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Monday, 25 June 2018
Page: 3861


Senator RUSTON (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) (21:01): The government does not support the amendment that's been put forward by the Greens, because we believe that the amendment is both unwarranted and unnecessary. The 450 gigalitres has frequently and often been guaranteed by this government, and I think that Senator Hanson-Young is being a little disingenuous in not acknowledging the fact that the Prime Minister, the previous water minister and the current water minister and I have continually reaffirmed the intention of the federal government to deliver the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in full.

Senator Hanson-Young interjecting

Senator RUSTON: I'll take Senator Hanson-Young's interjection. She just yelled out, 'Well, put it in law.' I draw to the attention of Senator Hanson-Young the Water for the Environment Special Account act, and I quote:

(3) The object of this Part is to be achieved by:

…   …   …

(b) increasing the volume of the Basin water resources that is available for environmental use by up to 450 gigalitres.

It's quite clearly written into the special account. So it is already enshrined in legislation that we are required to deliver on the 450 gigalitres.

Senator Hanson-Young's amendment seeks to remove the requirement of the plan to get the water for the environment that is outlined here—the 450 gigalitres of water—from efficiency measures with neutral or beneficial socioeconomic outcomes. I would have thought that to do so was entirely responsible and sensible government. To actually go out and say that we're going to take 450 gigalitres of water without any regard whatsoever for the socioeconomic impact on the communities that rely on this river is, I think, tremendously irresponsible.

Senator Hanson-Young interjecting

Senator RUSTON: I hear Senator Hanson-Young continuously objecting. We have worked very hard on this, and I thank the opposition for coming on this journey. We've been on this journey together since the plan was first agreed and we continue to work together. The opposition and the government are on a unity ticket in making sure that we actually improve the environmental outcomes for the river as well as take into account the impact that this water recovery is having on our river communities. We in the government—and I'm assuming that the opposition is the same—believe that you can walk and chew gum at the same time. You don't just have to take water for one reason; you can do so without causing severe economic and social impacts on the people who are directly impacted.

I would point out to Senator Hanson-Young that I am the irrigator in this chamber. I am a senator for South Australia—as Senator Hanson-Young is—and I have seen firsthand the impact that the water extraction has had on my community. I can assure Senator Hanson-Young that there are other communities that are a lot worse off than the community I live in and that there has been a lot of pain.

We are committed to the delivery of the whole plan. Senator Hanson-Young and the Greens might like to think that the plan is something that they've conjured up with the science that they want to listen to, but the Basin Plan is actually a plan that is made up of a number of components. It's made up of 2,750 gigalitres of water, which is the gap water. This is the base water, much of which has been achieved. There is another 450 gigalitres of efficiency water, for which we are debating this amendment. There is 605 gigalitres that was enshrined last week by amendment, which is the sustainable diversion adjustment mechanism, which allows us to achieve the same environmental outcomes without having to take water out of these communities. I would have thought Senator Hanson-Young and the Greens would have thought it was a really good idea to deliver the same outcome without actually taking more water out of our communities. Today we are seeking to remake an amendment to enable the northern basin to have the same privilege as the southern basin, and that is to be able to deliver their environmental outcomes in the northern basin without having the guts written out of their communities.

What we're saying is that we wish to continue with the delivery of the plan in full. That's a 3,200-gigalitre plan—if I add 2,750 and 450 I get to 3,200—so one could suggest that we're not moving away from the commitment of the 450. But we're not going to do it without regard for the communities. We are very serious about looking after our river communities into the future. Today before the chamber is a very significant and important amendment to this bill that will enable us to honour one part of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. This is not an opportunity, as Senator Hanson-Young is choosing to take, to revisit the Basin Plan. This was agreed by all the states and territories and the federal government back in 2012, and we are not seeking to re-prosecute it. What we are seeking to do today is deliver that plan. I commend the bill to the House. We will not be supporting the amendment by the Greens.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR ( Senator Reynolds ): The question is that amendment (1) on sheet 8444 be agreed to.