Pic source: water.gov.au
Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (19:00): It gives me great satisfaction to commend this particular bill, the Water Amendment Bill 2015, to the Senate. I do thank those opposite and the Labor Party for supporting its passage through the other place.
Senator Kim Carr: Why are you holding it up then?
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bernardi): Order!
Senator McKENZIE: Senator Carr—
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Ignore the interjection, Senator McKenzie, and please address your comments through the chair.
Senator McKENZIE: Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. Here is Senator Carr, from my home state of Victoria, who sat through the discussions in our own state about the Murray-Darling Basin Plan—and how contentious it was. You saw, over and over again, rural and regional communities, which feed the food processors, in the western suburbs of Melbourne, who actually underpin your preselection. The workers in those food- processing outlets are funding and supporting you in your preselection process and yet you do not want to sit and listen anymore to us talking about legislation that will allow them to go on producing the fabulous, clean, green produce that our great state produces. Senator Carr, you harp on about advanced manufacturing and science, and yet you do not want to sit and listen to me—
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Address your comments through the chair, Senator McKenzie.
Senator McKENZIE: Through you, Mr Acting Deputy President, you do not want to talk about what will underpin agriculture production in our home state, Senator Carr, and food processing, and so many jobs of the Australian Workers Union in the food production sector going forward. And that is this piece of legislation, which caps water buybacks at 1,500 gigalitres. It is a happy, happy day that we bring forward this legislation.
This government and, I hope, the opposition also recognises that the Murray-Darling Basin is the lifeblood of food production in this country—from Queensland, right through New South Wales to the great food production state of Victoria, right through to your own home state, Mr Acting Deputy President Bernardi, of South Australia. Water, as the Minister for Agriculture is often quite fond of saying, is wealth. If you are involved in agriculture in any way, shape or form, without water you cannot really do much. Ask the UAE! They have huge food security issues as a result of a lack of water.
The basin is the food bowl of our nation and we need to use it sustainably. We need to use that resource very carefully and in a considered manner. There has been a huge debate publicly. I remember public forums in Mildura where some of the horticulturalists up there actually had effigies, if you like, for want of a better word, of parliamentary bureaucrats and, indeed, parliamentarians with concrete-filled gumboots. They were throwing them into the Murray-Darling River as a result of some of those community forums where hundreds of people turned up to tell the then minister for water, Minister Burke, and Craig Knowles, what they actually thought of the process of constructing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. They told them that it was a little airy-fairy and that we were picking out numbers and not focusing on outcomes. I think what the independent report, released last week, actually shows is that they were right. We had identified the environmental assets that we as a nation thought were important to protect and the fact that we had to collectively share water in order to ensure their sustainability and ongoing health. But we did not have a number on what that looked like. The environment is fickle: sometimes it rains, sometimes it doesn't. What you need one year to keep those particular assets healthy, you might not need another year.
The report released last week showed that we have been really good at what we do and that some of those assets need less water, but I will get on to that a little later. I want to talk us through just how important the Murray-Darling Basin is and indeed irrigated agriculture. Located within the Murray-Darling Basin are 40 per cent of Australia's farms; 70 per cent of our irrigated land area; nine per cent of people are employed in agriculture and related support service industries; and about three per cent of people are employed in food product manufacturing and agricultural product wholesaling.
Indeed, as I mentioned in my comments, through you, Chair, to Senator Carr, there is food-processing, production and export industries in capital cities right through the Murray-Darling Basin states that actually provide many jobs. Over 300,000 jobs are currently in food manufacturing in Australia and over half of those are located in regional Australia. So there are many jobs tied up in ensuring the ongoing sustainability of agriculture production throughout the Murray-Darling Basin.
We did have a millennium drought. Irrigated agricultural production is a significant industry and, in 2012-13, it contributed $6,800 million. In 2013 irrigated agricultural production in the basin accounted for over 50 per cent of our total irrigated produce and 100 per cent of Australia's rice. Isn't it fabulous that we are exporting rice to the world? From a water perspective, we can actually produce rice really efficiently. Ninety-six per cent of Australia's cotton is grown in the basin; 75 per cent of Australia's grapes, and most of that is in my own home state of Victoria, right in Andrew Broad's great seat of Mallee; 59 per cent of Australia's hay; and 54 per cent of Australia's fruit. And did you know—here is a little known fun fact—that 80 per cent of Australia's pear production actually comes out of the heart of Senator Carr's state and mine, and that is the Golden Valley, the heart of irrigated agriculture in Victoria? And 52 per cent of Australia's production of sheep and livestock, and 45 per cent of Australia's dairy production are undertaken in the basin.
