Morrison Government at war with itself on water

By Terri Butler MP

24 June 2021

What is going on with this government? If you can't govern yourself, you can't govern the nation.

It's about time this government got its act together. It is unbelievable that less than one day after the new Deputy Prime Minister was sworn in, having knifed the former Deputy Prime Minister, the Nationals in the Senate were moving amendments against their own government's legislation. Now, today, we are seeing the Nationals Whip saying that he's going to be moving amendments, presumably surprise amendments, against the government's legislation as well.

What is going on with this country and with this government? It is chaos. It is absolute chaos, and the people who will suffer will be all of the people who rely on the Murray-Darling Basin, the people who rely on the health of the rivers—and that's all Australians, because the Murray-Darling Basin is of incredible economic significance to our country. It's of significance because of agriculture, it's of significance because of regional communities, it's of significance because of Aboriginal communities, and it's of significance because Australians care about the natural environment that relies on these rivers being healthy. And you people cannot seem to get your act together on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which is fundamental and underpins the health of these rivers.

Instead of having stable government, instead of having what we've been told is commitment to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which is a commitment to deliver the 450 gigalitres—of which, by the way, about two gigalitres have actually been delivered—a tiny, tiny fraction has been delivered. Instead of the stability, the commitment, the reassurance, we have the National Party Whip saying he's going to move amendments to undermine the plan, to shred the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. That's what is happening in this government. That's what is happening right now, before our eyes. We are here in this chamber seeing an unfolding debacle, and it has been a debacle after debacle after debacle sort of week, hasn't it? It's been an absolute disgrace of a week. I cannot actually believe that this government is allowing itself to be so divided, to be so chaotic and to be so reckless about this incredibly important environmental community and economic asset. People up and down South Australia and people up and down the entire country are now looking to this government and saying, 'What is going on?'

Why do we have to have a situation where amendments like this are being sprung on the House because the National Party are trying to sort out their own internals? Why are we spending our time on this internal issue, where we see a senator for Victoria, Senator McKenzie, just trying to get her spot back in the cabinet? Why is it that we have to be in a situation where the Liberals have been so absolutely unable to get a handle on the National Party? I say to the Prime Minister, wherever he might be right now, it's about time you face up to the fact that you cannot allow the National Party to retain the water portfolio. It's about time that the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party stand up to the fact that they cannot allow the National Party to retain this portfolio.

We saw the member for Sturt yesterday stand up and claim that he was going to stand up for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Well, have a word to your Liberal colleagues and get them to finally stop this incredibly important portfolio being handed to the National Party. Until you do that, it's just crocodile tears from the Liberal Party. It's nothing but crocodile tears. The Liberals from South Australia cannot be trusted on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Just like the Liberal minister for water in South Australia, he has managed to completely undermine the 450 gigalitres that's of such significant importance to South Australians. Just like their state counterparts, the Liberals from South Australia are unable to take control and to get a handle on what's happening in the Murray-Darling Basin. They are unable to stand up for South Australians, and they are certainly unable to do anything about the fact that, because of the internals of the coalition, because of secret coalition deals where these sorts of arrangements are agreed to, because of all of those things, the National Party gets control of water.

And what happens when we see the National Party get control of water? We see this circus happening in our nation's parliament. It's about time that some things happened in this place to support the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. It's all well and good to say that you're committed to the plan. It's all well and good to say you will deliver on the plan on time and in full. That's all well and good, but these are just words unless they are backed up by actions. So we have called on the government to actually make sure that someone is in charge of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan who can be trusted to stand up for it, and that means taking it off the National Party.

Due respect to the minister, this week's complete debacle has shown that the Nationals cannot be trusted on water. And when I asked the Deputy Prime Minister about this the other day in question time, he said, 'Oh, we're just listening.' You're not 'just listening'. What you are doing is fundamentally shredding the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, and it is Australians and Australian communities who will pay the price. You're pitting farmer against farmer and state against state, and you should be ashamed. (Time expired)