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Wednesday, 14 October 2015
Page: 7713


Senator HEFFERNAN (New South Wales) (19:20): Just briefly on the previous speech by Senator McAllister, on the Tax and Superannuation Laws Amendment (Better Targeting the Income Tax Transparency Laws) Bill 2015. To put it into context: the law for the present tax system has been outsmarted by technology. Do not try and tell me—I know you did not mean me—that because I am in the Liberal Party I am against doing something about it. On 30 June last year, the World Bank said that $3 trillion was on the merry-go-round running away from tax; $700 trillion was on the derivative merry-go-round. The US estimated that they missed out on between $650 billion and $800 billion and no-one broke the law. Change the law!

I rise tonight because I have been bloody insulted today. I came through the doors this morning and saw a group of people playing politics with people's livelihoods. I came into the chamber today and saw the same thing in speeches here—and I refer to the Murray-Darling Basin proposition. It is easy to go out to the electorate or to go to Griffith and say, 'We're going to give you more water,' or to go down the street and say, 'We'll provide free beer.' You will be popular, but you have got to apply some science to it.

The question the other day from Senator Wong to Senator Colbeck was, 'Do you promise, by legislation, that you will keep the mouth of the Murray open for nine out of 10 years?' It is complete rubbish! Mother Nature and Mother Earth control what happens. We have to take some notice of what the science is saying is going to happen in the future. For Senator Glenn Lazarus to say today that he is the only one who can speak—although he did not talk about water, because he knows nothing about it—because he is not attached to a political party and tied to their policy, well try me on.

Let me tell you what the science says will happen—and all science has vagary, as all human endeavour has failure—in another 25 to 30 years in the southern Murray-Darling Basin. The Murray-Darling Basin, by the way—I have no notes; no-one wrote this for me—has 6.2 per cent of Australia's run-off, 23,400 gigs, of which 14½ thousand gigs is allocated. That is a small proportion of Australia's run-off. They say that there is going to be a decline of 15 per cent in the rainfall in the southern Murray-Darling catchment, which will relate to a 35 per cent decline in run-off. They say that we will go back to under a week of snow, from three weeks. There will be no snow melt. It will only evaporate. Not this year, not last year, not the year before but three years ago there was no snow melt; it evaporated. There was not enough snow. So bear that in mind.

Then people want to go round to Griffith or somewhere and say, 'We're going to give you more water,' The only way you could do that is if the fish grow legs, because the river has actually got to run and the fish have got to swim. Obviously there has got to be some balance in this. Senator Madigan and I had a yarn this afternoon about balancing the debate, but to come in here and say, 'We're going to politically promise something,' is complete garbage. It is not up to us. It is up to Mother Earth—and thank God we do not control the rainfall.

But the science is warning us. If the prediction of the science is 40 per cent right—and the prediction goes right around Australia, and I would need an hour and a half to tell you about it and unfortunately I have only got 10 minutes. I could take you round every river and tell you the median flow and what has happened to every river in Australia. There is 70.4 per cent of Australia's run-off in three catchments in the North: 78,000 gigs in the Timor catchment; 98,000 gigs in the gulf catchment, of which we only divert 55; and 85,000 gigs in the north-east catchment, of which we divert 350. The science says that the weather is going to go anticlockwise and that south-west Western Australia is going to become unfarmable and that parts of the pastoral country of Western Australia will become farmable. If the science is 40 per cent right, the only water that will be reliably available in the Murray-Darling Basin will be the environmental flows for the fish—so they do not have to grow legs—and high-security water. What do we do about that? We do not go to Griffith or to Coleambally and say, 'We're going to give you more water.' I have places there and I know the people, but you cannot play politics with their livelihoods.

