Water and Catchment Legislation Amendment Bill 2017- Second reading

Mr O'SULLIVAN— I rise tonight to speak on the Water and Catchment Legislation Amendment Bill 2017. Any bill that is debated in this Parliament, or any Parliament around Australia, is very crucial in relation to the application of water to our community. Water is without doubt the most important commodity we have at our disposal, so we need to manage the water allocations very carefully. That is something that many people have tried to do over the years and are still trying to do now, and I do not think it has always been done successfully.

If you want to know how important particularly irrigation water is, just a couple of hours ago we all went and had dinner. That dinner by and large was created because of irrigation water and the food it grows, which we eat and the whole world eats. We grow some of the best food in the world in this state. We export it to the world, and we are very privileged that we can consume it ourselves in the clean, green manner that we are able to have it.

Whether it is steak or chicken or whether it is vegetables or salad that you eat, irrigation water is crucial in providing that resource that we all require so badly. That is why when any bill comes before this chamber, it is very important that we look at it very carefully.

It is interesting to note that the government has not brought in very many pieces of legislation in relation to water in its three years in government, and that is very much because this government is not too focused on water. It has a whole range of other issues that it sees as a much higher priority. In fact we have seen very little output in the water space in three years; there has actually been nothing done at all. A whole review of the Water Act 1989 was undertaken by the previous government and was ready to be introduced into this Parliament. But as soon as they got in, this government just shelved that and put it away.

This piece of legislation, as limited as it is, was more than covered in the review of the Water Act that was undertaken, and that was a holistic review that would have brought in a whole range of changes. It would have more than covered some of the things that are being looked at in this tiny piece of legislation, but also covered many other critical points that need to be addressed in terms of the management of water structures here in Victoria. Labor's history is not particularly good on water, and I might come back to that a little later on.

There are a couple of things in this piece of legislation that are reasonable and there are a couple of things — and they are dealt with in the amendment we will bring forward — that this side of the house just cannot agree on and would like to see removed. I am not confident this government understands what it is trying to sign us up for by having, particularly, clause 12 in the bill. It is not in the best interests of Victoria to have that clause in the bill, and that is why this side of the house will be moving an amendment to remove that from the bill. Once that is done, I think some of the other elements in the bill can be supported.

In terms of the introduction of Aboriginal management values and planning into the waterways and catchments, I think some of that is reasonable. It is already being undertaken in many areas, particularly around areas such as Cow Swamp up in the north. That is very critical to Aboriginals. They have a long history in that part of the country. In relation to that waterway itself, the history of Aboriginal involvement in it and their management of it goes a long way back in terms of it being water storage for the north-west up around Kerang. In fact I was at Cow Swamp just before Christmas to have another look at it. It is an amazing storage for water, one that has significant cultural heritage values for Aboriginal people, and in relation to the management of that particular site they have been well and truly involved already.

There are many other areas. Another one of particular significance is Lake Victoria in southern New South Wales, just near Wentworth. That is a key area in which Aboriginal involvement has been crucial as well. They have been certainly involved already in many areas, and this piece of legislation will extend that involvement. I am just nervous that we do not create a new level of bureaucracy in relation to water management as a result of these additional applications in this bill.

Other elements of the bill in relation to the recreational values are embedded in the management of water and waterways by water corporations and catchment management authorities. Again, this is already undertaken quite widely. Another example of that up in my electorate is the Ouyen lake. My former boss, Peter Walsh in the Assembly, when he was the Minister for Water — I guess he is still my current boss but just in a different capacity — put money into that to ensure that very dry part of the world, probably the driest part of the whole of Victoria, was able to build a new lake in town, which would provide some recreational benefits for the people who live in that part of the world.

They have many, many days over 40 degrees in a hot summer, and for them to have a bit of water for recreational purposes will certainly be beneficial. The work that Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water have done in being able to bring that project to fruition has been critical. In fact the project would not have happened without the input of Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water in terms of their management of the project, but also they were responsible for putting the pipeline from the Wimmera–Mallee pipe into the lake itself, about 2 or 3 kilometres of pipeline, which they paid for. They also provided the water that would go to fill that lake in the first instance. It would not have happened without the input from Grampians Wimmera Mallee Water and in particular Peter Vogel, the chair, who has played an integral role in understanding the importance of recreational water for northern communities because in these very hot and dry areas to have that resource or amenity in their local township is very important and they certainly will appreciate it. The economic value that it brings to those communities will be immense as well.

In another small town, Hopetoun, up in the north-west, where I went to high school for a period of time, they have got Lake Lascelles. It is one of the main or key economic drivers in town in terms of bringing visitors and tourists into the town who bring their speedboats and camp. They buy their fuel, drinks, food and so forth and pay for their accommodation. It is a very important economic driver in the town. That will also come across to Ouyen lake when it is completed. Once we have finished with Ouyen lake, we need to move across to Sea Lake and fix up their lake, which is called Green Lake and has a hole in the bottom that needs to be fixed so that it will actually hold water. There are a few of those things in the bill which I certainly support. That is already happening and it can be extended to other areas. Formalised I think that would certainly be a good thing.

I do have concerns around clause 12, which I mentioned earlier, in terms of the review of the southern basin. We have just seen some work done on the review of the northern basin, which has become fairly controversial. We have seen that just in the last couple of weeks the Labor Party and the Greens have come out and said that they may disallow that motion in the Senate in the federal Parliament. That would be disastrous for the Murray-Darling Basin plan, if that were to be the case, as they try and appease the South Australian Labor Party. Obviously they have got an election coming up, so there is no doubt there has been some water politics played in that space, which I think has been quite unhelpful.

To the Victorian water minister's credit, she has called for the plan to be held intact. I thank her for that. I read in just the last couple of days that she has written to all senators to ask them to stay the journey on the Murray-Darling Basin plan. I think that is a good idea. Certainly the senators on the conservative side of politics I would think will do that. I hope the Labor Party senators will also support the Victorian position on that. So Victoria is doing its job and has consistently, which I think is beneficial for all of Victoria in relation to our policy — Victoria's policy; it is a bipartisan policy — on the Murray-Darling Basin plan. Hopefully that will continue. The game that is being played by the Labor Party and the Greens federally is unhelpful for the plan. We have already seen that the New South Wales state water minister is starting to question New South Wales's ongoing involvement in the Murray-Darling Basin plan. That is something that I do not think is particularly helpful either. I think it is very important that we do everything we can to ensure that the Murray-Darling Basin plan stays together. It is not a perfect plan, but it is the best plan that we have got. A lot of hard work has gone into getting it to where it is, and of course it is not going to be easy to keep it there, but we need to encourage the whole of Australia to stay the course on the Murray-Darling Basin plan that we have put together.

The South Australian state election needs to be put aside and not become a driving factor from the Labor Party federally and the Greens federally in terms of trying to get a short political benefit from that cheap political pointscoring in relation to the Murray-Darling Basin.

There are plenty of other issues that they can do that on; water is not one of them. So I would certainly hope that Bill Shorten will see sense in relation to the position that they flagged of disallowing that motion when it comes to the Senate. I would certainly hope that the Greens would as well. I think Senator Hanson-Young's comments are most unhelpful, but she is a South Australian Greens senator, so she is pushing a political barrow as well which is most unhelpful. I do hope that sense will prevail in that space because it is very important that it does so.

In terms of clause 12 of this piece of legislation, it is not going to be helpful in enshrining the review into 2026. I think that needs to be brought forward. We need to have the flexibility to do that earlier if we need to, and I think we probably do need to make sure that we can keep on track with what we are trying to achieve with the review of the southern basin.

If we can take clause 12 out of this piece of legislation, it will make it a much better piece of legislation and one that this side of the house can support. It is crucial that we get our water policy right not just in Victoria but for the whole of the Murray-Darling Basin plan, because so much depends on it. My colleague Ms Lovell will no doubt say more about what it means to the Goulburn Valley in terms of jobs, in terms of investment and in terms of production out of the food bowl of Australia. It is crucial for that community, the whole of the northern community, that irrigation water stays for production purposes as it is planned out in the Murray-Darling Basin plan. We need to make sure that the 450 gigalitres of upwater stays in Victoria for production purposes. It is crucial. It costs jobs. It costs farmers their livelihoods. It will have an impact on the food we eat. It will have an impact on the milk we drink, the fruit and the vegetables — all very important terms of the economies of regional communities. So we cannot allow that water to leave the basin.

It is in the legislation that the water cannot go unless there is a positive or neutral outcome in relation to that water leaving the district. That is not possible. It is absolutely not possible for there to be a negative or positive outcome of that water leaving northern Victoria. We need to ensure that that water stays for production purposes because our agriculture community is in jeopardy if that water leaves, because the whole system would collapse, which would be an absolute disaster like we have never seen in our regional communities, and the impacts for Victoria would be disastrous.

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