Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia) (1:00 PM) -This Saturday, South Australian voters will face a real choice when they go to the polls in our state election, a choice between continuing the 15 years of shallow, spinning leadership by Mike Rann or the straight-talking real action of Isobel Redmond. Today I want to highlight three key areas that South Australian voters need to be aware of as they go to the polls. I want to highlight Labor’s outrageous refusal to countenance making full use of our stormwater resources, Mike Rann’s godlike claims to have made the rivers run to South Australia and, finally, Labor’s dirty deals on upper house preferences in the Legislative Council election.
Firstly, to stormwater, and it is no surprise to anybody that water remains the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 priorities for South Australian voters. Water has been for a long time and still is, rightly, the top priority in the minds of everybody. But, just as it was with desalination, national management of the Murray and anything else to do with water management, Mike Rann and the state Labor Party have had to be dragged kicking and screaming to even consider what they might choose to do on stormwater management.
The Liberal Party have led this debate. Isobel Redmond has outlined details of plans for stormwater capture, stormwater storage and stormwater use. Under her stormwater plan, 89 billion litres will be added to our water supply-treated, safe water fit for consumption-reducing pressure on the Murray and irrigators.
Senator McEwen -At what cost?
Senator BIRMINGHAM -You might oppose it, Senator McEwen, but indeed so do your state Labor colleagues. What did the South Australian environment minister and stand-in water minister-when you are too ashamed to have the federal party minister out speaking for you-Jay Weatherill have to say on 8 February about stormwater use? He said:
We are not going to do it …
We will never do it.
We are not going to be having people drinking road run-off.
He was joined by the health minister, John Hill, on 16 February, who said:
This is a potentially dangerous and poorly conceived plan by the Liberals that could put the health of South Australians at risk.
Mike Rann, Jay Weatherill and John Hill have turned what should be a sensible debate and dialogue and discussion about stormwater into a dirty scare campaign. That is what they have tried to bring this debate down to-a dirty scare campaign.
Let us look at the evidence. Recycled stormwater that has been purified of contaminants has been used and demonstrated in South Australia already by the City of Salisbury Council working in conjunction with the CSIRO. The CSIRO has developed and demonstrated purification processes to drinking standard. The aquifer storage, transfer and recovery process is proved by the CSIRO in its paper, What is Recharge? Turning stormwater into drinking water, which says:
The Salisbury project shows the potential for treated stormwater to go into the main supply.
In another publication, The Science of Providing Water Solutions for Australia, the CSIRO says that adding treated stormwater to main supplies is ‘cheaper, more energy efficient and has a lower carbon footprint’ than desalination.
The Environment Protection and Heritage Council, the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council’s National Water Quality Management Strategy document, Australian guidelines for water recycling, managing health and environmental risk, and augmentation of drinking water supplies, states:
Highly treated stormwater can be used as a source for drinking water augmentation.
The CEO of the National Water Commission stated that ‘all options should be on the table’ and that we certainly should be ‘encouraged to have an open mind’ with regard to the use of stormwater. Far from an open mind, far from listening to the CSIRO, the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Environment Protection and Heritage Council, Premier Rann, Minister Weatherill and Minister Hill obviously have closed minds. Never mind that it may already be happening or underway or under development in Iowa in the US, Milford, Santiago, California, Essex in England, Singapore or in South Africa-no, they have closed minds and they say they will never do it, never consider it.
That is an outrageous proposition. The water minister, South Australian Senator Wong, should be condemning her state colleagues, particularly her factional friend Minister Weatherill for his gross irresponsibility in ruling out the use of stormwater and for his failure to accept that we should pursue every option to maximise our water efficiency and reduce our reliance on the River Murray. We should never say never to any option. Yet that is exactly what Rann Labor are doing when it comes to stormwater. Far from educating people, they choose to scare them. It is an irresponsible election tactic and I trust the South Australian people will see through it.
I trust they will also see through the latest claims on floodwaters, the claims by Mike Rann that he has a godlike ability to make it rain and that he can shift the waters to South Australia. He got the front page in the Advertiser yesterday saying that he had stitched up a deal that ‘waters would flow’. He said on ABC radio yesterday morning:
New South Wales did not have to give up one single drop of water to us. But it’s about negotiating, it’s about doing the hard yards, it’s about actually going out there and doing deals which are about benefiting our state.
This claimed deal by Premier Rann is nothing more than a stitch-up between Labor mates. It is a stopgap headline by Premier Rann’s Labor mate premiers in New South Wales and Queensland to see him through an election. Indeed, it was exposed as a stitch-ed-up deal by none other than the chief executive of the Department of Premier and Cabinet yesterday, the head of Premier Rann’s own department, who released a statement that said:
The newspaper report is inaccurate to the extent that no deal has been done. Rather, the release announces negotiations that will be ongoing with officials to be involved in the water volume calculations and release mechanisms. While the Public Service has not been involved in these specific negotiations to date, I expect that to occur.
That is quite transparently a Labor Party stitch-up-a discussion between Premier Rann and Premier Keneally, possibly of no further substance than that. No documentation could be released because no documentation exists. There is nothing more here than a shallow attempt by the Labor Party to get Premier Rann out of trouble by saying he has some water that in reality he has nothing to do with. It is not just that there was no deal on this water; the reality is that this water will flow anyway and the prior deals show that Premier Rann had left South Australia exposed to a very bad situation. He struck a deal earlier this year on some early floodwaters that eventuated in December and January. But on that deal the New South Wales government, in its own paperwork that it released in February this year, stated:
If there were to be additional inflows into the Menindee Lakes from a subsequent event, the NSW Office of Water would surcharge Lake Wetherell and Lake Pamamaroo to 609 GL.
