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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 12 Hansard (13 November) . . Page.. 3502 ..

MS DUNDAS (continuing):

Australia is a dry continent. Our water resources are particularly precious and need to be used sparingly for urban and agricultural uses, for our environmental health as well. Mrs Dunne has previously gone so far as to say that we should reconsider having a rice-growing industry in Australia.

On a more positive note: the ACT government is part of the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council, which is doing some excellent work in water management, although this initiative needs more support and more funding. Governments need to look at stopping land clearing, at better clarification of water rights and at reforming taxation systems to reflect the full costs of food production.

I am happy to endorse increased government funding of drought prevention activities and improving our water management capabilities. Indeed, if Australia is going to meet its sustainability objectives, this is crucial to the future development of our nation. But I am far from convinced that the best use of ACT government funds is donating them to a corporate-sponsored charity.

I constantly hear that farmers are not interested in hand-outs. Nor do they wish to rely on charity for their livelihoods. Our agricultural producers need government assistance to restructure their industries to be able to cope with periods of low rainfall, not a donation or a hand-out every time rain does not fall.

I am glad that the opposition agrees that there is room for additional spending initiatives in the ACT budget. However, I believe that any additional spending initiatives around this area could be better directed at improving our water usage pattern within the ACT. If the opposition was thinking a little bit more environmentally, they would realise that our water usage here has effects downstream in the Murrumbidgee and Murray river systems and that reduced water consumption in Canberra will mean more water for both farmers and the environment.

The ACT spends very little on water policy compared to other jurisdictions. I understand that we have only one member of staff working on this area within Environment ACT. The fact that Canberrans used millions of litres of water washing their cars after the recent dust storms shows that there is still a long way to go in educating the community in Canberra about the efficient use of water. We can decrease water use in numerous ways, such as by developing grey water recycling and water efficient construction, even the ways Mrs Dunne suggested in the bill she introduced this morning.

In summary, there is huge scope for governments to improve agricultural industries that are now suffering from decades of environmental abuse and water mismanagement. There is scope for the ACT government to spend more on developing a more sophisticated water policy and reducing our current water usage. But I believe that making a donation to the Farmhand Foundation will not be an effective use of ACT resources, when there are so many more pressing priorities in both water management and social environmental services. As a result, the ACT Democrats will not be supporting this motion.

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