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Wednesday, 14 October 2015
Page: 7663

Senator EDWARDS (South Australia) (16:21): I rise to contribute to the debate on this matter of public importance, the government's water policy. It seems like a bit of a beat-up to me, quite opportunistic in some ways, because of the change of leadership. We are now the Turnbull government and we are settling the right people into the portfolios where they can engage their constituency. It is as if all of a sudden it is 'down tools' at the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, just because we are changing ministries and departments and reorganising it so it is better set for the future. Neil Andrew, who chairs the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, and the people who are on the authority are doing a very good job. I have been recently appointed to the Select Committee on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Senator Gallacher is quite right when he talks about the agreements that go back to 1997, where the caps were put in, and the formation of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority in 2007. The work of these good people is now just getting underway. I give credit where credit is due. Mr Craig Knowles, a former representative in the New South Wales Labor government, did good work on this across south-eastern Australia, so much so that we now have, by what looks to be 2019, a sustainable diversion limit emerging from what has been a very good Basin Plan.

When you have an El Nino, people get excited, and quite rightly, about the allocation of water, which is the very lifeblood of the inland regions. I have been there and I understand how important it is, on the Murray, the Darling and all of that river system down through there. When you get talk of another drought, you return yourself to the position we were in in 2007, when we had the Millennium Drought. I understand that because I am an irrigator and I did, like everybody, suffer restrictions on water. I also bought water for $1,200 a megalitre. You cannot make money when you are sustaining your permanent crops in that way. So I am very sensitive to the issue of water. But we have to get over what happened. In 1997, as Senator Gallacher rightly pointed out, there was a cap introduced, and that was because the states—and every state is guilty of this—overallocated the resources which were available to them. Different governments, of all different persuasions, over the decades post war overallocated their water resources. There is no question about that. And now the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, the grown-up authority, the one charged with fixing the basin system, is doing exactly that.

There is no question that, when they come into this period of time where profitability is threatened, people get animated. We are seeing that playing out in the hearings that are going on in the Senate inquiry into the Murray-Darling Basin. We have to remember that two million tonnes of salt has to make its way to the ocean, so the Murray-Darling Basin Authority has to ensure that that goes through the Murray mouth, through Lake Alexandrina, through the Chowilla lakes. It starts with Dartmouth, it is stored in Hume and all the way along there are a series of lakes. We have to understand that the Murray-Darling Basin Authority have to be well administered. They will cope for a week without somebody coming and knocking on their door and answering to a minister. This is a beat-up, an absolute beat-up. The authority are doing the work that successive governments have put them there to do. Of course commercial pressure will come at times when El Ninos are being talked about on our television screens and on the radio and where profitability will be compromised—because you cannot replace rain. No bit of legislation, no law, no regulation, will ever replace rain. For the Turnbull government, in its infancy, to be accused of being in any way derelict in its duty—it is doing the thing it should do most and that is appoint the right people to the right jobs.