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Wednesday, 27 June 2018
Page: 60


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (15:37): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia (Senator Canavan) to a question without notice asked by Senator Hanson-Young today relating to the Murray-Darling Basin.

I must say, it's always a pleasure to have to follow a contribution in this place from people such as Senator Macdonald. I must say, every time he stands up arguing things for the LNP, I'm reminded as to why he remains on the backbench as the grumpy senator from Queensland—and he plays that role very, very well.

Senator McGrath: Long may he reign!

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Long may he reign—I'll take that interjection—because the longer he's there, the more votes you lose. We'll take that. What I really want to talk about is the response from the minister to my question. It was a very important question directly related to the form and the attitude that this government has towards transparency, honesty in public policy and telling the facts and the truth, particularly to the people in South Australia. That is, of course, because this government has effectively gagged public servants and officials of government agencies from appearing before the South Australia royal commission into the debacle that is the management of the Murray-Darling Basin.

Today a very important witness is in the hot seat in the royal commission in South Australia: former CSIRO scientist Dr Matthew Colloff. Today he is giving evidence that shows that the MDBA, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, pressured the CSIRO to change the evidence that was being given to the authority in line with what the MDBA believed to be more politically palatable. They ignored the advice of the scientist that at least 4,000 to 7,000 gigalitres of water was needed to rescue the river system and to ensure that the Murray-Darling Basin would survive. Those figures were doctored. The evidence was changed because of political interference, because it wasn't convenient for the government at the time. Now we have a plan that is so hopelessly compromised, you've got to wonder where the money—the $13 billion—has gone. It hasn't gone into buying the water that the scientists said, and it hasn't gone into returning the environmental flows that the scientists said were needed, but, I tell you what, it sure as hell has gone into lining the pockets of big, corporate irrigators and donors to the National Party. We know that this evidence has been corroborated by the evidence before the commission last week from David Bell, the former water planner at the MDBA, who said 'yes'—very rightly. He said that the figure was effectively plucked out of thin air because of the political interference within the Murray-Darling Basin.

I want to also pick up on the point that, of course, the Liberal Party candidate for Mayo, Georgina Downer, agrees with this government's approach to cover up and refuse to show up to the royal commission and answer questions. This is the person who is standing to represent the people of Mayo, the Murray Mouth. This candidate agrees that South Australians should be left in the dark. I wonder if this is just part of her strategy.

The government has been keeping Georgina Downer hidden from the electorate and from the media. I even heard Chris Kenny, of all people—that wonderful television presenter on Sky News—the other night suggesting that Georgina Downer wasn't even allowed to come on his show. That's how much she's being hidden. He was missing his friend. Apparently they'd done talks on this show in the past and she's a good panellist. Even Chris Kenny of Sky News couldn't get Georgina Downer on the television, because she was being hidden by the government. They know she's a loser for them. They know they can't trust what she might say, so, just like they're hiding the facts and the truth from the South Australian people, they're hiding Georgina Downer from the media as well. Well, I challenge Georgina to come down to Mayo—

The PRESIDENT: Order! The time for—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I'll debate you on the banks of the river, and we can put this issue to rest.

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Hanson-Young! When I call order and time expired, senators, please cease making your contribution and resume your seat.

Question agreed to.