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Tuesday, 8 May 2018
Page: 2609

Senator KETTER (QueenslandDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (20:42): I rise tonight to voice my support for the agreement, reached over the last few days between Labor and the coalition, on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. I'm very pleased to say that Labor support puts the Murray-Darling Basin Plan back on track and further increases the level of transparency and compliance. Labor put the plan in place to deliver a healthy basin and healthy rivers. There are no jobs on a dead river, and it's important that the plan is implemented in full.

This issue has become particularly important to me this year. On 16 March I visited St George, in my duty electorate of Maranoa, to hear firsthand from the affected communities. I'd like to take a moment to thank the people who facilitated my visit to the area: the deputy mayor, Councillor Fiona Gaske, local councillor Sam O'Toole and Jane Hill from Cotton Australia. They were excellent tour guides on my visit. We took the opportunity to go to the McIntyre cotton farm, the Moon Rocks onion and garlic farm and to Jack Taylor Weir. Back at the council chambers we had the opportunity to meet with local residents, producers, business owners and service providers from the communities of St George and Dirranbandi, and I heard directly from locals about how vitally important the outcomes of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan are in these communities. I heard that people in these communities clearly understand the need for environmental outcomes to maintain the health of the river system. At the same time, I heard the emotional stories about the constant struggle in these communities for people to survive and to adapt to using less water.

I also took on board a number of the constructive suggestions from the farmers about how the river water flows can be better managed to achieve outcomes for production and for the environment. I heard loud and clear the willingness of the people in these communities to work with all levels of government to find environmental solutions while preserving local jobs and the overall health of their communities—economically, mentally and environmentally. My meetings in St George followed earlier representations by the Balonne shire mayor, Councillor Richard Marsh; Balonne shire's deputy mayor, Councillor Gaske; and Joshua O'Keefe from the Local Government Association of Queensland to me and my fellow Queensland Labor senators, Anthony Chisholm, Claire Moore and Murray Watt.

I'd also like to thank Michael Murray, the general manager of operations from Cotton Australia, for his representations to me on this issue in Canberra. These conversations took place in the lead-up to the disallowance motion on the instrument in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in February this year. The disallowance motion concerned amendments to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan that followed the Northern Basin review. At the time, Labor made the difficult decision to support the disallowance motion while we sought assurance from the government around compliance and transparency in the face of disturbing allegations of water theft. We couldn't stand by and see the environment suffer because of the illegal take of environmental water.

Following my visit to St George, I sought a meeting with Labor's shadow minister for environment and water, Tony Burke. I thank Mr Burke for taking the time to meet with me about this important matter, and I recognise his enduring commitment to the plan that he originally signed into law in November 2012. During our meeting, I passed on the feedback that was given to me and expressed my strong support for Labor to help provide the certainty that the communities along the northern rivers were asking for. I want to congratulate Mr Burke and Minister Littleproud on their productive negotiations to reach agreement at 450 gigalitres while preserving the independence of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Throughout the course of these negotiations, Labor put forward a clear position on a range of matters.

The package of measures put forward by the government includes a more appropriate response to the allegations of water theft in the Northern Basin, including protection of environmental water through daily extraction limits and embargoes on irrigators pumping during environmental water releases, metering and 'no meter, no pump' rules, and a new Northern Basin commissioner. I welcome the appointment of the independent Northern Basin commissioner to make sure water for the environment gets to where it's required as well as make sure transparency and compliance measures happen. I'm committed to a healthy basin and delivering the environmental outcomes in the basin plan; I'm committed to listening to all sides of the debate. (Time expired)