14 February 2018


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I rise to speak on behalf of the Labor Party on this disallowance motion and make clear that Labor will be voting to disallow this instrument.

And we do so because we support the Plan. In fact we’re the party that delivered the Plan. It was Labor that delivered the Murray Darling Plan in Government and it is Labor that will fight today to save that plan, the whole plan, the entire plan, for all Australians.

Now it useful, I think, to have a little bit of history when it comes to the Plan because in many ways it was a long time in the making, in many ways a century in the making.

It was agreed only after 11 weeks of negotiations by governments right across the Basin, but it was the first time that all Basin jurisdictions actually came together and agreed to manage the Basin coherently.

I went back and looked at the Adelaide Advertiser articles from that time, written by the much loved Greg Kelton, and the paper remarked at the time “getting all the signatories to agree to the 47 points in the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Commonwealth and the states was, according to one source ‘taxing’”.

I was the Water Minister in that room, in that COAG discussion with the former Prime Minister Mr Rudd and together we brokered that deal and I can tell you taxing doesn’t even been to describe what we had to go through to get all of the states as well as the Commonwealth on board.

But we did it. We did it as a Labor Government and the states.

But I would make this point, notwithstanding that very impassioned speech by Senator Hanson-Young, one party which has not supported the Plan and did not support it when we implemented it when we were in Government was The Greens.

They didn’t support the Plan at the time and I have to say on this they are happy to grandstand, but have never delivered a single drop to the River Murray.

When Senator Hanson-Young goes out into the media and calls on me and other Labor Party Senators to stand firm on the River Murray I would remind people listening The Greens didn’t support the Plan and have never delivered a single drop of water.

They continue to lecture me and others in this place to enforce a Plan they have never supported.

But I tell you who did deliver that water, and that is the Labor Government, and I am proud that as the Water Minister in that Government between 2007 and 2010 I secured almost 1,000 gigalitres of water for the River, something for which I have been criticised for to this day by the National Party and various irrigation communities, perhaps even by you, Mr Acting Deputy President (Senator Williams) – as you are entitled to do.

But I do make that point – it was something that was hard fought, and remains hard fought.

I am also proud to be a part of Labor’s ongoing fight to ensure this Plan is delivered on time and in full.

We will not stand by and see the Plan wrecked after a Labor Government delivered a historic agreement at the Council of Australian Governments deal that for the first time in a century secured all of the jurisdictions along the Murray Darling Basin directed to one end, and that is the health of the Basin.

I am not going to stand by and see a Plan that a Labor Government delivered wrecked by this Government.

Because, let’s understand why the Plan is at risk.

This plan is at risk because Mr Turnbull handed the National Party the Water Portfolio.

He did so because he needed to, to secure his own job to keep Mr Joyce and his colleagues happy, with a Plan they didn’t support.

And it is the years of backsliding under this Government and particularly the Deputy Prime Minister that has brought us to this point where this Senate is forced to disallow the instrument before the table.

And this was no accident.

Remember it was Mr Joyce who said the Plan didn’t have a hope in Hades of being delivered.

It is Mr Joyce who said that South Australians should move to where the water is.

The fact is, you can’t deliver half a Plan.

Now we have had extraordinary serious allegations of water theft, of corruption in the Northern Basin.

They confirm South Australians; worst fears, yet Mr Joyce has said he had no intention of doing anything about those allegations.

You know what he said? He said it is “overwhelmingly an issue for New South Wales”.

Well as my friend and colleague Tony Burke pointed out, and I quote him;

“The problem for 100 years was that the Murray-Darling Basin was treated as a state issue rather than as a complete river system.

“What Barnaby Joyce has said today effectively unwinds the entire reason for Murray-Darling reform in the first place.”

But even worse, when Mr Joyce thought the media wasn’t listening, he made his contempt for the plan crystal clear when he told irrigators in Shepparton that the Four Corners expose of water theft was a plot to steal their water.

