| February 15, 2018
Appropriations Bill Speech
I would like to follow on from the last contribution with just a quick note to say: it is the Labor Party that gives us all these amazing things for our community; it's just that they don't pay for any of them! I would like to use this debate on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2017-2018 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2017-2018 to firstly congratulate our Treasurer and the key financial ministers on their commitment to getting the Australian books back under control. For six years, under the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government, we saw revenue dry up and spending blow out. As a business, the Australian government—the Australian nation—had been losing $100 million each and every day. So, right through the Gillard-Rudd time, from the time we had to save the nation by spending all the money in the bank, we started losing $100 million a day—$100 million yesterday; $100 million today; $100 million tomorrow—and we kept that mentality up for the six years of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government. Say we had transferred that philosophy over to any business; there would be members of parliament on both sides of this chamber who would acknowledge that you simply cannot run a business by spending $100 million a day more than you are making without very quickly running that business into a state where you're going to threaten the very viability of that business. In the same way, if we had kept losing $100 million a day as a nation, we would have put the financial viability and the future of our nation at risk.
The ability for us as Australians to pay for an amazing health system, to pay for an amazing education system—an education system that for the first time is going to be truly needs based, is going to be truly equitable across the states, across the sectors, and where the federal government and the state government are finally going to work out who's responsible for what and to what extent—can happen only if we get our books in order. We can pay for these record levels of hospital funding, these record levels of education funding and these record levels of investment in infrastructure projects, and have the most generous welfare and pension system in the world, only if we get our books in order. We just cannot keep losing $100 million a day, which is the Labor way. The Labor way of running the government is to simply put it on the credit card and let somebody else down the track pay for it. We can't do that.
Under Scott Morrison and his team, we have been able to arrest this slide into oblivion, from $100 million a day in 2016-17. That $34 billion lost at the end of the year has been reduced back to $23 billion this financial year, and it will be reduced further next year, getting to the stage where the projected surplus for this nation in 2021 is going to be in the vicinity of $10 billion. We're finally going to have an economic management team that's going to bring this country back to being able to live within its means while maintaining the most generous welfare system in the world, the most generous and most advanced infrastructure spend. We're going to have a world-class health system, a world-class education system—record funding in both of those major portfolios of health and education. But at least we are now going to be able to pay for it, and this is something that is incredibly important for our nation.
Whilst economic management is critical to being able to deliver to the Australian people, one area that is critical to the people of Murray is that of water policy. Last night in the Senate we saw the most horrible betrayal of irrigation and farming communities ever witnessed. The Labor Party decided to abandon irrigation districts and communities by siding with the Greens to vote down the recommendations within the Northern Basin Review. Now, this review was handed down more than 12 months ago, in November 2016. Over that period of 13, 14, or 15 months there have been no negative comments from the Labor Party. This was an independent review conducted by the authority itself. The extent of the review was to look at how the community is handling the fact that they have given up so much prime agricultural water to be delivered for environmental flows.
What has happened to those communities in the time since that water has left the district? The review said that the pain, the hurt and the detriment enforced upon these communities—Dirranbandi, St George, Goondiwindi—had been extreme and had gone too far and that a correction was necessary. The correction was about taking the 390 gigalitres that had been identified, which was going to be taken out of active agricultural production and was going to be put into environmental flows. The independent review recommended that the 390 gigalitres be changed to 320—a correction of 70 gigalitres, to be actually put back into productive agriculture for those communities, which was said to be worth about another 200 jobs for those communities. There are some 700,000 people who live in the region that we call the Northern Basin region. This review was about a correction that was going to see 70 gigalitres returned back to productive agriculture.
So, whilst nothing had been said by the Labor Party for 12 months—nothing untoward, no negative comments about this at all—on the eve of the South Australian election it seems that Penny Wong and her fellow South Australian senators have been able to take Tony Burke and belt him over the ears and into submission, where he is now going to go along with this betrayal of irrigation communities. This is not just going to be pain inflicted on the northern areas of the Murray-Darling Basin. This will now actually impact all of South Australia, all of Victoria and all of New South Wales because we have the key states looking at this betrayal from the federal Labor Party, and the fact that they have now sided with the Greens, to take this water out of active agricultural production. They're taking this water away and they're putting it back down as environmental flows.
