon.