Water Amendment Bill 2015 Bills

I am pleased to resume my speech on the Water Amendment Bill 2015. I was talking about the fact that the recent stock take of sustainable diversion limits has shown that we are on track to meet our environmental targets. This has been made possible by the long-term vision and the approach taken by the Howard government in 2007. One of the key elements of that was that, rather than buy back water to give to the environment, we were far better off in terms of achieving an outcome for communities, for the environment and for our economy to look at how we could use water more efficiently.

Speaking as a South Australian senator, I can say to the Senate that South Australia has led the way in Australia for many years in terms of efficient water use. We have had to. We are the driest state on the driest continent in the world. We are down the end of the river system. We have consistently made very good use of the water that has been available to us. I am pleased to see that, of the $10 billion that was put towards that 2007 plan, $6 billion was allocated to achieving efficiencies in water infrastructure so that the water that was available would be more effectively used. Whilst the approaches of different political parties have ebbed and flowed—pardon the pun—I particularly note the approach of the Greens, which is just to buy it all up. We cannot afford to do that. If there is a smart way that we can support our community, support our economy and support the environment, we should be doing that.

Some $2.1 billion of South Australia’s $15 billion annual production comes from the Riverland and Murraylands region, from irrigation. Just to give you an idea—and these figures come from the Bureau of Stats agricultural commodities report of a couple of years ago—some 37 per cent of the state’s vegetables come from that area, as well as 58 per cent of the state’s fruit production, 52 per cent of the total value of grapes, 18 per cent of the total value of cereals and grains, 99.9 per cent of the total value of oranges, 58 per cent of the total value of potatoes, 28 per cent of milk, 89 per cent of almonds, and the list goes on.

In South Australia, we see the impact on our economy and our communities. From people like the Mitolo Group with the Comit Farm—large potato and onion producers—right through to the small family owned blocks, whether they are in traditional stone fruits, citrus or moving into things like almonds, it has a huge impact.

That brings us to this current legislation. Clearly the thing that our communities and particularly business people need is certainty. One of the ways we can give them certainty is to say that, if we can be smart about how we spend money and improve the efficiency of the system, we can achieve the target so we can cap what we will buy back for the environment. So the focus of this legislation is to impose the 1,500 gigalitre cap on water purchases in the basin.

There will still be the natural variability. There will still be droughts and floods. There will be times when we have more water than we need and times when we do not have enough water. But if we can mitigate the impact of those extremes, in terms of water catchment and efficient water use, then we increase certainty. If we want to remove the political uncertainty of having governments step in and buy water, which prevents irrigators from using it efficiently and puts it purely into the environmental system, then we are well-served to take the approach that supports all three elements: our environment, the communities that rely on the businesses and the environment there, and those businesses themselves. It is important to realise that the 1,500 gigalitre cap is not a target; it is a ceiling. It will be set in legislation, and we will stand by that.

Our approach is to be very transparent in that, so there will be reports on how much water is actually purchased. But what we have seen is that by applying the principles of the 2007 legislation—that long-term plan that Mr Howard and Mr Turnbull brought in at the time—we have been able to achieve significant savings for the environment and make water available for irrigators.

Recently, last month, Round 5 of the On-Farm Irrigation Efficiency Program looked at investing farm infrastructure in one of the basins. It returned 20 gigalitres of water to farmers, but 77 gigalitres of water to the environment. This approach is environmentally responsible and it is responsible in terms of supporting our economy. Most importantly, unlike the Greens, the coalition believes that our communities who live in the river basin are equally as deserving of our support and priority as the environment and every other aspect. We are part of this nation. I know the Greens tend to see us sometimes as some kind of an incursion that should be stamped out and removed from sections of our land, but we are part of this country. Our communities and our industries, well-managed, are a sustainable part. I am pleased to support this legislation which provides certainty for those communities and the people who want to invest in those businesses. Importantly, we have demonstrated as a result of the stocktake of the SDLs that reported just last month, that we are also providing a good outcome for the environment.

I see no reason to support the amendment from the Greens, when we have proven that we are on track to get that sustainable triple-bottom-line outcome for the environment, community and business. I support the bill. I will not be supporting the Greens amendment.