Former Labor parties would build dams, but not this one

Labor and the Greens went ahead and took out 450GL of water out of the Murray Darling Basin last year.

They like to say they are buying back water for the environment but nothing could be further from the truth.

The constant flooding of the river erodes the river banks and the red gums.

Furthermore the water runs out to the lower lakes where it just evaporates thanks to artificial concrete barriers that has destroyed the marine life in the lower lakes and caused salinity problems.

Chamber: Senate on 27/11/2023
Item: BILLS – Water Amendment (Restoring Our Rivers) Bill 2023 – Second Reading

Senator RENNICK (Queensland) (11:07): I rise today to speak on the Water Amendment (Restoring Our Rivers) Bill 2023 and to call out Labor for doing a deal with the devil, in the Greens, in agreeing to this plan. This plan is an utter disgrace. All I can say is that the Labor Party of old, and people like Ben Chifley, must be rolling in their graves. That’s because former Labor parties would actually build dams. It’s exactly what Ben Chifley did after World War II. He used to the sovereign powers act of the Constitution, under the national defence powers, and he actually undertook to build the Snowy Hydro plan. That plan took water from the Snowy River in southern New South Wales and Victoria and diverted it westwards so it could go into the Murray and the Murrumbidgee—basically, to start a food bowl in southern Australia. That was along the Murray basin and the Murrumbidgee basin so that we could have irrigation and provide certainty to our farmers as to water supply. That’s what you call nation-building vision. Yet here today, we have a Labor Party, in alliance with the Greens, that actually wants to destroy primary production in this country.

I notice that we have a South Australian senator in the chamber. Who actually knows what the current depth of Lake Alexandrina in South Australia is? Does anyone know? I know that Senator Grogan there was telling us that we didn’t know what we were talking about. I’ll tell her what the average depth of Lake Alexandrina is: it’s 0.85 metres, which is less than three feet deep. But this plan will take water out of the northern basin, including the Darling River, the Murray and the Murrumbidgee—it will take water away from the farmers—so that it can run all the way downstream to sit in the Lower Lakes in South Australia. Senator Grogan said, ‘We have to store water and protect water for future generations.’ Here’s a fact: water evaporates! If you don’t know about that, I think you should educate yourself. You should google ‘BOM evaporation map’ and you will get an evaporation map of Australia that looks like this. You will see that in the southern part of Australia, where the Lower Lakes are, evaporation occurs at two metres a year.

Senator Pratt: I rise on a point of order. I draw to your attention that Senator Rennick was using a prop, which is against the standing orders.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Allman-Payne ): I did notice, and I did indicate visually for the senator to put it down, which he did. Thank you. Senator Rennick.

Senator RENNICK: Of course, what we get here, when we start providing facts and figures, is that evaporation in the Lower Lakes is at two metres a year. Lake Alexandrina’s depth at the moment is 0.85 metres, so that will evaporate in less than six months.

There’s a way to solve all this, and that is to remove the lower barrages. The Lower Lakes, before settlement in Australia, were actually estuaries. They were more saltwater than freshwater. The only time they were more freshwater than saltwater was when there were big floods. So we need to be removing the barrages and letting the Lower Lakes return to their natural state. That is what we should be doing. That is the true way to protect the environment of the Lower Lakes. The idea that we would build massive dams and tunnels in southern New South Wales and push water from the east to the west, only to then let it run all the way down to Lake Alexandrina, where it’ll just evaporate, is absolutely absurd. We should be maximising the use of that water flow as it goes through the system. If anything, we should be building more dams, not fewer.

We should replicate the Snowy Hydro project about 1,500 kilometres north at a place above Grafton, where we’ve got the mighty Clarence, a beautiful river. It runs for 200 kilometres from north to south and then another hundred kilometres from south to north. Where it turns and runs out through Grafton and Yamba, you’ve got 300 kilometres of catchment of high rainfall. It’s one of the few rivers in Australia on the eastern seaboard that runs north to south, parallel with the Great Dividing Range, so it maintains its height. All you’ve got to do is build a 10-kilometre tunnel to push that water into Copeton Dam and get it out into the Gwydir River. That is a much smarter idea. People will often talk about bringing water down from North Queensland into the southern basin. That won’t work. There’s way too much evaporation for that water to get there.

If you really want to protect the environment and get more water into the Murray-Darling Basin, why wouldn’t you divert some of the waters, like Ben Chifley and the Labor Party—the real, blue-collar Labor Party that no longer exists—did after World War II? It’s become a green, Marxist ideology party of the elite, rather than looking after the workers. Why wouldn’t you divert the water from the Clarence into the Gwydir? The beauty of the Gwydir is that it comes in above the Macquarie Marshes. That’s another issue. Not many people realise that a lot of water sits in the Macquarie Marshes, so you could keep more water in the Macquarie Marshes from the upper part of the Macquarie River, which, interestingly enough, starts at Bathurst and runs all the way up to Bourke. But, no, that’s not what the Labor Party and the Greens want to do. They don’t want to build this country and build more dams. Labor is the same party that has an immigration rate of 500,000 people a year. If you want to increase the population by that much through high immigration, you have to feed these people. Not only are Labor trying to overpopulate Australia; they’re going to starve us at the same time, because they’re trying to shut down the very food bowls that feed us. The absurdity of this legislation is that it is completely ineffectual. Not only is it ineffectual through evaporation; it’s going to destroy our very food bowl.

