Sep 11, 2006

Private Members’ Business – Hawkesbury-Nepean River System

Private Members’ Business

Hawkesbury-Nepean River System

11 September 2006

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (1.03 p.m.)—That speech by the member for Macquarie was an extraordinary performance by a member of parliament who has sat on the government benches for over 10 years—on the backbench, it is true, but on the government benches nonetheless. His failure to mention any responsibility whatsoever by the federal government with regard to water reflects the fact that the federal government has been missing in action when it comes to national water policy in this country. We have a situation where the government has just got around to appointing a parliamentary secretary for water. The issue is not important enough for the government to have someone on the frontbench! The Labor Party has the water portfolio in the shadow cabinet, which reflects the important function that we see water playing and the important responsibility that we have in terms of having national leadership.

I certainly agree that the Hawkesbury-Nepean is a river of national significance. Its water helps to generate 70 per cent of goods and services in New South Wales, as well as providing drinking water for over four million residents of Sydney, the Illawarra and the Blue Mountains. The Hawkesbury-Nepean is one of the most varied catchments in Australia. It supports a population of nearly one million people, generates over $1 billion each year in agriculture, and supports a $6 million a year commercial fishing industry and 43,000 recreational fishers. It supplies 80 per cent of the sand and gravel used in Sydney’s construction industry, worth an estimated $100 million a year; provides 23 per cent of New South Wales’s electricity through water from its rivers; and supports an extensive underground coalmining industry.

All these elements combine to place significant pressure on the Hawkesbury-Nepean river system. That is why the New South Wales government deserves congratulations for the fact that it has developed strategies to deliver Sydney’s water supply and has also taken action to improve the health of the Hawkesbury-Nepean. In July 2001 the New South Wales government established the Hawkesbury-Nepean River Management Forum, which is supported by an independent expert panel. The government adopted the forum’s recommendations for environmental flows from the upper Nepean dams and incorporated those into the 2004 metropolitan water plan. This water sharing plan, which will include the Hawkesbury-Nepean, will contain rules for the sharing of water between the environment and water users. The water sharing plan will provide statutory protection for environmental flows in the Hawkesbury-Nepean and will limit extractions for consumptive use. Environmental flow rules will be incorporated in the Sydney Catchment Authority’s water licence.

The New South Wales government’s Hawkesbury-Nepean river restoration project is one of the Hawkesbury Nepean Catchment Management Authority’s three flagship incentive funding projects, the others being its bushland conservation project and the catchment protection scheme. These projects alone saw over $5 million invested in 2005-06, resulting in 94 kilometres of riverbank undergoing rehabilitation and weed control, 2,432 hectares of land being treated for soil erosion, 331 hectares of remnant native vegetation being protected, 90 kilometres of riverbank and gullies being fenced, 114,000 native trees being planted and 17 hectares of land being treated for salinity. These were all achievements of the state Labor government.

These are just some examples of the positive actions being undertaken by the catchment management authority, which will result in the improved health of the Hawkesbury-Nepean. Instead of criticising the New South Wales government, what government members should be doing is asking their frontbench—asking the Prime Minister—why they have done nothing to improve the health of the Hawkesbury-Nepean. This is a consistent theme when it comes to the federal government: it is all the states’ faults. We know that, on the issue of water, they have refused to come to the party, they disagree over whether there should be water trading, they have disagreed whether there should be a buyback on a voluntary basis, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry disagrees with the parliamentary secretary for water. When it comes to state governments offering up big initiatives, we know of course that when Cubby was offered up—a plan in 2004 by the Queensland Labor government—the federal government would not have a bar of it. It was reform that would have returned water to the whole Murray-Darling system.