Water and Catchment Legislation Amendment Bill 2017

I am always pleased to join debate on any water bills that are before this house, and I am pleased today to join the debate on the Water and Catchment Legislation Amendment Bill 2017. I say at the outset that we have been asked to curtail our contributions, so in the time that I have before me — it would be about half the normal 10 minutes speaking time — I do want to say that I speak in support of the bill but against the amendment proposed by the member for Euroa, which says that there must be a regulatory impact statement completed on the bill’s proposed regime for salinity impact. In practice, water agencies have been dealing with the impact of salinity for I think now almost my youngest son’s entire life — he is 27 — since certainly the early to mid-90s. To actually delay something along these lines I think would actually disadvantage those the National Party would purport to represent.

The second part of the amendment is saying that there should be a regulatory impact statement on salinity impact until the government agrees to revert to the original time frame for reviewing northern Victoria’s long-term water assessment plan for 2018. The bill says that we should be aligning the date for the long-term water resource assessment for northern Victoria with the context of the commonwealth’s review of the Murray-Darling Basin plan in 2026. I think the community has been engaged in that plan for some long period of time, and I think the community wants to see all three states — actually I think there might be four — that are party to that plan and the commonwealth actually trying to get this right.

In relation to the substantive part of the bill, I am really pleased to see that it enshrines the involvement of Aboriginal people and other cultural values and uses of the waterways. The member for South-West Coast mentioned Budj Bim, which is just out of Macarthur and just out of Heywood. I was there about six or eight weeks ago, around the time of the regional partnership forum — the day after. At school, probably like the member for South-West Coast given that we went to the same school — I am not sure, she was a few years behind me —

Ms Britnell interjected.

Ms Green — Not that many — four or five. Our school used to have a school camp at what was called Mount Eccles in those days. I must say to see how that land and those waterways are being managed now is just so different. It is just so amazing with the return of the water there. There is 6600-year-old evidence of the world’s longest continuous civilisation, the Australian Indigenous people, the Gunditjmara. There is evidence that they were involved in aquaculture. There are stone structures of aquaculture for the farming of eels that date back to 6600 years ago. That is actually older than Stonehenge and older than the Pyramids.

I am really pleased that our government and the federal government are supporting an application for World Heritage listing for this location. There are also stone houses there. So that whole assumption since European colonisation that our Indigenous people were purely nomadic and had made little impact on the land could not be further from the truth in the south-west of the state. I really look forward to when the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization comes out to do that assessment. I think it will be an absolute game changer not just for tourism in this state, in this country, but worldwide. For those of us who are descendant of the colonising people over the last 200 or so years I think that it will really make a difference in connecting us to that culture and making reparations for what has occurred to Indigenous people over that time.

To see that Indigenous people are now involved in managing that country and managing those waterways in the ways that they would have done thousands of years ago is a bit similar to the Yarra River Protection (Wilip-gin Birrarung murron) Bill 2017 we introduced. That was the first time that Indigenous people in the Wurundjeri-willam clan and other related parties in the Port Phillip region have actually spoken in this chamber in Wurundjeri language. The bill that was before the house then involves our Indigenous people in managing the Yarra, Birrarung Marr. With the Plenty River and other tributaries — Darebin Creek and Merri Creek are tributaries of that river — across our state, I think that having Indigenous people managing those waterways and their connection to country is something we can only learn a lot from. So I think that is a really important part to have within this bill in giving effect to the Victorian water plan.

We are a government that is really about ensuring water security. In previous governments that I have had the privilege to serve in, we have really wanted to get ahead of the game with climate change and with cyclical droughts that are becoming more and more significant in our state. A water grid allows us to make the most of the scarce resources, to continue to have potable water for communities across Victoria and to have access for domestic use and also for commercial use because we need to have jobs growth in regional Victoria. But it is particularly important for agriculture that we have water across the state.

I commend the work of the Minister for Water. Like she does in every portfolio that she grabs hold of, she is incredibly diligent and makes sure she gets across the detail. This bill is another example of that attention to detail from this minister and is in stark contrast to those opposite, like the member for Murray Plains and Leader of The Nationals, and their approach to water. They might talk tough now and say that they actually care about farmers and the agricultural sector having access to decent water and a decent regime, but it was so different on their watch. All we saw was the Office of Living It Up. They were more interested in featherbedding for their National Party mates and staff members, as was found by independent inquiries and reports tabled in this Parliament. This side of politics would not have indulged in something as appalling as those opposite did with that complete misuse of money — the signing of agreements and tenders with no tender process, involving National Party mates and electorate officers who had no experience with water at all and who were making huge profits out of this sector. We will not do that on this side of the house. We will not be like the Leader of The Nationals and his indolent and wasteful Office of Living It Up. We will be more diligent and actually have a plan that connects to people in the community and looks to the future, not just simple featherbedding. I commend the bill to the house.