Ms LEY (Farrer—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (16:39):
Over my time in this place, I’ve been proud to rise and speak on behalf of my farming and irrigation communities many, many times.
These are good and decent people, and they have several priorities in their lives:
One, like most who live in this great country, they want to provide for and look after their family,
Two, they want to care for their land and the environment,
And three, they are proud to grow food and fibre for this nation, whether that is citrus, grapes, apples, pears, rice, irrigated wheat and cereals, sustainable cotton, almonds, nuts, dairy or so many more, and the value-add that comes with that.
Whatever it is, they work their land and make things which sustain our country and nations across the world.
What we saw last Wednesday, when the Minister for the Environment and Water introduced a bill that is before the House now, can only be described as a dog of an act.
The saddest part? While there was anger across my electorate and basin towns, there were no real surprises; it was expected. Why?
My communities knew, as soon as the Labor government were returned to the seat of power, that they would be after us—not because they don’t care about eating or wearing Australian products but because they just don’t understand.
They don’t understand that, when you head into the local supermarket or variety store to pick up a can of pears, a packet of rice, a dozen apples or some beautiful cheese, all with ‘Aussie made’ logos, these products actually have to be made here.
Even though the minister made various assertions that she would consult with irrigation communities, asking them to provide creative ways to reduce water consumption, we had our doubts. Still, many in my community did participate in this feedback.
They worked earnestly to provide methods which would avoid purchasing more water from the consumptive pool. We did this despite, in our heart of hearts, knowing that Labor could not be serious.
Surely they were not seriously trying to work hand in hand with our producers! And guess what? We were right. As soon as the minister was clear of her sham consultation period, there was the member for Sydney, standing up in this place, dumping on regional Australia from a very great height.
Let me be very clear for those opposite. Taking water away from farmers takes away their ability to produce goods. When you take away products at the market, you increase their costs, at a time when all Australians are struggling with the cost of living.
Why on earth would you want to increase some of those costs even further?
We’ve looked at this legislation very closely, and there are parts of the bill we can support, but the part which takes away the law that buybacks will only happen under a strict socioeconomic test—that part is not up for sale. It makes compulsory an extra 450 gigalitres of water recovery for South Australia, for the environment, so they say. Well, at least the South Australians thought so, but apparently even that part is in doubt.
What do more buybacks actually mean? And why do they want to hurt every one of us?
By purchasing water entitlements at market prices, buybacks are often the simplest and least expensive method of recovering water for the environment.
But buybacks reduce the supply of water available for irrigated agriculture and our farmers and bump up water allocation prices. In drier conditions, this makes water incredibly expensive, and it removes the incentive for farmers to plant crops.
When they don’t grow food, the farm needs to diversify or it simply shrinks, and the growers walk away. This impacts on their neighbours, the local produce store, the local communities.
Every type of farming irrigation community, in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland or even South Australia, is saying that buybacks hurt their community and hurt our ability to grow food.
The water minister says the government will provide significant transitional assistance ‘if these voluntary water purchases have secondary impacts on communities’.
This is Labor-Greens code for saying, ‘We’re happy to shut down your town.’ It ignores the 2012 bipartisan agreement to protect the social and economic fabric of irrigation communities. It effectively says, ‘We’re getting this 450 gigalitres from anywhere in the basin, at any cost.’
The other side screams that there needs to be more water for the environment. Well, that’s right too. We do need to do something, and we are, and we have been.
Since the Basin Plan was introduced, farmers and irrigators have been striving to use their precious resources better and smarter and help the environment in the process, always doing more with less, in a bid to balance the use of water for food and water for the environment.
And we’re nearly there, but this government has once again put its politics before its people, in this base political act. My people are not happy, and we intend to fight back. We intend to fight this legislation every step of the way.