| May 30, 2018
Water Amendment Bill 2018
I rise to speak on the Water Amendment Bill 2018. I'm pleased to hear that the Labor Party are moving to support this legislation, because that wasn't the case as little as a month ago. Prior to the South Australian state election and the Batman by-election, the Labor Party took the view that it wanted to oppose this legislation, purely for political reasons.
We understand that—we understand that they wanted to change their mind when they were battling the Greens in Batman. We understand that when there was a state election the Labor Party wanted to take a different view, irrespective of what that does to the more than two million people who live along the Murray-Darling Basin. For Labor to be chopping and changing their view on water policy, irrespective of that, we now arrive at the situation where this bill, based around the correction in the Northern Basin Review, is going to be put through the parliament, supposedly with the support of Labor.
What we have with the Northern Basin Review is a plan that was implemented as part of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in 2012. Here we are now, six years later, where we have had the review handed in, looking at the damage that was caused to some of those southern Queensland and northern New South Wales communities, very clearly acknowledging that we have taken too much water out of productive agriculture and that we have caused too much damage to those communities. In doing the research, it was acknowledged that there needs to be a correction from the environment back towards productive agriculture to the tune of 70 gigalitres. Instead of taking 390 gigalitres out, it was recommended independently that we take 320 gigalitres out and that there be a 70 gigalitre correction towards productive agriculture.
That's the report that the Labor Party let hang for 12 months without one word of criticism. Then the Greens political party started playing politics with a disallowance and, all of a sudden, the Labor Party started supporting that. Now that it's been corrected and it looks like it's going to be passed through the parliament, at least that's a positive.
The next thing we have to work through are the 605 SDLs, effectively looking at the 2,750 gigalitres—the amount of water that has been set aside for the environment; taken out of active agriculture and put toward environmental outcomes. Again, it has been scientifically and independently observed that we can actually save 605 gigalitres out of that 2,750 because we can find smarter and better ways of reaching these environmental outcomes. We can use science and technology to create exactly the same outcomes, if not better outcomes, and actually use 605 gigalitres less to achieve the same outcome. We hope that in the next short while it will also be passed through the parliament here.
It then leads us to where the previous member, the member Makin in outer Adelaide, again stands up in this House and puts the view of the South Australians in relation to water. 450 gigalitres was the amount that was the so-called 'up water'. We hear Labor saying that they want to have the plan delivered in full. I agree with them: let's deliver the plan in full. But when you want to deliver the plan in full you have to apply a social and economic test—a social and economic benefit or neutrality test—to the 450 gigalitres. We have to make sure that the social and economic test actually has the first part of that test in it—that is, the social side of things. When you read what's in the actual Murray-Darling Basin Plan, when it talks about neutral or improved social economic outcomes, the filter that they have on this is impossible to read. It talks about what fits within the neutral or improved socioeconomic outcomes, and it states in 7.17 (2) (b):
The efficiency contributions to the proposed adjustments achieve neutral or improved socio-economic outcomes compared with the outcomes under benchmark conditions of development as evidenced by:
(i) the participation of consumptive water users in projects that recover water through works to improve irrigation water use efficiency on their farms …
So that is talking about water efficiency projects. In (ia) it states:
… the participation of consumptive water users in projects that recover water through works to improve water use efficiency off-farm …
So we are talking about on-farm and off-farm water efficiency projects, and:
(ii) alternative arrangements proposed by a Basin State, assessed by that State as achieving water recovery with neutral or improved socio-economic outcomes.
But, in all of that, it is totally ambiguous at to was to what is socio-economic neutrality or benefit. And yet, this is the actual point that will come down to deciding how this 450 gigalitres of up water is somehow miraculously delivered to the environment.
What nobody is prepared to do at the moment is actually say, 'What is the socio-economic cost of having communities go without water so that water can become an environmental flow?' Recent studies on the Murray-Darling Basin, in the southern Basin, look at the job losses associated with the loss of water. We can talk about the Mildura region to start with. Since the start of the Basin Plan, Mildura has had a loss in irrigated production of 38 per cent of its employment; in the Merbein region, irrigated production employment figures are down by 50 per cent; in the Swan Hill region, irrigated production decreased by 53 per cent; in the Kerang-Cohuna region, irrigated agricultural production employment figures have decreased 43 per cent; in the Pyramid Hill-Boort region, employment in irrigated production has decreased by 66 per cent; in Hay, employment in irrigated production has decreased by 41.4 per cent; in the Shepparton region, employment in irrigated production has decreased by 41.6 per cent; and in the Kyabram-Tatura area employment in irrigated production has decreased by 41.6 per cent.
