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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 12 Hansard (13 November) . . Page.. 3491 ..

MR PRATT (continuing):

Assembly as much as is needed to ensure that we can pass a bill, the principles of which we all believe in.

I commend the bill to the Assembly.

Debate (on motion by Mr Stanhope ) adjourned to next sitting.

Building (Water Efficiency) Amendment Bill 2002

Mrs Dunne, pursuant to notice, presented the bill and its explanatory memorandum.

Title read by Clerk.

MRS DUNNE (10.46): I move:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

The European peoples who settled this dry and arid continent, for all their resourcefulness, have not been particularly mindful of water conservation. As great tracts of the country are succumbing to yet another savage drought, we are once more reminded of how fragile our environment is and how scarce our most precious resource is.

Let us never lose sight of just how much we depend on water. The Murray-Darling Basin, of which we are part, covers one-seventh of the continent of Australia, including New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory. The basin supports one-quarter of the cattle herd, half the sheep flock, half the crop land, and almost three-quarters of the irrigated land in Australia. Sixteen cities, including Adelaide and Canberra, as well as numerous other urban centres, rely on the rivers of the basin for their water supply. It, along with the Great Artesian Basin, represents life itself for this continent and all who live here.

Environmental flows have only recently come to our notice as a measure of the health of our rivers, and discussions of desirable levels make for hot political debate. Any suggestion of taking back some of the waters to restore environmental flows is met with cries of the economic consequences.

In the ACT it has been the policy of successive governments to leave 90 per cent of environmental flows for the rivers. By contrast, it is estimated that less than 20 per cent of the water of the Murray-Darling Basin system actually reaches the sea. At the same time, it is estimated that we need to restore 40 per cent of environmental flows before we can begin to have an impact on the health of the river system.

In terms of what we need for our cities and towns, the answer to decreasing supplies of fresh water is not to try to supply more. Human beings already use one-quarter of the earth's total water in natural circulation, and over half of the accessible run-off. New dams might make modest increases in available run-off, but they are costly and environmentally damaging. The reality is that no supply strategy can keep pace with the present rate of population growth and demand. This is the case certainly on a global basis, and it is even more acutely the case in a land as dry and arid as Australia.

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