QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: TAKE NOTE OF ANSWERS - Murray Darling Basin


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (15:18): With regret, I say that I have not heard such uninformed drivel for a long period of time, talking about issues of which the former speaker absolutely has no knowledge. What we are debating today is the answer to the question of who is in charge of water. The answer is clearly this: it is the coalition government that is in charge of water, as it has always been. Mr Deputy President, if you look back in history, every single major environmental initiative for Australia has been done by a coalition government. Whether it be saving the Great Barrier Reef, saving Fraser Island or saving Antarctica—any significant environmental issue—these are all issues introduced under coalition governments.

When it comes to water, the coalition government understands water, irrigation and the environmental necessity of water and flows at various periods of time. It was, of course, the coalition government that undertook some of the major water projects—I was going to say 'of our time'—perhaps of my time but not of many others'. The last major dam water storages in Australia—the Fairbairn Dam near Emerald and the Ord River Dam up in the Northern Territory-Western Australian border area—are initiatives of coalition governments which were criticised at the time but which have been proved to be major assets to Australia. If you have a look at the Fairbairn Dam around Emerald you see the wealth that is created from that water storage initiative by farmers there, producing billions of dollars of export money for Australia. The Ord River Dam—whilst it has taken some time to become absolutely productive—is hitting its straps at the current time. In addition, for those on the other side who claim to be environmentally aware, the Ord River Dam—an artificial dam—has created a Ramsar wetland in the Ord River area. For those who do not understand, a Ramsar wetland is a wetland of international environmental significance. It has been created because of and by the building of the Ord River Dam more than 50 years ago.

Coalition governments over the years have understood the Murray-Darling Basin and they know what is right in managing a very difficult water supply area. The question was whether it is Mr Joyce or someone else who is in charge of water policy. The government is in charge of water policy, and Mr Joyce is certainly part of the government—as are Mr Turnbull, Senator Brandis, Senator Colbeck and Senator Ruston. The government will make decisions on these issues in Australia's interest. Some criticisms have been made about Mr Joyce and his involvement with water. Mr Joyce chaired a government committee that looked at water issues, water storage and the environmental sustainability of water storage across Australia, so he is well qualified to deal with issues relating to water.

I point out again that both the white paper Developing Northern Australia and the AgriculturalCompetitiveness white paper make substantial reference to the necessity for dams and water storage and do so in a way that understands the environmental consequences of water storage. Those initiatives, as outlined in both of the white papers I mentioned, will mean the creation in the years ahead of productive parts of our country similar to those that grew up around the Fairbairn Dam in Emerald, the Burdekin Dam in Ayr and Home Hill, where I came from, and around the Ord River dam. Mr Joyce and all of the government are significantly in charge of water in our country. (Time expired)

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