So, when you have a plan that has taken water away from communities and you can see very clearly the amount of job losses associated with taking that water away from productive irrigation and the flow-on jobs associated with those losses in employment, it becomes a sad state of affairs—when you have one side of politics, the Greens and Labor, who refuse to acknowledge the social cost of losing that amount of water and who refuse to acknowledge the cost of having those job losses—unless somebody is able to rewrite the social and economic detriment and the social and economic neutrality clauses in a way that means we actually have to go in there and look at the socio-economic costs. We actually have to go in there and look at the social and economic costs, because, when you read the plan in the way that I just read the plan, what it says is: 'We've got this social and economic benefit or neutrality test,' but in the definition it's just an economic test. They're more or less saying that if you wish to have a million dollars' worth of water and you sell it for a million dollars and run away and go and do something else with that million dollars then everybody's happy. But what we have seen, with previous Labor policies, are indiscriminate buybacks, where they simply go into the market and buy water at the cheapest rate possible. People are always going to find willing sellers—especially in industries like the dairy industry at the moment, which is under severe pressure. The governments of Australia are always going to be able to find willing sellers.
To think that you can have no community pain, loss, or detriment is absolutely farcical. It's incredibly disrespectful to the irrigation communities—the two million Australians who live up and down the Murray-Darling Basin—because those irrigation communities rely on agriculture. They rely on the farmers making their revenue, so that those farmers can then come into the cities, towns and community centres and buy the services and goods that they need, so that that money can swim around in the communities in the way that we all know it does.
However, what we have at the moment is uncertainty, because nobody is prepared to acknowledge that there is this filter, this rider, associated with another. What we've just read out are the job losses, already, in the respective regions, and the hurt and pain associated with those job losses. What we're looking at now is actually inflicting further pain and further job losses because we don't want to understand that there is so much hurt and detriment to communities when we take water out of those communities.
We need, as a collective, to start putting people ahead of politics. We need to start putting people's opportunity to make a living ahead of this out-and-out push for a quantity of water. When is the environmental movement—when is the Labor Party—going to start talking about environmental outcomes instead of talking about an amount of water? We have to go to the environmental movement and say, 'We're happy to sit down and talk to you about environmental outcomes. What are the major environmental outcomes that you want to achieve, not just for South Australia but for the entire Murray-Darling Basin?'
The environmental movement have been poisoning all irrigators because of a Four Corners show that suggested that there were people in the north of the Murray-Darling Basin who were stealing water. Well, they've been charged, and they'll get their opportunity to defend themselves in court. But let's not tar all of the irrigators along the Murray-Darling Basin with the same brush, because the vast majority—99.99 per cent—have never been charged, and never will be charged, because they're totally law-abiding irrigators who simply follow one of the most honourable professions ever invented: they grow food and fibre from nothing and they sell that food and fibre, hopefully, for a profit. But at the moment, it seems as though all irrigators are potentially being poisoned by an argument that wants to see all irrigators through the lens of: 'They are people who just steal water and effectively ruin the environment in the process.'
As I've said many times in this House, water policy is the most important issue for my electorate. We need to put a proper social and economic filter across the remaining 450 gigalitres of up water. We heard the previous speaker speak in disparaging tones about the former Leader of the National Party, Barnaby Joyce. Barnaby Joyce wrote to the then minister in South Australia asking him: 'If you know how we can deliver these 450 gigalitres without causing social and economic hurt and detriment, even to your people in South Australia, then you tell me how you can do it. If you think there's a way that we can get another 450 gigalitres without hurting all of these irrigation communities, you tell me.' That's why he knew that the then minister of South Australia—and thank goodness he's gone—was absolutely holding the progress of this plan up simply by being obstinate and pig-headed, swearing at people with profanities in front of all types of people in the main street of Adelaide when he didn't get his way. That was because he thought that South Australia was being poorly handled.
When are the environmental movements in South Australia going to start talking about environmental outcomes instead of talking about this quantity of water. At the moment, we have environmental outcomes like that they want to keep the Lower Lakes fresh. Well, the Lower Lakes were never fresh naturally. They were only fresh when men put the barrages in back in the thirties. That is not a natural outcome. They want to keep the Murray's mouth open. Again, it is not a natural outcome. If you leave the river to nature, the mouth closes over in most dry stretches and then it reforms or reopens itself again at the next flood. Flushing the lower reaches of the Murray River is a fantastic objective. If we can have environmental water assist with that, then we should do that. But we can't just go down this path where we want to talk about a quantity of water that causes so much pain to communities without having environmental outcomes that can be achieved.