House of Representatives- Water

This matter of public importance that the member for Flinders has proposed here today raises the so-called north-south pipeline in my home state of Victoria—and, by that, I take it that the member for Flinders is referring to the Food Bowl Modernisation Project and Sugarloaf pipeline in northern Victoria, which, as the House has heard from a number of members, is a large water project in northern Victoria. It is a state government project, of exactly the kind that was endorsed by the now Leader of the Opposition when he was the parliamentary secretary for water. I will come back to that in a minute. But if the member for Flinders thought that he was making a job application by putting up this matter of public importance, he needed to check what his now leader said when he was the parliamentary secretary for water in 2006 about projects of exactly this kind.

This matter of public importance that the member for Flinders has proposed here today raises the so-called north-south pipeline in my home state of Victoria—and, by that, I take it that the member for Flinders is referring to the Food Bowl Modernisation Project and Sugarloaf pipeline in northern Victoria, which, as the House has heard from a number of members, is a large water project in northern Victoria. It is a state government project, of exactly the kind that was endorsed by the now Leader of the Opposition when he was the parliamentary secretary for water. I will come back to that in a minute. But if the member for Flinders thought that he was making a job application by putting up this matter of public importance, he needed to check what his now leader said when he was the parliamentary secretary for water in 2006 about projects of exactly this kind.

I just want to make a few points about the project itself. This project, which is a very large project that is designed to improve an irrigation system that has not had any major work done on it for over a century, is about taking action in the face of drought and climate change. This project that is taking place in northern Victoria will not reduce flows to the environment. This project is part of a program to distribute water savings, firstly to the environment, secondly to irrigators—and they are the same food bowl producers that those opposite have been talking about—and, thirdly, to the people of Melbourne. The opposition has demonstrated by the two speeches that have been given on this matter of public importance that they are in total confusion about the nature of this project.

I want to come back to the extraordinary inconsistencies presented here today by the member for Calare and the member for Flinders—and on previous occasions in this House by, in particular, the member for Murray—in using exactly the same phrase that the member for Flinders used here today, which was, ‘theft of water from the country to the city’. Far from it being the theft of water, this is about increasing available water. It is about using that increased available water to send water to stressed river systems, to irrigators and also to the people of Melbourne. This is what the then parliamentary secretary for water, in September 2006, said—and this is the same person, the member for Wentworth, who is now the Leader of the Opposition:

Many people fear water trading between irrigation areas and towns and cities. In Victoria it is a particularly controversial matter.

However, rural to urban trade may offer more opportunities to rural Australia than threats.

The first thing to remember is that the amount of water needed by cities and towns is very small compared to the amount of water used in irrigated agriculture. To put it in the right perspective—

this is the member for Wentworth speaking—

Goulburn Murray Water’s CEO—

that is the same area of northern Victoria that we are talking about—

has told me that his Authority loses every year through inefficient distribution infrastructure around 900 GLs; about twice the water Melbourne consumes!

Now, there is no doubt—

this is still the member for Wentworth—

irrigation areas can save a lot of water by more efficient infrastructure both in the distribution system and on the farm. If the cost of saving a GL in an irrigation area is a fraction of the cost of making a GL in the city (through recycling or desalination) then a commercial opportunity is created from which farmers can benefit.

The improvement in efficiency is enormous.

The then parliamentary secretary, the same man who is now the Leader of the Opposition, went on to discuss a project of this type to supply water savings from rural areas to Perth, and then said this:

This type of win-win partnership between city and country should not be overlooked as a real option.

What was accurate was what the then parliamentary secretary for water said in 2006 when he described it as a ‘win-win partnership between city and country’. And let us all hope that, in his new capacity, the new Leader of the Opposition will demonstrate some leadership and stop the kind of nonsense that has been talked here today on this matter of public importance by those opposite, who do not understand the role of the federal minister in environmental regulation and have demonstrated yet again that they do not believe in science. They do not believe in the science of climate change. They want to deny that. They do not believe in the science of environmental assessment. They want to deny that, too. They think, and they have demonstrated by their speeches here today, that ministerial decisions are only a matter of party political advantage. They do not understand, because that is the way those opposite behaved when they were in government. It is always party political advantage—it is never the national interest; it is never taking decisions in the long-term interests of this country, which is what this government is doing. The reason that massive projects of this nature, of the nature of the Sugarloaf pipeline and the Food Bowl Modernisation Project, are needed in places like northern Victoria is that we had, for nearly 12 years, neglect by the former government and, before that, in Victoria we had neglect by the Kennett government.

I say again: the irrigation system in Victoria is over 100 years old. It has had some very piecemeal updating over the last few years, but it requires overhaul of the whole system. The project that the state government has put in place is an overhaul of the whole system and it should be being commended by those opposite, not smeared by the kind of deliberate campaign of, really, emotive misinformation that is being promoted in the area by the member for Murray and is being promoted here by the member for Flinders. I notice, indeed, that the member for Murray has chosen not to speak on this matter.

It is absurd to suggest that this project is not paying attention to food security. It is paying close attention to food security. It is absurd to suggest that anything has occurred here that is anything other than complete respect for the environment. The approval process that the federal minister for the environment has engaged in will ensure that there is no adverse impact on matters of national environmental significance. There are conditions that the minister for the environment has imposed which will ensure that that occurs.