Agriculture and Water Resources Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 and the Excise Levies Legislation Amendment (Honey) Bill 2016

13 February 2017

 I rise to speak on the Agriculture and Water Resources Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 and the Excise Levies Legislation Amendment (Honey) Bill 2016. As has been stated, these bills improve existing legislation by removing redundant regulation and making current legislation easy to read and easy to understand. Generally speaking, Labor supports the government in its tidying up of legislation, but most of the amendments will have little effect on reducing unnecessary regulation and most of the regulations were no longer in effect—so, a tidy house, but no real improvements and a big deficit.

There is an important amendment required to the Water Amendment (Review Implementation and Other Measures) Act 2016, as the member for Watson just outlined, and that is required because the health of one of most important rivers and the communities that rely on it are at stake. The government must deliver the additional 450 gigalitres of water promised under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The Deputy Prime Minister has been suggesting that this may not be possible, but it is not negotiable. That is, except if you are maybe Senator Nick Xenophon horsetrading or the Deputy Prime Minister grandstanding. They may have sold this Murray-Darling Basin Plan down the river but the people of South Australia, the communities that rely on this river and the Labor Party will not sell this plan down the river. This 450 gigalitres is not negotiable.

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan was brokered by the former Labor government to end more than a century of interstate conflict over water. Senator Xenophon appeared to support the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, but it was clear that the Deputy Prime Minister never did. The Deputy Prime Minister said at one point that if people in South Australian had a problem with the way in which the River Murray was operated, they should all move to where the water is. The Deputy Prime Minister is clearly a proponent of relocation, having done so himself to sit in this place. Just before this parliament rose last year, he said there was 'not a hope in hades' of the promised 450 gigalitres being delivered.

The plan is about redelivering health to the river because good food and fibre industries, sustainable communities and a good environment all depend on the river being returned to health. It is supposed to be on the COAG agenda, but the communities who rely on this river deserve more than to be an item on an agenda. They deserve to have the health of their river restored and the sustainability of their communities guaranteed. When the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was put in place four years ago, it was to deliver a healthy river and to support communities—after all, there are no jobs on a dead river.

The Basin Plan included elements that were essential to different states in their decision to sign up. For South Australia, this was an additional 450 gigalitres of water for the environment. This is the element being attacked by the Deputy Prime Minister, and it appears Senator Xenophon has given up—Labor will not give up. The Deputy Prime Minister being able to have free range on this portfolio will mean that we will not get the Murray-Darling back to the state of health that, four years ago, was part of a bipartisan agreement. That bipartisan agreement has communities and farmers at its core.

Farmers are at the forefront of climate change. Agriculture is the sector most dramatically affected and, to put our farmers on a path to sustainable productivity and profitability, we must do more. We must ensure our water and soil resources go to the uses which provide the highest possible return for our nation and for our farmers. Labor began this work in government and we will continue it: the member for Watson has just alluded to a possible amendment. As with our market-based approach to carbon mitigation, we embraced a market-based approach to the management of the Murray-Darling Basin. We worked to ensure optimal resource allocation and to provide a future for farmers for generations to come.

Now, the Deputy Prime Minister wants to unravel that plan. This 450 gigalitres is not insubstantial. It is the difference between the mouth of the Murray closing one year in 10 or one year in 20. It makes a massive difference. That is why the money was set aside. The uncertainty created by the Deputy Prime Minister about this plan is hurting communities. It is showing his disregard for the health of the river and his disregard for the communities that it supports. All basin states support the plan and delivery of the additional water for the environment, water that will get to the Murray mouth and keep the whole system healthy. Labor developed this plan in 2012 in an historic moment that overcame 100 years of disagreement. The Deputy Prime Minister wants to take us right back into that historic squabble—why would he want to do that?

Almost 12,000 submissions were received during the consultation period on the Murray-Darling plan. There were years of formal consultation. There were community meetings. There were round tables. There were visits to Aboriginal communities. There were briefings with businesses, banks and irrigation corporations. There was, and is, a clear framework for certainty in the plan that was long overdue. This certainty is critical to the communities that rely on this river system. Basin state governments were tasked with coming up with ideas to return 650 gigalitres to the environment, with the final 450 gigalitres to be found in removing capacity restrictions. This simply must happen. This river system is too important.

Labor will support the reviews outlined in these bills, this tidying up of legislation that really will not make a huge difference anyway. But what will make a huge difference and what is vitally important is that certainty is delivered on the 450 gigalitres to fully implement the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. That is why Labor is proposing this amendment: to ensure water security, sustainability and prosperity to the many communities who call the Murray-Darling home and who rely on its flows for their livelihoods and their futures.

Today, almost three-quarters of the Basin Plan's 2,750 gigalitre target has been recovered for the environment and more than $7 billion of the eventual $13 billion budget has been spent. That has led to environmental improvements for the basin's farmers, who produce more than 45 per cent of Australia's food and fibre. Forty-five per cent is a huge amount. The Murray-Darling basin has 23 river valleys and 16 Ramsar wetlands. It is more than 2,500 kilometres long, on one of the driest continents in the world. The basin is home to two million people and is vital to another one million—the people of Adelaide—who rely on its water supply. The Deputy Prime Minister must ensure the Murray-Darling Basin plan is fully delivered and we, the Labor Party, will stick to that plan because we know that it is the best outcome for those people who rely so heavily on that system and the rivers that are truly our lifeblood.