Mr WHETSTONE (Chaffey) (15:09): I rise to grieve on something very dear to my heart, and that is the Murray-Darling Basin plan and the indecisiveness of state Labor governments and now a federal Labor government announcing the worst kept secret going—that is, that we are going to achieve the 450 gigalitres by voluntary buybacks.
The voluntary buybacks are all very well and good, but what the minister fails to understand is that buybacks have been on the table for 12 years. Now, we see they are reinventing the wheel. They are kicking the can down the road. They are putting indecisive decisions into river communities that now have people on the edge of their seat. We are currently dealing with low commodity prices. We are currently dealing with workforce shortages and housing shortages. Now the Labor governments both state and federal are putting another layer of complexity into the future of a healthy working river.
As I have said, after months of indecisiveness, there is this voluntary buyback measure. I do not know whether many people understand that if the government are going to go to the market and buy water back, does anyone have a guess of just exactly what it is going to cost? What is it going to cost the taxpayers not only of South Australia but of the nation? Someone said $3.5 billion. Now they are estimating it could be $12 billion. Well, how about that!
We have a water minister in South Australia who continues to use her commissioner as the mouthpiece for the government. His foul-mouthed antics at public forums, his foul-mouthed antics in radio interviews, are nothing short of a disgrace. A publicly engaged commissioner for water in South Australia all of a sudden has an opinion and the government need to sling off at the former Coalition government, saying that he has drunk more water than they achieved in the 10 years they were in government. I think it is just outrageous.
While we have a water minister in South Australia, we have premiers in New South Wales saying that they do not want to see buybacks used for water recovery. In Victoria, Labor would not even agree to come to the table. Now Victoria has been ostracised. I think it is an absolute crime that we have a federal water minister that, for the first time in 12 years, has seen a basin state ostracised, not at the table anymore for negotiating a basin plan.
What we are also seeing now, as I have said, is the water commissioner doing the minister's job. I am just wondering what he gets paid to do the minister's job. The minister is on a wage and the commissioner is on a wage. They have not achieved any water in the time they have been in recent office. We have had a water commissioner in for 12 months—not a drop. We have a South Australian water minister claiming somewhere in the vicinity of 27 gigalitres of water. That was all water that was negotiated and put into a pipeline by the former Coalition and the former South Australian Liberal government, yet we have a Labor government in South Australia taking all the credit. It is an absolute disgrace.
We are going to see federal Labor have to force legislation through Canberra. This is completely abandoning what was agreed to in 2012. The initiation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was locked and loaded and ready to go. What we have seen over that decade of water buybacks, infrastructure on farm and off farm, is 2,100 gigalitres of water achieved, yet we hear the commissioner, we hear the Premier and we hear the water minister say, 'Nothing to see here. Not in a decade have we received anything but two gigalitres of water.' It is an absolute disgrace.
Then we have the former water minister, the now Leader of the Opposition, who went to the table, keeping all the basin states in agreeance and keeping them all at the table. All basin states were at the table, and they all agreed on achieving the 450 gigalitres. Yes, we do not want to see social and economic impact by the water buybacks, but what I can say as a former irrigator and former representative of all the irrigators in South Australia is that infrastructure projects are a way of doing more with less. It is about putting water back into the environment at the same time we are producing food and fibre.
We are doing an outstanding job in South Australia. We are not only leaders in the nation but world leaders in water efficiency targets and achievements. Now, we are going to see a federal government lead some of these Labor state water ministers and premiers around by the nose to say that we are going to take voluntary buybacks as given. Let me assure you, as someone who has participated in water markets, that we are going to see a rise in water costs. We are going to see a rise in the competition of who can actually access that water when we go into seasons of food production.
Every time a government enters a water market, it drives the price. Every time a government goes to the water market, it creates uncertainty. What we are seeing here is that we have a water minister in South Australia who is being led around by the federal water minister, which will create absolute chaos—absolute chaos. We talk about growing our economy. Those ministers have no interest in a growing economy. They only have an interest in their own selfish agenda.
What I am very concerned about is that voluntary buybacks are one solution. Yes, it should be on the table, but so should every other opportunity to be able to achieve that environmental water. We need to put money into on-farm projects. There are many projects here in South Australia that should be achieved, just like off-farm projects.