Monday, 18 June 2007

The Greens on those water diversion proposals

Liberal Party

Senator SIEWERT (Western
Australia) (3.31 p.m.)-I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by Senator Abetz to my question during question time today on the taking into account of the impacts of climate change and reduced runoff on the SMEC study of the northern rivers in New South Wales.

The question I asked was: why was climate change not included in the terms of reference? I have already established through both estimates and the inquiry of the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport into Traveston Dam that the terms of reference for the study did not include climate change. I confirmed this when I asked both SMEC and the Department of the Environment and Water Resources on two separate occasions about why it was not included. When I asked why they were not included, Mr Dean of SMEC gave me a most unusual answer, which was that there was no definitive scientific basis for assessing those climate change impacts. When I asked the department about the terms of reference, I was told they were not a specific part of the terms of reference. That is why I asked the minister today why the terms of reference did not include the impact of climate change and reduced rainfall runoff. At this time, when we are facing both climate
variability and drought, I would have thought that they would have beenright at the top of the list of the terms of reference for this inquiry.

The minister's limited response to my question was that this government has been on board with climate change for a long time. He said that they were not climate change sceptics as they had set up the Australian Greenhouse Office in, I think, 1998. I ask again: why weren't the terms of reference drafted to include the impacts of climate change and reduced rainfall runoff? You are talking about dams; we are talking about the fact that we are already seeing the impact of climate variability on drought around Australia.

In Western Australia rainfall has decreased by 21 per cent since 1974. This has led to a reduction in rainfall runoff of 64 per cent. Dr Gill, from the Water Corporation of Western Australia, reported this at the inquiry of the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport into water policy initiatives. Professor Michael Young reported that, as a rule of thumb, when you have a decline in rainfall, the decline in water availability is normally about twice the reduction in rainfall. For example, a 15 per cent reduction in rainfall-which is what a lot of people are talking about for the Murray-Darling
system-would mean there would be a 30 per cent reduction in yield. So on one hand you could have a very conservative figure of 15 per cent, or the reduction in rainfall could go up to 21 per cent. The impact that that has on reduced runoff varies from about one half up to three times the percentage we are talking about in Western Australia.

For the life of me I totally fail to understand why the government's terms of reference for the SMEC report did not include climate change. The only thing that occurs to me is that Mr Turnbull asked the National Water Commission to commission the report-he proudly claimed in a media release on 12 April that he had asked for the report to be commissioned. I would have thought that if he were that desperate to look into getting water from northern New South Wales rivers-if he were serious-he would have taken into account how much water was available. He would therefore have had to take into account the impact of climate change, drought and reduced rainfall runoff. Considering that that has been the focus of the water debate here for a number of months-particularly for the Murray-Darling system-you would have thought that that would have been on top of the list when the government drafted the terms of reference.

Last week the rural and regional affairs committee heard from representatives of people in northern New South Wales, where we took evidence. The evidence was that the Richmond River in northern New South Wales is already overallocated, yet the SMEC report said that a dam is possible there. We heard that there are other land management issues in northern New South Wales. The Clarence River has some land management issues and there is also a fishery that is highly dependent on it. There had been no community consultation and yet the minister went ahead and asked the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation to do an assessment of the water resources that are available in the northern rivers without adequately taking into account climate change and reduced rainfall runoff. (Time expired)


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT-The question is that the motion moved by
Senator Siewert be agreed to.

Question agreed to.

[Transcript received from Senator Bob Brown's office,18 June 2007]

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