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Wednesday, 14 October 2015
Page: 7668


Senator MADIGAN (Victoria) (16:46): Since his appointment, the Prime Minister has been telling Australians we are entering some new age of political Aquarius. He tells us we have a 21st-century government. Last month Mr Turnbull promised us—no, he guaranteed us—the best policy his government can formulate to meet the challenges of today. Mr Turnbull also said there has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian. This is an extraordinary boast.

Today we are calling on the Prime Minister to address urgently the crisis in the Murray-Darling Basin. The Murray-Darling Basin is one of the most productive food and fibre regions of Australia. It produces 45 per cent of Australia's irrigated agricultural product. The Murray-Darling Basin, which covers the states of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, as well as the ACT, is home to 2.1 million Australians. The Basin is an essential part of Australian agriculture. What happens in the Basin impacts the rest of Australia. And right now, because of two factors, this critically important region is a tinderbox. We are, without exaggeration, on the verge of a national crisis.

Firstly, the price of temporary water has sky rocketed to $300 per mega litre. In comparison, it was almost 30 per cent cheaper last month. Farmers tell me their businesses are unsustainable at these prices. There is a water market in Australia that is out of control and is being manipulated. You can buy and sell water like stocks on the share market. Water trading has become an insider's market of corruption and back-room deals, and farmers cannot compete.

I received this email from a constituent yesterday. She farms with her husband in northern Victoria. In part, her email reads:

My local real estate agent through whom we buy water suggested the big water traders are continually competing for the limited amount of water on the market and can pretty much set the price as they like because large horticultural companies can afford whatever price is put on it.

Where does that leave the small family farmer such as us? To add insult to injury our 650 hectares of dryland crop is a complete failure, making the irrigated production even more critical.

Our youngest son Josh aged 21 is justifiably proud of himself that he bought his own irrigated farm last year but is now wondering why on earth he committed to such a debt when it is unviable to purchase water. His off-farm income and significant subsidies from us are the only things keeping him going.

We are not greedy people, Senator. We don't have a new house, or a new car and in the 27 years of our marriage have had three family holidays. We have educated our four children and put two of them through university. We are hard-working and committed to our enterprise. I just don't understand how the most precious natural resource we have in this country can be owned by people/corporations who do not engage in agriculture.

Mr Turnbull, her question demands an answer.

Second, Australian farmers are facing a scorching end to the year as the threat of drought from a very large El Nino intensifies. This, combined with the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, has created a perfect storm for our agricultural sector, ladies and gentleman. People are walking off farms. People are committing suicide. These is the early death throes of one of our most important farming regions. And our Prime Minister, the former Minister for Water, seems to us to be unaware.

What is it we want? First, we need immediate reform of the Water Act 2007. This is urgent. It must be amended to give equal consideration to the economic and social consequences as well as the environment. Second, that Prime Minister Turnbull must give agricultural minister Barnaby Joyce full responsibility for the water portfolio. The link between agriculture and water is indisputable. And third, as a matter of urgency, the Prime Minister must pause the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, including buy-backs, pending conclusion and reporting of the Senate inquiry into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Simply, do not sit on your hands; do something about it. Communities, people and families are suffering.