We also see that $100 million will be provided to Aboriginal First Nations people. They’re going to get an allotment of $100 million. There’s been no explanation of how that money is going to be spent. I’d like to see how much of that ends up on bureaucrats and not out there in the regions where it could be useful. Then the water holders are going to have to do up a plan to demonstrate how they liaised with First Nations Aboriginal people as to how they use that water. That’s more regulation. They’re losing their water supply, and now they’re going to have to deal with all this extra regulation. Why you would want to be a farmer anymore or to be in any small business in this country is beyond me. The amount of bureaucratic regulation—red tape, green tape, black tape, blue tape; you name it—is choking entrepreneurship in this country. It is choking innovation.

The other thing that really grinds my gears when it comes to water rights in this country is the fact that, three years ago, our own tax office ruled that the sale of water rights by foreigners is not subject to capital gains. How does that work? We should be bringing in legislation in here today that says that sale of water rights by foreigners is subject to capital gains. Even better than that, we should just stop foreigners owning water rights altogether. Those water rights belong to the Australian people and should be used, first and foremost, by our farmers and our irrigators, and what’s left, we can divvy it out with the environment. But, if you want to solve the Murray-Darling problem and have a growing population, we need to be putting water in the system, not taking it out.

There is another reason why we should have dams. I noticed Senator Hanson-Young said: ‘The river’s dying. I saw some dead fish.’ You’ve got to love this stuff. The lack of expertise and knowledge in this Senate about how our river system works is absolutely appalling. Those dead fish are a result of a blackwater event. These things happen all the time. We live in a country where we have droughts followed by floods followed by droughts. What happens when we have floods that follow a drought is that all the debris flows down the river and chokes up the river. That kills the fish. That’s been going on for thousands of years. It’s nothing to do with climate change or anything like that. I’ll read what the Murray-Darling Basin Authority has to say about managing blackwater events:

Flooding that leads to blackwater events is a natural feature of Australian river systems, limiting the capacity to prevent and manage negative impacts.

Frequency or severity of such events can be reduced by managing water systems …

So how about we have dams that store water in floods and let the water flow down the river in dry periods? We couldn’t do that, could we? We couldn’t do what the former Labor prime ministers used to do, and that’s because the Labor Party of today isn’t the Labor Party of yesteryear, that’s for sure.

The document goes on to say that we can ‘ensure adequate flows to reoxygenate the water’. Wow! Listen to this: ‘During blackwater events, downstream systems also benefit from organic inputs once the water has reoxygenated.’ There’s a lesson there for our senators who seem to think that a dead fish means the river is dying. That’s a natural cycle. It’s a natural part of the cycle. If you see a dead branch in the forest, it doesn’t mean that the forest is dying. It just means that one branch has fallen off a tree. To somehow claim that because you’re seeing dead fish that’s the end of it and the Murray-Darling is all over is absolutely absurd, but that’s what we are dealing with in this chamber. We are dealing with intellectual pygmies who don’t have a clue about managing water. They have no idea about managing water and no idea about evaporation rates. In the middle of Australia, the evaporation rate is four metres. Around the Menindee Lakes, it’s three metres a year. That’s half the depth of the Menindee Lakes. That’s another thing we hear people say: ‘Oh, the Menindee Lakes have run dry.’ They’re ephemeral lakes. They run dry in droughts. That’s what happens. But every time we have a drought, we hear, ‘The Menindee Lakes are drying up.’

We must not take the 450 gigalitres from the farmers who feed us. We don’t have a manufacturing industry in this country, thanks to the Hawke-Keating government of the eighties that introduced the Button plan that destroyed manufacturing, and it looks like the Albanese government is now going to destroy primary production by, effectively, destroying our ability to control water. The foundation of civilisation was when man learned to control water by getting stable water flows and by building dams in the Tigris, the Euphrates and the Indus Valley. This is where our ancient civilisation began. This was when the neolithic revolution began, and it was because they were able to store and manage water. It was by damming water, by being able to put water aside for when we have droughts in Australia—which we do because our climate is very much like the Middle East was back at the time of the Neolithic Revolution. We need to be able to do this. We are a marginal country. Once you go west of the Great Dividing Range it is marginal country—it is marginal rainfall. We need to increase the certainty of water supply, and the way we do that is by building dams and managing water, and letting the Lower Lakes—and I will call out my colleague Senator McLachlan because he needs an education. The average depth of the Lower Lakes is—I will repeat it—0.85 metres, with two metres of evaporation a year. The best way to manage those lakes is to let the seawater back in and remove those barrages.

It is completely absurd: we have all of this infrastructure in the Snowy Hydro scheme that diverts water, which runs all the way down to South Australia where it sits in in a great big lake and evaporates away in six months. That is completely absurd. We need to keep that water for our farmers. It is our farmers who feed us. Without being able to control your water, without irrigation, this country will starve, as will our primary production. I say, shame on Labor and the Greens to be wasting money on buying back water when that money should be building dams on the eastern seaboard and pushing it westwards back into the Murray-Darling. That will put water into the system. That will add water to the system. It can be a win-win: you can have more water for environmental flows and you can have more water for irrigation. How do you lose there?

Under this scheme, we’re going to cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions—if not billions—of dollars, we’re going to lose our food source and we’re going to let this valuable water run down to South Australia and sit in Lake Alexandria only to evaporate in six months. As a Queenslander, I resent the fact for every 11 litres of water that crosses the border from the Murray-Condamine Basin, only one litre makes it through to South Australia. The other 10 litres evaporate on the way down because it’s so hot and dry through there. It’s absolute madness. I suggest the people on the other side of the chamber do a geography lesson, learn a little bit about elevations and evaporation and the way our rivers flow, and look at building and protecting our Murray-Darling system, not destroying it.

Image: ABC








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