Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

The Hon Tony Burke MP

Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Question without notice - Australia's water security

14 February 2013

GEOFF LYONS (MEMBER FOR BASS): My question is to the Minister for Water. Will the Minister update the House on the Government’s commitment to improving Australia’s water security? How have dams factored into the Government’s approach? And what kinds of issues need to be taken into account in the building, funding and approval of dams?

TONY BURKE (ENVIRONMENT MINISTER): Thanks Speaker. I want to thank both the Member for Bass and the Member for Riverina for their comments on that question.

It’s no surprise the question is coming from the Member for Bass though, he was aware of the whole Midlands Project that was done through Tasmania, the building of the Milford Dam, the building of the Headquarters Road Dam, establishing a new irrigation area through there.

Just as the Member for New England would be aware of the work we have done in augmenting the Chaffey Dam. Where you have got the correct location, where you have got the right proposal, there are occasions where the foot print of dams can be increased, done in a way that works and done in a way that is environmentally responsible.

When I read Simon Benson’s article today, I saw something that was neither economically nor environmentally nor in any way responsible but I will congratulate whomever wrote this document for breathtaking logic.

Because what they proposed in that document and what government policy absolutely rejects is that you can use your dams in this magical way that they will provide against drought, provide against flood and provide renewable energy. If you’re managing a dam to avoid drought, your dam has to be constantly full, if you’re managing your dam to avoid floods, you need to keep your dam empty and if you’re managing your dam to be able to provide hydroelectricity, you need to keep your dam flowing.

Only the Opposition could come up with a dams policy where they have dams that will be always full, always empty and always flowing.

But that’s what they decided to release. Let’s not forget what happened the last time there were major dams proposals in Australia. When the Traveston Dam was proposed, who was it that was there, in this Parliament and on the site, campaigning against the building of the Traveston Dam. It just may well have been the Leader of the National Party, there in the front line saying all the reasons why it is so bad to build a new dam.

So I thought maybe, maybe this is an occasion where the Opposition have had a rethink and they want to ditch their old view on this and they move forward. So I had a look at whether they have been out there in social media arguing in favour of the policy today.

Opposition  Leader hasn’t touched it, Shadow Minister for the Environment did something about Gotye last night and hasn’t gone near the policy today. But the member for Paterson did decide. Did decide to comment on the policy today. His tweet was to tell us that under no circumstances will there be a Tillegra dam.

The one thing, the one thing they are willing to back in is the old style opposition against dams which they have always followed because they have a policy that they have now put out that they want to run a million miles away from because they know when you promise everything to everyone  in every contradictory fashion its a policy that can not work.

GEOFF LYONS (MEMBER FOR BASS): In the Minister’s answer, he’s talked about some of the problems that can arise if dam policies are not implemented responsibly.  Can the Minister also outline the impacts this approach would have on consumers?

TONY BURKE (ENVIRONMENT MINISTER): Thanks Speaker I thank the member for Bass for the supplementary.

I wish the Member for Riverina had chimed in again but he has gone quieter now. The impact on how the opposition plan to pay for this is extraordinary. Because they have decided they have come up with this incredibly clever idea that must have sounded really smart around the table that industry will come in and it will be private investment that will pay and that way they don’t need to put down the dollars to fund it.

Now often roads are done in this way, but when roads are done  in this way, what does a private investor get back in the end? It’s called a toll. That’s how the return ends up being paid.

Now how do you pay the toll on private investment on a dam. One very simple way. What they have decided to launch in their policy is something that will be paid for every time someone receives a water bill. What they have decided in their policy is that if it’s in an agricultural area it will be the irrigators who pay for it every time they get their bill so what we now have is people will know exactly how they pay for the dams policy - for the 100 different dams proposal.

Let’s not forget in the whole of Australia we only have about 500 large dams. You add a 100 to that, people will sure know that its being done. They will know it every time they buy fresh fruit, every time they see the outcome of the increased prices for the farmers and they will know on domestic supply every time they get their water bill exactly where the policy lands