On the pages of The Australian Financial Review on November 16, 2010, Sydney barrister Jospehine Kelly wrote that:
“No one in federal Parliament is being honest with the people of the Murray-Darling basin and the Australian pubilc. The Water Act puts the environment first when allocating water to the basin.
“Social and economic considerations are not relevant to deciding how much water the environment needs. Water available for human use is what is left…”
Today Senator Barnaby Joyce forced a Senate inquiry into the Water Act with the support of independents Senator Fielding and Senator Xenophon. The inquiry is to determine whether in fact the Act does provide an equal balance between economic, social and environmental factors – or not.
According to a media release from Senator Joyce:
“It was clear from when the Guide to the proposed Basin Plan was released last October that it was based on a process which took care of the environment first and counted the bodies later.
“Since then, the former Chair of the Murray Darling Basin Authority, Mike Taylor, constitutional law expert Professor George Williams and Professor Judith Sloan all agree that the environment takes primacy under the Water Act 2007.
“It is contemptuous in the extreme for elected politicians to ignore the reasonable demands of their constituents for answers. Both Labor and the Coalition have promised a triple-bottom line that is an equal balance between economic, social and environmental factors. The Labor Party’s refusal to even look at whether the Act provides this questions their seriousness to a triple-bottom line commitment.
“I have been calling for a Parliamentary inquiry into the Water Act for three months.
“At the start of this debate Minister Crean stated: That guide [the Guide to the proposed Basin Plan] was limited because the terms of reference it got in the very first instance … didn’t allow for sufficient consideration of what’s referred to as the socio-economic consequences; in short hand the human cost.
It is quite amazing then that 3 months on the Labor Party is one of the last holdouts against the need to look into the Act. What explains this amazing reversal? It might have less to do with the Act and more do with the need to protect their alliance with the Greens.
“I wrote to Mr Windsor on the 28 October 2011 suggesting that his inquiry look into the Water Act. I have yet to receive a response.
“The fact the Mr Windsor has spent the last couple of months saying that he didn’t vote for the Act but won’t investigate whether the Act should be changed defies any sense. How do we reconcile the statement the Act is not worth voting for but, at the same time, the Act is worth defending to the death?
“What is absolutely amazing is the option- in, option-out approach to transparency that the Greens have.
“The Senate inquiry now provides an opportunity for everyone involved in the Murray-Darling Basin reform, and the legal minds with the expertise, to provide practical solutions to improve the Act and insulate it against court challenge.
“I encourage everyone to get involved in making a real difference in delivering outcomes that protect Australians’ access to cheap, affordable food, maintains the family farm for generations and guarantees the health of our environment.”
The inquiry will report by 11 May 2011.
Click on the image for a clear view of the advice from Senator Joyce to the Senate.