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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 7 Hansard (5 June) . . Page.. 1969 ..

MS DUNNE (continuing):

Murray-Darling Basin and the artesian basin. He put it fairly bluntly when he said that there had been "an incredible and reckless waste of water over the past 120 years". There are countless examples of this sort of chilly doomsday analysis.

Recently, a Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry report gave this bleak assessment:

Inefficient and inappropriate water use has created problems of national significance: rising water tables, increased salinity of groundwater and soil, decreased quality of surface water, increased incidence of algal bloom and degradation of coastal waters.

The Murray-Darling Basin Commission said:

At the present rates at which groundwater levels are rising, most of the irrigation areas in the southern section of the Basin will have water tables within two metres of the surface by the year 2020. Where sub-soils contain large volumes of salt, salinated water begins to poison vegetation when the water tables rise within two metres of the surface. In many parts of the Basin this has already happened.

The commission's Dryland Technical Report No 1 of 1997 observed matter-of-factly that within the Murray-Darling drainage division at least 2,000 square kilometres of land was grossly affected by dryland salination and it was expected that that would rise to 10,000 square kilometres by 2010. What that means is that roughly a thousand square kilometres of Australia is being lost to salination every year. As someone put it to me recently, if we were losing 1,000 square kilometres of our coast every year as a result of erosion or something like that, we would do something about it. But we are not prepared to do anything about this salination problem and we do not have the will to go on.

As the Victorian Auditor-General said last year:

Once salinity severely pollutes the land and the waterways, its removal may become financially prohibitive leading to a major environmental problem for all future generations.

Mr Deputy Speaker, to date we have failed notably and abysmally to develop anything resembling a national water policy.

During the previous federal election, John Howard signalled that water policy would become a priority and other members of the government, including John Anderson, have embraced that. The idea was given significant momentum with the likes of the former premier Jeff Kennett weighing in and Dick Pratt's considerable contributions in the course of this year. But I fear that, despite a wealth of good intentions, the idea-and most assuredly this time has come-will continue to be mired in the politics of water; politics with big players, entrenched vested interests and an increasingly bemused public. Nothing is changing because many of the solutions are unthinkable.

Mr Deputy Speaker, when I spoke on this matter previously I drew attention to the appalling plight of the Mallee and other places as a result of salination. On a number of occasions I have spoken at some length about the inappropriateness of some of the crops

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