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Budget

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (2.14 pm) - My question is to the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Wong.

Considering that there was only one big increase in new money for South Australia in terms of water in the budget - that is, the injection of an additional $228 million to double the size of the desalination plant and very little for reviving the river - is the minister aware of comments made by the Premier of South Australia yesterday in relation to the additional funding?

He said: From the end of 2012, there'll be no reason for us to have water restrictions because we'll guarantee water supply for decades to come ... Does the minister endorse this comment?

Senator WONG - I think Senator Hanson-Young started the question by suggesting that there was little in the budget for water. I want to respond to that. The senator, I assume, is not suggesting that a total of, I think, $328 million for investment in a desalination plant is a small amount. It is clearly a very significant amount.

In addition, the bring-forward and additional spend in the next two years and over the forward estimates period, which was agreed with Senator Xenophon through discussions in the context of the Nation Building and Jobs Plan, will be delivered again and is reflected in the budget, and the commitment to the $12.9 billion, of which that is a part, is also reflected in the budget.

So this is a government that is spending unprecedented amounts of money in the Murray-Darling Basin and restoring the balance in the basin.

This is a government that is backing that expenditure in terms of purchases, investment and infrastructure for the benefit of communities and for the environment with investment in assisting the South Australian government to construct a desalination plant, because the government is of the view that all of us, particularly in the southern part of Australia, will need to diversify water sources, given the likely continued pressure on water supplies as a result of ongoing drought and climate change.

On the issue of water restrictions: as the senator well knows, they are matters for state governments; they are not regulated by federal governments. As I made clear in my press release in relation to the desalination plant announcement, our expectation is that this will assist in securing Adelaide's water supply and in reducing reliance on the River Murray.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG - Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Firstly, I would like to point out to the minister that clearly the Prime Minister did not see water as a priority, because he did not even mention it in his speech. I would like to clarify: does the water minister endorse the comments of the South Australian Premier that doubling the desalination plant will mean Adelaide will no longer have water restrictions? Given the drying climate, is this a responsible comment to be making?

Senator WONG - I assume it was a slip of the tongue by the senator; clearly it is the Treasurer, not the Prime Minister, who gives the budget speech. Again I remind the senator how much investment, both in environmental purchase and in infrastructure provision, the government are making in the Murray-Darling Basin.

It is the case, as I said, that water restrictions are a matter for state governments, occasionally local governments as well, and it is our view that all those levels of government have a responsibility to manage water in a responsible way. That is a consistent position that this government has taken. It is why we are also investing in rainwater tank rebates and in stormwater and recycling.

We believe it is the right thing to do to ensure there are a range of water supplies in an era of climate change.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG - Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. The minister seems unable to answer my question as to whether it is a responsible comment for the Premier to make.

The PRESIDENT - And the question?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG - Minister, given your joint portfolios of minister for water and minister for climate change, you are aware that South Australia is going to be facing a drying climate. Is it a responsible position for South Australia to take Adelaide off water restrictions simply because you gave an extra $228 million for doubling the desalination plant, instead of putting it into water efficiency and stormwater harvesting?

Senator WONG - We are also funding stormwater harvesting - and the senator well knows that. If the senator wants to talk about responsibility, she should come into this chamber and retract the criticism of the government when she said that we should be buying temporary water and other water to fill the Lower Lakes and how appalling it was that we did not when she well knows that we are in a situation where, as yet, we have not secured Adelaide's water supplies for the 2009 -10 year. It would take up to 1,300 billion litres of water to fill the Lower Lakes. Adelaide's water supply is 200 gigalitres.

Senator Hanson-Young - Do you care about South Australia's Lower Lakes?

Senator WONG - You come in here and you want six times Adelaide's water supplies sent to the Lower Lakes and you lecture us about responsibility.

 

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