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Take Note: Murray-Darling Basin Reform

Speeches in Parliament
Rachel Siewert 4 Sep 2008

I move:
That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Climate Change and Water (Senator Wong) to a question without notice asked by me today, relating to the Murray-Darling Basin.

The Intergovernmental Agreement on Murray-Darling Basin Reform was a much trumpeted agreement just several months ago, in fact, when the government said: ‘We are the ones that can deliver reform in the Murray-Darling Basin. We have signed this historic agreement. We got the COAG agreement signed in March and now we've got the IGA.' This was with a commitment that the reforms would be put in place by 1 November-a very ambitious agenda, I will say, but that is what they were supposed to be using their best endeavours to deliver. Now we find, from the minister's answer to my question, that the government can deliver no report on progress in delivering the reforms that were supposed to be delivered. The states and territories undertook to put through their parliaments the referral of powers to the Commonwealth government so that they could then amend the Water Act 2007 so they could put in place an authority. And what is that authority supposed to do? That authority is supposed to be delivering the basin plan. You cannot do the basin plan till you have an authority, but you cannot have an authority until the states have actually signed over and delivered those powers to the Commonwealth.

The minister could not report on whether any state had put together draft legislation or, in fact, whether there was any draft legislation in any of their parliaments. How can we then expect to have a bill to amend the Water Act in this place for us to review, to properly consider, by 1 November? I hate to predict this but I do not think that we are going to see any amendments to the Water Act in this place by 1 November. I would be very surprised if any state government has any draft legislation prepared, let alone any legislation through their state parliament, by 1 November. Therefore, if we have no legislation in here for this place to consider, there will be no authority in place that has the powers referred to it to be able to develop the basin plan and be able to then start developing the sustainability cap. That leads me to the point that, even if we do have a sustainability cap, we will not be able to implement that till 2014 in New South Wales and 2019 in Victoria.

So what does that mean for the new reforms that the Murray-Darling Basin is supposed to now come under? There are no reforms in place. You would have thought that, as we are delivering new reforms for the Murray-Darling Basin, the least the states and territories could do to get a move on would be to get legislation through their parliaments. You would think that, wouldn't you? You would think they could at least deliver that, but, no, they cannot. They still cannot deliver the said reform processes through their state colleagues, through their state parliaments, to actually have a plan in place. Then there is the cap: they cannot deliver the cap. And then we move on to the four per cent cap that is stopping trading out of districts. The minister confirmed to me after the session that there is one district that has already met the four per cent cap. That is since July, and we have nine months to go in this financial year. I understand there are other districts that are probably getting very close to that four per cent cap as well. So there will be many districts where we can no longer buy water, if there is water available, to deliver water to the Murray-Darling Basin.

So we are looking at very significant structural problems that have still not been addressed. There has still been no movement on them. We were critical of the coalition; no doubt about it. Then this government came in and said, ‘We have a new reform agreement,' a much trumpeted new approach-no difference. We still do not have any legislation through the state parliaments in order to refer those powers to the Commonwealth. There is still no legislation there. It is still slow. There are still processes in place under the new so-called reforms that allow the states to hold up progress even once they have referred those powers. We have not got as far as them referring those powers but, even when they do, the states can still hold up progress on the Murray-Darling Basin.

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