The Hon. ROBERT BROWN
[9.40 p.m.]: I speak tonight about an issue that has not been properly addressed since the colonists arrived in Australia nearly 225 years ago. I refer to the proper harvesting and management of water. As I speak, the equivalent of 75,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools are being released from the Burrinjuck and Blowering dams. Also, there is the danger of what is called cold water dumping, which is another matter. In official terms 150 gigalitres of water is being sent into the Murrumbidgee River. We are told it is "to benefit the Murray system as far downstream as South Australia's lower lakes and Coorong".
I note that both the Federal and State environment Ministers have been quick to hail the release. They say it will improve the river's health and replenish river red gums and wetlands. I put our environment Minister on notice that no-one wants to see any more black water fish kills in the Murrumbidgee and Murray or any other rivers in the south and south-west through ill-advised or wrongly planned water releases. Such fish kills have enraged local communities who live, work and relax along those waterways. They demand proper management of our water and they deserve to get it.
I fully appreciate the ability of environmental water releases to benefit river systems. However, I was down in that area just a couple of weeks ago, And guess what? These water releases by the water authorities are seemingly flying in the face of the ultimate authority. It is clearly evident that God has his own environmental water release program over which we have no control. It is currently working very well. In fact, much of the river red gum forests the Federal Government is talking about are still underwater from recent floods, which in some places were the worst in 50 years. The hundreds of small wetlands located along the Murrumbidgee River from Gundagai through to the Murray also are well catered for so far as water is concerned. The point I make is that this 150 gigalitres of water is virtually being wasted. It again points to the failure of successive governments in this State to build new water storage facilities.
Years ago the Green-leaning Bob Carr cancelled the Welcome Reef Dam proposal and more recently the last Green-leaning Labor Government in New South Wales, supported by the then Opposition and now Government, killed off the Tillegra Dam proposal to appease the Greens. The Greens anti-dam or anti-water storage facility stance landed this State with a billion dollar desalination plant which it seems today nobody wants. It is too expensive to run, but we all have to pay for it. We need to be smarter and more energetic about how we harvest and store our water. It is time to end the game whereby the hardworking irrigators are the ones who get it in the neck at the first sign of a water shortage by having their annual allocation lessened. Then in times of drought they have an allocation but they have no water to use. Yet they still have to pay massive standing charges for no water. The Federal Minister, in his media statement on this environmental water release, said:
… watering action is supported by local landholders with several private water holders contributing water to the Commonwealth and to NSW as part of the release.
He said this action uses water set aside for the environment and will not affect water allocations for local irrigators or stock and domestic users. We have to take him at his word. I wonder whether he has talked to any of the people he says support the release. The sooner we get on with new dam building projects in New South Wales the better. The State that built the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme should be able to put a few more big walls on rivers up and down this State—and do it properly in an environmentally conscious way—and at the same time make enough noise to drown out the bleating of the Greens, who oppose everything. This State does not lack water. As has been said many times by many commentators, it apparently lacks the political will to make the decisions to properly harvest and manage it.