Thursday, 28 May 2009
Questions without Notice
Murray-Darling River System
I thank the honourable member for Wakefield for his question because it goes to the health of the whole Murray-Darling river system and it goes to what investments we are making in that system for the future in order to deal with the fact that water allocations across the Murray-Darling have been excessive not just for years but for decades. The challenge on the part of any responsible government of Australia is what action you can take to take some of that pressure off the system.
In response to the honourable member’s question, I say that all honourable members in this House should ask themselves one question: how many litres of water entitlement did the previous government buy back in their 12 years in office? Zero. Twelve years of rhetoric on the Murray-Darling, 12 years of rhetoric on taking pressure off the system, but not one gigalitre, not one litre of water entitlement was ever purchased back from the system in order to take the pressure off the Murray-Darling. That is the record of those opposite. I seem to recall that the Leader of the Opposition, at a certain stage in his political career, was also the minister responsible for water. Again, parallel to what we have seen on climate change: a lot of statements of rhetoric at an earlier time, but when the rubber hits the road and he is required to do something to actually deliver an outcome—be it on climate change, be it on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, be it having occupied a ministerial position able to purchase back entitlements from the river system—not one litre of water entitlement was ever purchased back.
This government is a government of action; this government has committed to assist in taking pressure off the system. I would like to confirm to the House today that the Australian government is buying almost 240 gigalitres of water entitlement for $303 million from the Twynam Agricultural Group. This represents the single largest purchase of water entitlements for the environment in Australia’s history. That is what we have done in this decision today, announced by myself and the Minister for Climate Change and Water.
Once again, we hear barracking from the National Party. The National Party actually calls the shots within the coalition on water policy and climate change.
Yes, it is the tail wagging the dog once again. The National Party says, ‘We’re not going to do anything on climate change’. What does Malcolm Turnbull do? Collapse in a heap. What does the National Party say on buying back water entitlements? ‘We’re not going to do anything on that’. Malcolm Turnbull collapses in a heap.
It is always a delight to hear from the former member for Mayo’s replacement in this place. What we have is a clear indication of government action: 240 gigalitres purchased for $303 million. If you add that to what we have also purchased back, this government has purchased 300 gigalitres of water entitlements to take pressure off the system. I would say to those opposite—
Again the member for Flinders seeks to intervene; again a stellar parliamentary career of great achievement when it comes to delivering real results—nothing. This government has acted to buy back water entitlements of nearly 300 gigalitres. Contrast that to not a single litre of water entitlement purchased in their 12 years in office. Why? Because it is the National Party that controls the coalition on this. The National Party dictates the shots. Any leader worth his salt would stand up to the National Party. The current leader does not.
This investment is part of the government’s $12.9 billion Water for the Future program. Under this Water for the Future program, it provides $3.1 billion for the purchase of water for environmental purposes. Also, our water purchasing program is complemented by a $5.8 billion program for infrastructure investment to improve water use efficiency. These are practical decisions to take pressure off the system. For the benefit of those opposite, let me just say what 240 gigalitres actually amounts to: it is the equivalent to one half of all of the water used in Sydney in a year. I heard the minister for climate change say this morning that it is in excess of what the city of Adelaide takes off the Murray-Darling system each year. These are not small numbers, these are large numbers. This government takes seriously—
Ah, the Leader of the National Party intervening again. How many gigalitres of entitlements would the National Party have us buy back? I cannot hear anything! Once again what we have is the National Party parading itself in this place as the tail that wags the coalition dog on both climate change policy and water policy.
In this place, when we are debating serious questions of climate change and its most direct impact—that is, what is happening to the once great Murray-Darling river system, what is happening to the Great Barrier Reef and what is happening to Kakadu—what we need in this parliament is leadership. What we need is leadership from the Liberal Party on water and on climate change so that we can make a difference in the Senate. What we have is the Leader of the Opposition, who has on these hard questions of policy squibbed in the face of the right-wing ideologues within his own party and within the National Party more broadly. As a consequence they stand ready in the Senate to vote down measures on climate change that would make a difference. This government is about making a difference on climate change and water. Those opposite are simply captive to the National Party and the climate change sceptics within their own ranks. We have a plan of action for the Murray-Darling; those opposite have nothing but a litany of excuses for inaction on the Murray-Darling. The contrast is clear for all to see.