Let us just go a little further down the science road. Does anyone know why the water is in a paddy rice field? It is not there because the rice needs it; it is there to average the temperature variation in the plant, because, if you get a cold snap at the wrong time with rice, it will sterilise the plant and, if it gets too hot, the plant will lose its flower. Guess what. Five or six years ago when I got up and talked about this in this place and said, 'We've got to go to dryland rice,' the scientists rang me up and said, 'You're right, Bill; we've got the varieties.' What does that mean? It means about a 15 per cent decline in yield and a 50-odd per cent saving in water. The reason the paddies are there is to be a thermostat. We have now built that into the plant so it can protect itself from the variation in the temperature. We are better off to talk about this stuff than to say: 'The farmers are running out of water. We've got to give them more water.' Where is it going come from, for God's sake?

Have you have been to Carnarvon? It has 3½ thousand acres of irrigation. You look. It is a speck. In the year I was there as the chairman of the northern development task force—and we should be doing all that instead of talking about it—they made $69 million from 3½ thousand acres, using Spanish and Israeli licensed technology. It is very good technology. In the same year, the Ord made the same money with 40 times the amount of water. In the same year, they were 40 times less efficient. In the same year, the Murray-Darling average across the basin was 20 times less efficient than the most efficient. We have got to learn from this.

You can argue for as long as you like about the politics of it. Put the politics to bed, for God's sake. We are arguing about whether the National Party is going to have water or someone else is going to have it. Every minister for water in this place has just about cocked it up. As I said to Senator Wong yesterday, some of the buybacks that they made were ridiculous—Tandau and Toorale and Booligal Station. The biggest fraud on the public purse in my time in this place, with regard to water, was the Nimmie-Caira buyback. I have not got time to explain to you why. These are deadhead decisions. Cubbie Station—and Barnaby and I have had a few blues about this—was a great idea but it was built on the wrong scale. The mean annual flow of the Culgoa is 1,200 gigs. They allowed them to build 1,500 gigs of off-river storage. They did not issue licences based on the flow; they issued them based on the size of the bloody storages that were built, and that depended on the size of the bulldozer! Twenty-seven and a half per cent of the flow of the Culgoa used to get to the Darling. Now 4½ per cent does.

Senator Canavan interjecting

Senator HEFFERNAN: Twenty-five per cent of the flow of the Culgoa. It has occurred in four years since 1921. It has an 835 per cent variability. You probably do not know any of that.

So we have got to apply science to this argument and not play politics with it. I am bloody angry that we are playing politics, because the global food task does not have a solution. The global energy task does. By 2050, the science is saying, we will go to nine billion people, and by 2070 we will go to 12 billion people. They predict that 30 per cent of the productive capacity of Asia will have disappeared. Thirty-five per cent of the world's population is going to live in that region. Fifty per cent of the world's population will be unable to feed themselves. Fifty per cent of the world's population will be poor for water. We have got a lot of work to do. Northern Australia needs to be developed. Most people say it is too hot and too far away, but the only reason is that they are looking back to bloody Sydney and not to Singapore. It is closer to Singapore, where the market is, where two-thirds of the world's population is going to live. And we are saying it is too hot. Where is the best place to be on a hot day? In the cab of the tractor. It is better than the damn house. Come on! Let's have a go.

I can remember back to John Anderson, God bless him, in cabinet—I was the cabinet secretary—saying that we must have a nationally traded water initiative. I said to John Howard, the Prime Minister, 'This poor bugger doesn't know what he's talking about.' You cannot trade water from the Fitzroy in Western Australia into the Murray. They tried it. They actually tried to trade water from the Darling to the Murrumbidgee. It does not work. They even tried to trade water from terminal rivers. Most people do not know what a terminal river is. At the Lachlan River, they rebuilt the wall on the dam to try and provide water to the bottom of the river. What happened? The politicians at the time thought they would be generous to their electorates and they issued a whole lot of new licences to the top of the river, and the bottom of the river still misses out. For God's sake, let's get the politics out of it. This today was a wedge by the so-called independents against the government about who is going to take over water. Senator Canavan is probably part of it. That is fair enough; that is politics. I do not want politics in water. I do not want some mug who knows nothing about water making decisions on it. The Nimmie-Caira buyback is a perfect example of ruining the public purse. (Time expired)