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Wednesday, 16 September 2015
Page: 6991

Murray-Darling Basin


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:23): My question is to Minister Birmingham, the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment. The Prime Minister's new deal with the Nationals has given the Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, responsibility for water. The Minister for Agriculture once told our community in South Australia to move to where the water is if indeed they were concerned. Are you as a senator from South Australia confident that this deal with the Nationals has not sold our state down the river?


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (14:23): I thank Senator Hanson-Young for the question. I can give an emphatic yes to Senator Hanson-Young. Yes, I have supreme confidence that this government will continue to look after the interests of the Murray-Darling Basin. I have supreme confidence that this government will deliver on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, because the National Party and the Liberal Party are the parties that came together in the Howard government and brought the Water Act to fruition. The National Party and the Liberal Party stood as one in the opposition years, when the Murray-Darling Basin plan was adopted.

I can remember who voted against the adoption of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, and it was not the members of the Labor Party, it was not the members of the Liberal Party and it was not the members of the National Party; it was the members of the Australian Greens. The Australian Greens were the ones who stood in the way of the adoption of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The Australian Greens were the ones who did not want to have sound progress in relation to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

I worked very closely with Mr Joyce in the last parliament. He was the shadow minister for water during that time. I was the shadow parliamentary secretary working with him, and, to be honest, we learnt a lot from each other. I learnt about the interests of upstream irrigators and he learnt about the interests of South Australia, and that was a very effective relationship.

I have supreme confidence that, if Barnaby Joyce is the agriculture minister, going forward, and has responsibility for water, we will see effective water management in Australia and we will see the Murray-Darling Basin Plan delivered, but delivered in a way that ensures Australia's irrigators, including South Australia's irrigators, have absolute rights and security over their water entitlements in the future as well.


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:25): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The Minister for Agriculture will have significant power over next year's review of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. What will the government do to ensure that the legacy of the former minister for the environment, Malcolm Turnbull, is not undermined by allowing another slush fund to be wasted away, controlled by the Nationals, at the expense of Australia's environment and the future of our mighty Murray?


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (14:26): Unfortunately, Senator Hanson-Young appears not to understand how the Water Act actually works. Next year, there is not a review of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, but next year we will see the sustainable diversion limit adjustment mechanism come into play, and the adjustment mechanism is well defined in the Water Act. It has specific provisions for how many offsets could be provided and how much additional water could be provided. Under the act, that adjustment mechanism has to be run in consultation with all of the states, so you actually have to have the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council on this—the state ministers working in tandem with the Commonwealth. So, if Senator Hanson-Young thinks that any single minister, no matter what their political persuasion, can make a difference to that, she is sorely mistaken, because that is stipulated in the terms of the act, very clearly, and I have supreme confidence, as I have said before, that the Basin Plan will be delivered in full and on time by this government.


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (14:27): The only South Australian who believes that Barnaby Joyce cares about our state! Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given the significance—

Government senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order, on my right!

Government senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: It would help, Senator Hanson-Young, if you did not bait those on my right.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Given the significant donations from the mining industry to the National Party, its new federal president's former role as a mining lobbyist for Shenhua and, of course, Minister Joyce's own close relationship with mining barons like Gina Rinehart, how can the Australian public be certain that the minister for water will not divert water to miners, over farmers and the environment?





Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Education and Training) (14:28): I have supreme confidence not just that Barnaby Joyce will effectively manage the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and deliver under that plan; I have supreme confidence also—in relation to your question—that, if anybody will look after and stand up for Australian farmers, it is Barnaby Joyce. Barnaby Joyce will stand up for Australian farmers and their interests.

Senator Hanson-Young, you said I am the only South Australian who might believe that Barnaby Joyce cares about SA. I have stood with Mr Joyce on the banks of the Lower Lakes. I have been there with Mr Joyce, visiting irrigators around Murray Bridge, up in the Riverland. I do know that he cares. I do know that he seems to know an awful lot more about how the Water Act works than you seem to know, because the ineptitude in your questions demonstrates that the Australian Greens, who voted against the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, have learnt nothing in this space, whereas I know that Mr Joyce knows it, understands it, cares about it and will deliver.