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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 4 Hansard (11 April) . . Page.. 1066 ..

MRS DUNNE (continuing):

One of the things that we have to remember is that the Murray-Darling Basin supports one-quarter of the cattle herd, half the sheep flock, half the crop land and three-quarters of the irrigated land in Australia and supports 16 major cities, including Canberra and Adelaide, and numerous other urban centres. We know that the Murray-Darling Basin is being transformed by salinity and low flows from an oasis into a wasteland. In our lifetime we are seeing how human activity can impact on a highly productive, but nevertheless fragile, environment and we are at risk of losing it forever. We have seen much in the 100 years of operation of the Murray-Darling Basin, but in many ways it seems to me that the ventures in the Murray-Darling Basin have been a triumph of hope over experience.

The recent state of the environment report issued at Parliament House was very grim on the state of our salinity and the failure of institutional arrangements to be effective in meeting environmental and heritage management issues. We should not underestimate the great work that is done by the staff and committees that make up the Murray-Darling Basin Commission, but it is hopelessly mired by interstate politics, rivalries and inefficient decision-making processes. The Jagiellonian veto that is part of the structure tends towards the status quo as the only acceptable means.

When I made these comments some time ago, I drew the attention of the audience to the adverse impact that irrigation, particularly the irrigation of rice, has on the basin. I have asked the minister for the environment to take these comments with him to the Murray-Darling Basin Commission. He has undertaken to do so. We should be looking at a rural adjustment scheme to phase out the production of rice in Australia. To do that, I should illustrate what a thirsty crop rice is.

To produce one dollar's worth of rice in the husk takes 7,459 litres of water. If we were buying that in the ACT, a dollar's worth of rice would cost $7.59 to produce. Rice is a thirsty crop and we must ask ourselves whether its production is sustainable, whether it is a judicious use of water and whether it is an appropriate management practice. When I made these comments some time ago the rice industry, understandably, was angry; but I made the point at the time that I was not blaming the rice growers. The rice growers are the victims, just as much as the land of Australia is the victim, of this practice.

Although the rice industry has been very vociferous and has undertaken to inundate my office with complaints, I can report to the Assembly that I have had one phone call, one fax and one email criticising my stance, but wherever I go I am constantly confronted by Canberrans who support my stance and who encourage me and encourage the people in this place to think actively and creatively about water conservation issues. Wherever I go and whenever I open my emails, from Shellharbour to Castlemaine, I find somebody has rung or written to me to support this approach. It is now time, as we are talking about radical action, for all legislators to take radical action on salinity and water issues for the future agricultural benefit of all in Australia.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

The Assembly adjourned at 6.25 pm until Tuesday, 7 May 2002, at 10.30 am

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