When you look at our dairy production and what it is actually contributing, off the Melbourne wharfs, it is our largest export every day. I am sure there are a few MUA workers whose jobs rely on the great Murray Goulburn, which produces fabulous product right throughout Victoria but indeed in the irrigated agriculture sections, particularly around Shepparton, Katunga and the like.
But it is not just about agricultural production, as we have discussed. This is about getting a triple-bottom-line result. This was always about getting a triple-bottom-line result for agricultural production and the ongoing financial sustainability and local economic benefits, not only for famers but for the regional communities in which they find themselves. It is also about the environment—those environmental assets that as a nation we have deemed important enough to share water on. Let's face it: water did not get into the Constitution; it was not a Commonwealth responsibility, because we were fighting about it then and we are still fighting about it. So, to actually have a bipartisan approach is quite fabulous, because it took a while to get some of the states onboard.
Did you know that the Murray River is actually the only river in the world that has its own flag? That is how important that river is to us, to our heritage and to the construction and pioneering spirit of those who came before us. But I will not bore you with that. Let's get onto the details of the bill. I think what is so exciting about how we have actually found the solution on how to balance those competing social, economic and environmental interests is that we have chosen to invest our money in infrastructure to assist farmers, to get some productivity gains, to ensure that they still can compete with the world with our fabulous clean, green product. We are investing $2.5 million every day, up to 2019, in the future of agriculture in the Basin—$3.9 billion going into infrastructure that will help improve farm efficiency and productive capacity while returning water to the environment. That has taken some work.
Senator Kim Carr interjecting—
Senator McKENZIE: I think about the water minister for Victoria at the time, and I know Senator Carr that you will join with me in thanking the previous Liberal-Nationals party state government's water minister, the leader of the Nationals in Victoria, Peter Walsh, for his very strong stance on this. He was not going to get steamrolled by South Australia. He was not going to get steamrolled by New South Wales. I know the now minister, Minister Neville, will be very thankful that the minister ensured that Victoria absolutely brought home the bacon when it came to positive outcomes with respect to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. He showed absolute leadership in that area, and I know Minister Neville will be very happy to oversee the implementation of that plan.
The 1,500-gigalitre cap on water purchase was a key pre-election commitment by the coalition, and we have done several Senate inquiries into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and its various iterations over the course of the last government. Everybody in this place will be very clear that we were always going to back communities' capacity to provide their own wealth for their families and find those savings. I heard Senator Rhiannon's comments around needing to focus on having a strong evidence base, backed by science. I could not agree more. How can we make decisions on how to balance competing interests by using anything other than science? I think the more evidence we gather through this process, the more reviews that we do, the more we go through the actual implementation process and work out how much water we need in any given space, that will become a really exciting space. I look forward to the Greens' support of those various reports, which will absolutely be backed with science. Putting a certain number of gigalitres down the river and forgetting that the Barmah Choke exists I think just shows that evidence is really, really important; having an understanding of the local context of the policy outcomes you want to implement is really, really important.
On 5 August the Commonwealth, along with the New South Wales government, announced a $263.5 million investment for round 5 of the On-Farm Irrigation Efficiency Program. This investment upgrades farm infrastructure in the southern New South Wales basin, returns 20 gigalitres of water to farmers and returns 77 gigalitres of water to the environment, which I think is really important. When we talk about an evidence base, as I mentioned earlier, there was an independent stocktake report—which I am not sure you mentioned, Senator Rhiannon, but hopefully other Greens senators contributing to this debate may—on 27 August, into the sustainable diversion limit adjustment process. The report vindicated the progress of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan implementation and showed that projects are on track to deliver the environmental outcomes outlined under the Basin Plan. It actually showed that over 500 gigalitres less water is needed to meet the environmental targets in the plan and that states are on track to deliver the required projects. How fantastic that states and communities, farmer organisations and irrigation councils are working together to actually implement the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to the point that we are saving over 500 gigalitres of water. That is what we do know. It is not more water, Senator Hanson-Young, but less, which I think is absolutely fantastic.
