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Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Page: 1645

Senator JOYCE (QueenslandLeader of The Nationals in the Senate) (18:11): I will be brief. I mostly concur with the remarks of my colleague Senator Birmingham, who outlined a lot of the concerns. But I want to reinforce that we commend the work of the Senate References Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport. I also want to note the reality that if we are going to have irrigation in a temperate climate then we are still going to be highly reliant on the Murray-Darling Basin as the provider of Australia's food requirements. It produces 40 per cent of Australia's agriculture, 60 per cent of Australia's irrigated agriculture. It is the home for 2.1 million people. The resources of the Murray-Darling sustain my town and so many others. We have to acknowledge that so much of our nation's economic future is reliant on increasing capacity and our ability to deliver an agriculture product with an efficient use of water.

We should not put aside one of the most vital elements in the Murray-Darling Basin, the people. Some of the most iconic things in the Murray-Darling Basin are the houses that they live in. We must make sure that those people are entitled to a future. Their future is certainly not subsequent to the future of the frogs or the moss or anything else. As far as I am concerned, their lives are more important than the wildlife. As important as the wildlife is, the people come first. We have to make sure that their dignity remains so that we can sustain an economy.

Some of the actions taken thus far, such as the arbitrary purchase of water without any real thought behind it, have caused real problems. They might not be completely apparent in wet years but as soon as we have dry years again we will see that. That is why we in the coalition commit to capping buybacks at 1,500 gigalitres. That is what must happen. We know that buybacks pull the economic rug out from underneath towns. We are quite happy to look at the advantages of more efficient environmental and on-farm use of the water. But when we buy back the licence to give it to the environmental water holder, the question becomes: are they able to use it? How do we acknowledge the difference that it makes? What is the actual difference that has been made thus far? What has been compromised in regards to the social and economic future of the people who live in the basin?

More and more, we see issues surrounding imported food. On a related topic—and this was on the television last night—there are problems with imported fish products. We have now come to the conclusion that the use of antibiotics in fish means that we are eating our way into a superbug. The Australian people will demand a clean green product. The only clean, green product we can really vouch for is the one we produce ourselves. That will most likely, if it is a temperate product, be produced in the Murray Darling Basin, in an area that goes from the agricultural regions of Stanthorpe down to the agricultural regions of Murray Bridge and everywhere between. They are all linked by one river system, one river basin—obviously made up of a number of tributaries.

I commend this report and look forward to the continued growth of the economic and social future, the population and the agricultural potential and production of the Murray Darling Basin. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.