The people of the Goulburn-Murray region are looking at these actions from the Labor Party and saying that we cannot even trust them to abide by an independent review of the basin so far. This is an incredible injustice—and, while I'm talking about justice, I cannot let Senator Derryn Hinch from Victoria go unchallenged with his unwitting acceptance of this disallowance. I was in the Senate last night watching Senator Hinch not realising at the time that his vote was going to be crucial but, as it turned out, his vote was crucial. Firstly, he sat against the Labor Party and the Greens, then he moved over to support the Labor and the Greens, and looking at him, he had no idea what he was voting on. My understanding is that people from the Goulburn Valley have actually sat Senator Hinch down and told him about the importance of trying to support the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in its entirety. However, his vote was crucial. The disallowance motion was supported 32-30. Senator Hinch's vote was critical in allowing the Labor Party and the Greens to scuttle the independent review.
What does this mean for the future of the Murray-Darling Basin? This is the plan that the member for Watson, Tony Burke, had a key role in designing and writing. He had a key role, as the minister at the time, when this plan was handed down, and has been integral in his previous utterances that he wanted to see this plan rolled out in its entirety. The review of the Northern Basin was actually written into the plan. If he wants this plan to be carried out in its entirety, he's got to support what it says. He can't be like the member for Maribyrnong, the Leader of the Opposition, who says one thing in one forum and then something totally different in another forum. We expect the opposition water spokesperson to be true to his word and to resist some of the pressure that's coming because of the looming South Australian election. Senator Wong and other senators from South Australia just exert pressure on their water spokesperson, and he buckles at the knees.
For the communities of the Murray-Darling Basin—one of the most productive areas of agriculture in the basin is, in fact, the Goulburn-Murray region that I represent—there's now a whole raft of uncertainty. Whilst we had the plan and we had the states committed to the plan, we had certainty. There was a whole range of unpopular motions within the plan that we had to try and work our way through, negotiate and compromise but, at least, we had certainty. Now that we have the Labor Party betraying all of the irrigators in the Murray-Darling Basin, we have the state of New South Wales with Niall Blair, the water minister, threatening to walk away because he had laid this threat down to Tony Burke previously. He made sure that the Labor Party were 100 per cent certain about what was likely to happen if the Labor Party voted in support of the Greens in a disallowance motion on the Northern Basin Review.
Not only have we got Niall Blair from New South Wales threatening to walk away; we've also got the Labor minister from Victoria slamming her federal colleagues in Canberra. We have a Labor minister in Victoria who cannot believe the hypocrisy; she cannot believe the betrayal of her own colleagues in Canberra. Tony Burke and all the other Victorians in the Labor Party are happy to go along and damage every irrigation community in Victoria, and certainly the ones that are attached to the Murray-Darling Basin.
Now that we have uncertainty, if the state of New South Wales walks away and if Daniel Andrews and his water minister cannot get through to the Labor people in Canberra and they walk away, the only course of action left for the federal minister is to enable buybacks. We have seen the damage caused to communities through buybacks because they happen indiscriminately, they happen without strategy and they happen without planning. You have isolated water assets throughout the regions and you have no areas that are dedicated to highly intensive agriculture. You have the patchwork effect of some irrigators who are still committed to their farming. You have higher prices, and it is left to the water authorities to somehow make an ineffective system more effective and therefore more affordable.
The betrayal by the Labor Party, which has effectively come out of nowhere, hangs fairly and squarely on the heads of the leaders. The opposition leader is also from Victoria. I know he doesn't get into the regions at all, I know he doesn't understand irrigation and I know he doesn't understand that water creates wealth. The wealth that is created by the water then swims around in the community. People buy cars, farming equipment, clothes or a new kitchen and they travel overseas. When the water that creates the wealth then swims around in the community, everybody gets a drink. But the Labor Party say one thing in one forum and then go to another forum and say something else. They stay silent for 12 months and, on the eve of a South Australian election, they are belted into submission. It is just so pathetic that they put politics before people and they would take this opportunity to effectively turn their backs in one of the greatest betrayals of agriculture you're ever going to see. They've had 12 months to suggest that maybe this review needs more work, but they have been totally happy with the independence of the review. They've been more than happy with the theory, the data, the structure and the authenticity of the review. There has not been one question about the integrity of the data. There has not been one question about whether it is the right thing to do to return the water back to productive agriculture. It was a fait accompli—it was the right thing to do to support the Northern Basin Review.
And then, on the eve of the South Australian election, we had the greatest backflip of all time. The Labor Party here in Canberra got their senators to turn their backs and abandon every irrigation community on the Murray-Darling Basin. What this shows is that there is nothing of substance to the Labor Party. All they are concerned about is: 'How do we play the politics? How do we play games with people's lives? And, if we can play a big game with the lives of people in irrigation, maybe we could help get a South Australian government re-elected. We'd be happy to sacrifice those lives and those communities so we can win an election in South Australia.'