Consultants Mr Turner and Mr Martin were chosen by the Basin Officials Committee to undertake the stocktake. This included not just assessing favourable projects that might give us the result they want. It was a comprehensive, independent report using a methodology that nobody could argue with—assessments of 36 supply and constraint measure proposals currently being proposed by jurisdictions as potential projects in the sustainable diversion limit adjustment mechanism. That is going to reduce the need for water recovery while still delivering the plan's environmental outcomes. That is fabulous news. So, congratulations, because when we look at water-recovery strategies—that is, buybacks and the impact of the former government's approach to finding water—that had devastating effects on our communities: $1 billion of taxpayers' money to devastate communities like the Pyramid Hill district, which lost over 50 per cent of its original high-security entitlement in less than a decade.
We have the unrelenting buyback plan of the former government that devastated communities as water was removed from systems leaving a greater and greater burden on those who chose to stay.
We also had the millennium drought which further exacerbated the financial and mental stress on those families who were deciding if they should stay in the game—should they still be dairy producers—or should they sell their water entitlement and take their luck on the market with an ever-decreasing equity in their property? The former government's approach was very, very concerning, but I am very, very glad that they are on board with our commitment to infrastructure, and I am extremely grateful for their support in implementing this cut, because this is something that our community has called for—our farmer groups, the NFF, the irrigator councils and local producers right across regional Victoria were wanting to know that no more would somebody be swooping in and buying water in an open market with a chequebook that they could not compete with. They could not compete with the Commonwealth coming in and buying water for the environment and undermining them.
In the brief minutes remaining, I wanted to comment on some of the responses of the states, in particular over the last month or so, to this issue. On 7 September there was an article in The Land stating:
The South Australian and Victorian governments had opposed the 1,500GL cap, which threatened the fate of the Water Amendment Bill 2015 introduced into parliament in late May.
But the two states shifted position this week after the Parliamentary Secretary to the Environment Minister Bob Baldwin released an independent stocktake report on the progress of the environmental water flow targets—
The article went on to say:
the parliamentary secretary—
said the report showed that more than 500GL less water was needed to meet the plan's target, and it was reasonable to achieve up to 650 GL less water to meet the plan's 2750GL baseline target.
There were some issues, obviously—New South Wales southern irrigators are still disappointed—but the VFF in my home state is very, very happy. The South Australian and Victorian governments have both backed the federal coalition's plan to legislate the 1,500 gig cap on Commonwealth water buybacks, paving the way for bipartisan support. Obviously, both the Victorian and South Australian governments are led by the Labor Party. Minister Neville's spokesman said that the state was not opposed to the cap. The spokesperson for Minister Neville said:
We want to see certainty for communities and businesses in the (state's) north and environmental outcomes.
That is exactly what we want to see too—certainty—and I am so glad that Senator Carr is going to be voting in favour of this bill and supporting Minister Neville.
Senator Kim Carr: Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order going to relevance. I am concerned that Senator McKenzie has not explained to us why there are six government speakers—
The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order. Resume your seat, Senator Carr. Senator McKenzie, you have the call.
Senator McKENZIE: I am so passionate about this issue—
Senator Kim Carr: No you are not! You obstructed—the filibuster!
Senator McKENZIE: If you had taken the time; if you were equally passionate, Senator Carr, about the productive capacity of our home state, you would also be rising to add your voice to the National Party, to the Liberal Party and to crossbench senators who support the cap. If you look at my contribution on this particular topic over the time that I have been here, you will see that this is not the first time that I have spoken about it.
Senator Kim Carr: At length on a non-controversial bill!
Senator McKENZIE: Senator Carr—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President—just because you do not like the sound of my voice or what I am saying does not mean you do not have to listen.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order!
Senator McKENZIE: There are so many people supporting this. It is not just Senator Carr who is supporting this legislation, or the National Party, or the Liberal Party. The National Irrigators Council—Tom Chesson—said: 'We have long advocated for a legislated 1,500GL cap on water buybacks in the MDB and we welcome the legislation currently before the Senate to provide for this measure.' Equally, the NFF said that it is an excellent example of how to achieve good environmental outcomes while also taking steps to reduce the social and economic impacts of the plan on rural and regional communities. I am sure that the Labor Party country caucus will be rising in unison to add something other than carping from the sidelines and some positive input into this debate on such a significant bipartisan approach to water management and sustainable environmental outcomes.
Senator Smith: Carping—was that a pun?
Senator McKENZIE: That is very funny, Senator Smith. I will pay that, especially since irrigation channels are full of them.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Ignore the interjections, Senator McKenzie.
Senator McKENZIE: The National Farmers Federation said that this was demonstrating significant goodwill, making comments publically about how the uncertainty had undermined community confidence. If there is one thing you need in agriculture it is confidence. I commend the bill to the Senate (Time expired)