Out of his own mouth – a plot to steal their water! I’ll quote him;

“We have taken water, put it back into agriculture, so we could look after you and make sure we don’t have the greenies running the show.

“Four Corners, you know what that’s all about? It’s about them trying to take more water off you.”

I’ll quote that again;

“Four Corners, you know what that’s all about? It’s about them trying to take more water off you.”

These incredibly serious allegations, credible evidence of theft and corruption and he says it’s about trying to take the water off irrigators.

That’s the federal minister responsible for water, publicly condoning water theft, for which he is responsible, publicly condoning water theft, and making very clear he had absolutely no intention of standing up for the Plan he was required by law to enforce.

No intention of backing the Plan he was required by law to enforce.

He was happy for the water to be diverted and happy to see the plan wrecked.

So when we are followed in this debate, and in the media as well by Senators Birmingham and Ruston, who I’m sure have a slightly different view, to Mr Joyce, let’s remember the people who put the Plan at risk is the National Party.

And the people who put the National Party in charge of the Plan is the Liberal Party.

So frank Mr Joyce’s performance is simply not good enough.

It’s not good enough for all those whose lives and livelihoods depends on the health of the Murray Darling.

And really the person who is most shoulder most of the blame for this is the Prime Minister because he allowed Mr Joyce to take control of the water, knowing full well it was his intention to wreck the plan by walking away from the commitment to deliver the full 450GL for South Australia.

We need to restore confidence in the plan and that means ensuring what was promised, and what this government committed to is upheld and that is the Murray Darling Basin Plan being delivered on time and in full.

That means ensuring that the 450GL of water for the environment will be delivered.

Now the South Australian Government led by Jay Weatherill fought hard for that – it is a key part of the plan.

We also need to ensure that environmental water paid for by taxpayers isn’t simply diverted to irrigation dams.

Until we can guarantee the water purchased by the taxpayer gets to the parts of the river where it is needed it is difficult for us to support the Northern Basin proposal.

Until this Government is serious about tackling the theft and allegations of corruption in the Basin, we are not in a position to support the Northern Basin proposal.

Let’s remember Labor put this Plan in place.

Labor fought for additional water for the environment.

Labor Governments put the money on the table to make it happen and we need the Plan delivered in full.

As Mr Burke has said;

“You can’t have a situation where the Australian taxpayer is paying for environmental water and environmental watering events being organised and that exact water is being pumped straight back into dams.

“We want to make sure that the review is done comprehensively and that the rules that have created significant problems for the integrity of the whole system are dealt with at the same time.”

I’m pleased to say that Labor has been in discussions with the new Minister for Water to try to resolve these issues.

We acknowledge the challenges he faces in cleaning up the mess left by the Deputy Prime Minister and we are pleased that there are signs that this minister does appear, unlike Mr Joyce to be interested in dealing with these issues including with the issue of water theft.

But Labor cannot today say that those issues have been resolved. They have not and time has run out.

We have said the whole way through that we cannot allow a reduction in the volume while it is still possible for environmental water to be pumped back in to irrigation.

We want the Murray Darling Basin Plan to survive. It is the Plan we delivered in Government but we cannot agree today to reducing the volume of water without the proper assurances that the Basin will remain healthy and work delivered that addresses serious concerns around compliance that are not just ours, but that continue to be aired whether it is Four Corners, or last night on 7:30, or other information that is out into the public arena by people who live in the Basin.

I do want to say we are prepared to continue to work constructively with the Government and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to deliver a genuine outcome.

I hope this Plan doesn’t fall apart. We worked very hard on it for many years. But if it does, I’ll tell you where the responsibility lies, the responsibility would lie with the Government that has, for the past four years allowed the Deputy Prime Minister to wreck it for partisan interests at odds with the needs of the river, and the needs of the overwhelming majority of the people who rely on that river.

This isn’t just about South Australia, or Queensland or Victoria or New South Wales.

It is about whether our greatest river system has a future and it is about whether there is a Commonwealth Government prepared to act in the interests of all Australians to safeguard that river system for all, for now and for the years ahead.