WATER SUPPLIES (CRITICAL NEEDS) BILL 2019 - Second reading debate

I speak on the Water Supply (Critical Needs) Bill 2019. It is a critical need that we have in this State, unfortunately, because three years ago all of our dams and reservoirs across New South Wales were full. Now we have a situation, due to this Government's appalling management of water in this State, where whole communities have been going without water for some time. According to the Government, up to 80 towns in this State are at risk of running out of water, if they have not already. In fact, Murrurundi, just up the road from my electorate of Maitland, has been without water for six months. This should never have been allowed to happen.

I refer to the comments of the member for Dubbo. We on this side of the House recognise the urgency of this issue. The question we are all asking and that is being asked out in the communities is, why has it taken so long for this Government to start making plans for critical water shortages? Again, the member for Dubbo said in his speech that if there was no management, there would be no water. If that is the bar or key performance indicator of water management, that at least there is a little bit of water in the State so we have been managing it well, we understand now why we are in the mess that we are in.

After the Millennium Drought we saw improved infrastructure, for example, in the main water supply for more than 24,000 people in the Goulburn area. That is now three-quarters full. A dam and a pipeline were built there by joint cooperation between the State and Federal governments after lobbying by the council.

What has this Government been doing about all of the other areas that we know are in crisis? What has it been doing for the past nine years?

Broadly, the bill will allow the Government to fast‑track approval processes for listed water infrastructure and dam projects for a period of two years, with a one-year option. Labor is pleased to see the Government finally trying to do something to clean up its mess. The fact that it has not been able to build a dam since it came to government in 2011 is a shameful disgrace.

During question time the other day, the Deputy Premier boasted about a biodiversity offset project at Nimmitabel, calling it a dam that had been built by this Government. Quite clearly, that project does not meet the definition of a dam, which shows the Government's complete lack of understanding—or its wilful misleading of this House. This is just situation normal for The Nationals.

We know that the Government wants to shortcut its processes. It was interesting to hear the member for Dubbo talk about bipartisanship. On every rural issue that the Government has dealt with in the past six months it has shown no bipartisanship. We are looking down the barrel of that again with this bill. The Government just does not get that it has to work with the whole community on this matter and that the whole community is depending on it.

The member for Dubbo can talk about people having teams; there is one team and it is team New South Wales. We know that it is a complex matter to manage, and in its report earlier this year the Natural Resources Commission showed quite clearly that this Liberal-Nationals Government has failed to do so. What the Government is asking for in this bill that is of such great concern to Labor is to bypass that process.

How can the Government talk about having a bipartisan approach to the management of water on one hand, and on the other hand say that it wants to be able to amend legislation by regulation without bringing it back to this place? It is saying, "We're going to play with you on the field. We're going to get in our team colours and we're going to sort this all out, but actually we're going to make all the decisions in the change rooms and just come and tell you what we've done later on."

That is just not acceptable. If the Government had any reputation or any kudos or support from the community for its capacity to manage water in this State, we might give it the benefit of the doubt. But when it has done such a shocking job—a job that is so severely impacting on our regions—we cannot say, "Yes, sure, do what you like." That is why are seeking some clarification in the amendments that have been foreshadowed by the shadow Minister.

It is really clear that if this is what the Government talks about as a crisis, and if it is asking us to give it a blank cheque to make the changes to legislation it wants to make without coming back to this place, the shadow Minister is right. We know that people make mistakes when they are under pressure, when they are doing things on the hop and when it is all critical.

This Government has only now woken up to the fact that this is critical. If we look at the Government's performance when it was ignoring the drought and ignoring the issues that were being faced by people in our regions, it was woeful. What will it be like when the Government is under pressure? I am really concerned about that.

I am also concerned as shadow Minister for tourism. The member for Summer Hill mentioned how Tamworth is trying to deal with its water shortages and what it needs to do. We know that our regional towns are dying without water. We know that the primary industries and tourism industries are dying. We have talked to people in Broken Hill who have had to say to tourists wanting to visit, "No, you don't have to bring your own bottle of water."

This Government has failed at every step to provide water and management plans or to do anything to ensure that communities can survive this dreadful drought. The Government is not good at this and it should not have our blanket approval to do whatever it likes.

The other point I make relates to the idea that if we truncate the Environmental Impact Statement [EIS] process everything will be alright. Dams are not pop-up infrastructure. The EIS process is there to ensure that they get built properly. Also, there will be time taken in the construction. There will be time taken in the filling. This Government has no pathway for those processes to happen.

Labor recommends very careful consideration of this bill. We agree that we need to support our regional communities. We want people in our regional towns to have water; it is vital to life. But we have to be very careful when we set up a precedent that allows the Government to bypass or truncate existing requirements in the approvals and construction process.

We also need to make sure that if mistakes are made—which we know, based on the Government's record, is most likely to happen—we will not cut people off from compensation that is fair for them. We need to be very clear about what limitations the Government will impose on compensation for unintended consequences.

It is not really good at that either. The Government has to be held accountable for its decisions. If we give the Government a blank cheque, if we say, "There is no jeopardy in this for you," we cannot trust it to get it right. To some degree this legislation is necessary because we know we are running out of water.

Labor's concern is that the Government should have acted more quickly. It should do things properly. We should not be where we are now. It is a disgrace and a shame on the Government.

#DebatingLegislation #WaterSupply #Drought #waterinfrastructure #dam #EnvironmentalImpactStatement #regionalNSW #Farming #Agriculture #JennyAitchisonMP