Friday, November 20, 2009

Sometimes the Senate is really, really funny

If sad

Here's Senator Fielding Thursday setting up a joke.

With admirable restraint Senator Wong holds off on delivering the punchline.


Senator FIELDING (2.44 pm)—My question is directed to the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Wong. I refer to the article in The Weekly Times on 11 November which revealed that the government has diverted over 60 per cent of the environmental water bought by the federal government to the minister’s home state, South Australia, and that the bulk of funding under the National Urban Water and Desalination Plan has also gone to South Australia. Can the minister explain why so much of this water has been directed to South Australia instead of to areas in Victoria, like the Murray Goulburn region, where the seasonal allocations of water to places such as Campaspe, Loddon and Bullarook Creek are zero per cent?

Senator WONG—I thank the senator for his question. I can advise that the use of environmental water is undertaken by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder. It is an independent statutory authority. I do not direct how that authority chooses to use the water the Commonwealth purchases. That is a judgment that that body makes. In future years, environmental watering will occur in accordance with the Basin Plan, which is being prepared by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. Prior to that plan being in place, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, from memory, has been consulting with basin state governments, including the Victorian government, to develop the plan for the utilisation of the Commonwealth environmental water holdings. It is important in relation to the use of environmental water that the public have confidence both in the transparency of the use of that water and in the process. We as a government are very clear about ensuring that that process is credible, is based on sound science and sound policy, and is undertaken appropriately. As I said, my recollection—but I will check on this—is that state governments were also consulted in the use of that water.

In relation to the second point, the funding of the Adelaide desalination plant was, from memory, an election commitment of this government. If the senator is referring to the stormwater grants, I have announced the first round results and it is true that the majority of the first round went to South Australia. That was as per what was recommended to me through departmental advice. I would make the point that it may be that a number of South Australian councils had already undertaken quite a lot of work in planning for stormwater grant applications. (Time expired)

Senator FIELDING—Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is it true that none of the money promised to Victoria under the federal government’s National Urban Water and Desalination Plan has been handed over yet and that Victoria has received no federal funds for the Wonthaggi desalination plant, and yet the South Australian government has already been given $328 million in federal funds for its desalination plant? Given this, can the minister explain the reason for this bias against Victoria in favour of South Australia?

Senator WONG—I want to make it very clear that our view in relation to water in the Murray-Darling Basin has been that the finger pointing and blame shifting of the past, where state governments who had control of these rivers simply blamed each other for what was wrong, should not continue. As the federal water minister, that is what I have ensured. I have always said that what we need is an approach to the basin that is predicated on science. That is what the Commonwealth is seeking to deliver. A significant step towards that was the passage through this parliament of the Water Act.

In relation to Victoria, my recollection—and I do not have the details here—is that there was a Victorian project funded in relation to stormwater. I would again remind the Senate that it is only the first round of the stormwater funding which has— (Time expired)

Senator FIELDING—Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given that the government is treating Victorians like mugs and favouring South Australians in the allocation of water and environmental funding, will the government look at setting up a fairer independent body to deal with the assessment and allocation of environmental water so that a fairer and more transparent—

Government senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT—Order! Senator Fielding, just halt. You are entitled to be heard in silence. Continue.

Senator FIELDING—Will the government look at setting up a fairer independent body to deal with the assessment and allocation of environmental water so that a fairer and more transparent decision-making process can occur and so that Victorian farmers will not be treated like second-rate citizens and forced to play second fiddle to their South Australian neighbours?

Senator WONG—What I said in my first answer is correct—that is, the allocation of environmental water is not an issue for political direction. I want to make that very clear. We approach the Murray-Darling Basin on the basis of what is best for the basin and on the best scientific advice. We are working through the development of the Basin Plan, and really the senator’s suggestion that there is somehow some bias in how environmental water is allocated is frankly unfair. That is not how we are approaching the management of the basin. I would suggest to the senator that if we are serious about advocating for a better outcome in the Murray-Darling Basin we actually need to get over pointing the finger at different jurisdictions.

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