Aug 14, 2007

Water Bill 2007 – Consideration in Detail

Water Bill 2007 – Consideration in Detail

14 August 2007

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (8.57 p.m.)—It is significant that the government is compelled to move amendments to its own legislation the day after it moved the bill. I think that shows that it was very worth while to have the Senate inquiry. Indeed, I, along with the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, would join in expressing thanks to those organisations which made submissions to the Senate inquiry. I think that improvements can come from greater participation. In summing up the second reading debate the minister made a number of comments, one of which was the suggestion that the opposition had complained about there being no consultation. It is certainly the case that there was extensive consultation on the Water Bill 2007. However, it is also the case that, when it came to the final product of the bill, the opposition was briefed only the day before it came into the parliament, and the states and territories were not given copies of the final bill. We are here debating this legislation but we do not have, nor do any of the states have, the intergovernmental agreement. It is quite clear that the IGA will play a critical role when it comes to the actual implementation of the national water plan.

Labor has supported this bill and we do support these minor technical amendments, but we do think that this is very much a second-best solution compared with what we should have done. The minister I do not think adequately addressed in his summing up the statement made by the opposition as to the workings of section 77 and how that relates to compulsory acquisition. With due respect to the minister, we do think that is a distinction without a difference that is being drawn when it comes to the practical implementation of that.

We are also concerned about the risk-sharing arrangements with the states. We do not believe the states should carry more risk than was agreed to with the Prime Minister at the discussions that took place as far back as March. Those changes are perhaps a very good example of where the minister says there was consultation, but agreements have not been adhered to that were made between the state governments—in particular, New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia—with the Commonwealth. We think that is regrettable.

We do think it is regrettable that we will have both a Murray-Darling Basin Authority and a Murray-Darling Basin Commission. I think that will lead to layers of bureaucracy which will create some confusion out there, because you will have, of course, an authority setting in place the macro water management issues, if you like, but another body—the commission; indeed, in conjunction with the states—actually carrying out the implementation. That is why we certainly think that it is regrettable that we did not have the original idea behind the package of a truly streamlined national approach to these issues.

I will leave my comments there in the interests of time. I certainly believe that this legislation will have to be revisited and improved—and I hope it is done in a way which, as this bill does, makes an important step towards a national approach to the Murray-Darling Basin. I would like to be in here again in a different capacity early next year moving legislation suggesting a truly national approach in cooperation with the states.