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Thursday, 13 September 2018
Page: 9010


Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (10:05): The drought across Australia should be of critical concern to all Australians. It once again highlights the importance of a sustainable Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The drought puts a spotlight on that plan. Since the agreement was signed in 2012, under this coalition government, that plan has been slowly undermined, with allegations of rubbery figures with respect to both the extractions and the water returns, back-pedalling on water buybacks, and the pushback against the additional 450 gigalitres negotiated by South Australia at the time the plan was agreed to. We now have talk of the sale of environmental water back to irrigators. There have also been allegations of water theft from the Murray—allegations which have proven to be correct—and now we have charges being laid against those who have been caught out stealing water from the system. Then we had the failure of the coalition government to back a judicial inquiry under the COAG process to inquire into those thefts.

We've recently had the member for New England appointed by this government as a special envoy on drought policy. I don't know specifically what his role is. I don't know what the terms of reference of his appointment are, nor do I know what authority he carries. But I do know that his appointment is of serious concern to those people who, to date, have been fighting hard to have a sustainable plan, because this was the very minister who ignored all of the matters that I referred to just a moment ago with respect to water buybacks and theft and so on. In addition to that, and because of that concern about the minister, the South Australian government established its own royal commission into the system—a royal commission which the federal government has not been very cooperative with. We now have a new state government in South Australia, the Marshall Liberal government, which has also shown little enthusiasm for the work of the royal commission, which in turn, adds to my concern.

The Murray-Darling Basin is home to over two million Australians. It's a major economic asset for this country. We fought tooth and nail a few years ago to finally, after almost 100 years, have a plan in place because of the security that is required for those people that live within it and for the nation. We're now seeing that plan undermined. The drought highlights that very issue, and my concern is that the appointment of the special envoy will do nothing to restore confidence in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.