I rise today to speak in favour of a judicial inquiry into areas of the Murray-Darling Basin and the allegations of immense corruption, theft of water, dodgy election donations and cover-up after cover-up. We know that some of these allegations were aired on the Four Corners program some weeks ago, but we know others are starting to seep out as well. And what did we hear from the New South Wales government and then followed up by our own water minister, Barnaby Joyce? First denial, dismissal that this was of any concern to anybody outside of New South Wales, and then ridicule for those of us who live further downstream.

I can tell you, Madam Acting Deputy President Reynolds, that in the week following the airing of those allegations on Four Corners, I went down to the Lower Lakes in the Coorong in South Australia at the mouth of the Murray. I spoke to the local community there, and they are fed-up. They are fed-up with being treated as second-class citizens who live in the Murray-Darling Basin. For decades, they have fought to have a fair share of water. For decades, they have fought for the river to be given its required allowance so that it can continue to thrive, live and be a healthy, functioning river system. What they heard in that Four Corners report, the subsequent comments from New South Wales ministers and then our own federal water minister was dismissal and a total lack of concern.

This is grand theft—$13 billion of Australian taxpayer money being spent to buy water that is designed for the environment to keep the river alive so that everybody who lives throughout the basin has the opportunity for sustainable industry and to keep those communities that rely on the river going. The river needs enough water to survive, and we know at the bottom end of the river system—the Lower Lakes in the Coorong, where the community that I visited a couple of weeks ago live—that that section of the Murray-Darling Basin is the lungs of the river. If you don’t have the lungs of the river working properly, if you don’t get that flush of salt out to sea, if you don’t have enough water at the bottom end, the river will die. Scientists have told us that over and over again and, at the height of the drought five years ago, we saw with our own eyes just how much devastation the theft of water upstream was causing the rest of the river system.

The attitude from our federal water minister Barnaby Joyce has undermined, significantly, the goodwill of all member states of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and to ensure that we all work together for the health of the river. And we know what Minister Joyce’s attitude really is towards the Murray-Darling Basin and for those of us who live downstream. All he needs is to get a few beers into him at the Shepparton pub and he starts telling anyone who will listen that he hates greenies, doesn’t give two hoots about environmental flows, and thank goodness the Nationals are in control so that the big irrigators continue to suck out more water. A few beers and the minister is mouthing off about how much of a hero he is, covering up the corruption and water theft upstream in the Murray-Darling Basin. He is unfit to be the water minister. He has a conflict of interest and, if the federal government is serious about restoring trust in the Murray-Darling Basin and how it should be managed, they must deal with the biggest and the weakest link—and that is Minister Joyce.

There is no way Minister Joyce should be in charge of the nation’s iconic river system. He doesn’t care about environmental flows. He doesn’t care about anyone who lives downstream; all he cares about is the election donations coming from those big corporate irrigators.

Chamber Senate on 9/08/2017Item MATTERS OF URGENCY – Barwon-Darling Basin Speaker: Hanson-Young, Sen Sarah Parliment of Australia Transcript used for News Reporting