Then depending on the additional volumes, would divert water into Lake Menindee and Lake Cawndilla if the volume would ensure a minimum of 400 to 500 GL in these lakes.
That is from documentation released by the New South Wales Office of Water earlier this year that demonstrates quite transparently that, in the event of further floods, their intention was to fill up the Menindee Lakes system first. All four of those lakes would be filled first and South Australia could be kept waiting. On Monday the New South Wales Office of Water released a further statement, saying that, while it is too early to estimate the total volumes that will pass into the Barwon-Darling River, the early assessment is that there will clearly be enough to justify directing water into Lake Menindee. The statement said that in the coming days water will commence flowing from Lake Pamamaroo into Lake Menindee for the first time since 2002. Clearly, Mike Rann was panicked when at 9 am on Monday the New South Wales Office of Water announced it was going to start filling the remainder of the Menindee Lakes. He needed a quick political solution, and that is when he got on the phone to his Labor Premier mates. That is when he struck his deal that is not written down anywhere, has not been discussed by any of the public servants and does not really exist.
The real problem for Premier Rann is that anybody who understands geography and the natural flow of water would realise that this water was going to come to South Australia anyway. The Bureau of Meteorology estimates that the run-off from the Queensland floods is some 6,215 gigalitres. That is more than six trillion litres of water. The Menindee Lakes system can only take another 1,100 gigalitres. Lake Victoria can take less than 200 gigalitres. So, even allowing for evaporation, irrigation take-off, seepage and all the losses that would occur along the way, the simple truth is that this water was going to have nowhere else to go but downstream. There is probably so much of it that it will have to flow into South Australia. It is actually nature doing its job, geography doing its job and gravity doing its job. It has nothing to do with whatever Premier Mike Rann might claim that he has been doing.
Finally, I would like to reflect on the dirty preference deals the Labor Party has stitched up for its South Australian Legislative Council race. I credit voters with plenty of intelligence. They usually get it right. Sometimes, unfortunately, they realise in retrospect that they have elected the wrong body. But I accept that at the time they might have been thinking about wanting to change-and, of course, they will come to regret it later on. I accept that voters have plenty of intelligence, but they are quite often time poor. Having made their decision when they go to the ballot box, they want to get in and out of there as quickly as possible. That is fine when it comes to voting in lower house elections. They have to allocate every preference and they at least are responsible for how those preferences are allocated. But for upper house elections in South Australia, as for this chamber, they have the choice of voting above the line. The voters do not allocate their preferences in the overwhelming majority of instances; the parties or the candidates allocate the voters’ preferences for them once they choose to put that ‘1’ above the line.
Therefore, it is of grave concern when dirty deals appear to have been struck that will deliberately distort the voters’ intent. Several such examples exist from the lodgement of tickets for the South Australian Legislative Council election. We have an Independent running in support of an independent commission against corruption. An Independent for an ICAC. The South Australian Liberal Party has for a long period of time had a clear-cut policy supporting the establishment of an ICAC. Mike Rann opposes it. So where do you think the Independent who supports an ICAC might direct their preferences? To the Liberal Party? No. They directed them to the Labor Party, to the very party that opposes the policy platform on which the candidate is standing. It is an outrageous concept that that Independent is flicking their preferences off to a party that is standing for the polar opposite of what they stand for.
The Fair Land Tax-Tax Party, a party that has been taking out full-page advertisements attacking the Rann government over the extent of land tax is, lo and behold, preferencing the Labor Party ahead of the Liberal Party in the Legislative Council election. So the party that has overseen a massive increase in land tax is getting the preferences of a party that is campaigning against land tax.
Senator Mason -How does that work? It’s outrageous.
Senator BIRMINGHAM -It is an outrageous proposition indeed, Senator Mason. But the most amazing thing of all-and you will like this, Madam Deputy President Cash-involves the Independent Climate Sceptics, who have drawn column A on the Legislative Council ballot paper. The material from the Independent Climate Sceptics makes it pretty clear that they believe that an emissions trading scheme will never, ever prevent climate change; that extra CO2 makes the earth greener, with extra plant growth; that climate change is natural and warmer periods occur without human CO2 emissions being the cause; that CO2 increases rarely correlate with the earth’s temperature rising and that any correlation is therefore incidental; and that the alarmist theories propounded by the IPCC and other political bodies are crippled by huge uncertainties. Not only are they the mob that are preferencing the Labor Party ahead of the Liberal Party but-wait for it!-the Labor Party is preferencing the Independent Climate Sceptics ahead of not just the Liberal Party but the Save RAH Party. So a group of doctors with whom you might disagree on policy but who care about our health system and are campaigning on that are less worthy of Labor Party preferences than the Independent Climate Sceptics. This is the party that Senator Wong used to be the state president of.
Senator Hurley interjecting-
Senator BIRMINGHAM -Indeed, Senator Hurley, you can take credit as well, if you like. The Minister for Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Water is the most senior minister represented in the Labor Party in South Australia, yet her party has decided to preference the Independent Climate Sceptics higher on the list than a bunch of active and concerned doctors on policy matters. This is outrageous.
These preference deals are constructed by fraudsters and charlatans; people who want to distort the will of voters. They are in bed with the Labor Party. Going into this election the voters need to be aware that, if they choose to vote above the line for any of these organisations that are in bed with the Labor Party, their vote may end up where they least expect it to end up. They may have concerns about climate science, an independent commission against corruption or land tax but, despite those concerns, their votes could well end up supporting Labor Party candidates who stand for the polar opposite of what those voters are supporting. Let the voter beware.