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Monday, 13 October 2008
Page: 5788

Senator FARRELL (4:30 PM) —Just to remark on Senator Nash’s comments on the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport report Water management in the Coorong and Lower Lakes (including consideration of the Emergency Water (Murray-Darling Basin Rescue) Bill 2008), it is amazing that here we have the government and Minister Wong actually purchasing some water and that being the subject of criticism by the opposition. The reality is that during the 11½ years that Senator Nash’s party were in government they did not buy a single drop of water. Senator Wong has been doing that. The reality is that the issue of the Murray River is arguably the most important and pressing problem facing Australia today. The government may be able to insulate us from a world financial crisis, as of course the government has been doing over the weekend, but unfortunately it cannot produce water out of fresh air. It is simply not possible.

The picture as it relates to the Lower Lakes that is reported in the standing committee’s report is far from rosy, but it is accurate and it is truthful. The reality is that for too long we have been taking too much water out of the river system. Combined with the extended drought conditions and the reality of climate change, we currently have a crisis in the Murray River. I guess one of the difficult scientific facts is that even if we do get water further up the system—up Senator Heffernan’s way or further north than that—the reality again is that we lose 70 to 80 per cent of that water in transmission to get it to the Lower Lakes.

The Senate committee heard evidence that the very low irrigation allocations to date in the southern basin are threatening some of the permanent plantings. All up the evidence presented to the Senate inquiry makes it clear that there simply is not enough water in the basin to do everything that we want. But, on the more positive side, at least for the moment, the committee did hear that recent rainfalls in the Lower Lakes region, combined with increasing seasonal allocations to South Australia, mean that the likelihood of reaching the acidification management threshold before next winter has been reduced considerably. Longer term challenges do remain, and that is why the federal government has made commitments to the South Australian government to try to address some of the problems. We have committed $200 million towards ensuring solutions around the Lower Lakes area, with $10 million being immediately available to accelerate programs on the Lower Lakes and the Coorong.

The government have also committed a further $120 million to piping works to provide the towns, the communities and the irrigators who are currently relying on the fresh water in Lake Alexandrina with fresh water. These are all part of the government’s commitment. The federal government have committed $12.9 billion for the Water for the Future plan and we are focusing on trying to adapt to climate change, using water wisely, securing water supplies and ensuring healthy rivers. On that note, I conclude my remarks.