Local Issues Water

Matters Of Public Importance - Water Policy

9 March 2016

Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) — The nub of this issue is that the Andrews government is exploiting the vulnerability of country communities as an excuse to turn on the desalination plant.

As many people would know — and for those on the other side of the house who do not know — there is a critical water shortage issue in many parts of country Victoria. Those regions are severely impacted by drought and do have a critical water shortage. Some people who actually thought that they did have a secure stock and domestic supply because of the
Wimmera–Mallee pipeline are now impacted by the blue‑green algae that is coming down the Murray River in particular. Even some that thought that they — —

Ms Neville interjected.

Mr WALSH — It has in some areas. It has affected it over time, so those people who thought they had a secure supply have been affected over that particular time. The fact that there is a Wimmera–Mallee pipeline means that quite a few people have had a secure stock and domestic supply. I think for that project we particularly need to thank John Forrest, a former federal member for Mallee who is known as Mr Pipeline and who spent his career from 1992 to when he retired two years ago to making sure that project was actually brought to fruition. In the early days John Anderson as Deputy Prime Minister and John Howard as the Prime Minister made sure the federal funding was there to get that particular project done. So let us not be deceived in the rewriting of history by some on the other side of the house that the Wimmera–Mallee pipeline project was their project, because it was not. The key person, the common denominator through this whole project, was John Forrest because of what he was able to deliver for that particular area.

Right at the moment there are extensions that have been built or are being built at Pella in the north‑west, north‑east of Quambatook at what was called Bael Bael and in other areas. These extensions were planned when we were in government. They were actually funded with money that was left over from the Wimmera–Mallee pipeline project because that project was delivered so efficiently over that particular time. If you think about the recent announcements about the potential for an area around Woosang and around Buckrabanyule being extended, again that work was done while we were in government, and the current water minister, to her credit, is continuing that good work.

The area that is really badly impacted by drought at the moment and a shortage of water supply is around that greater region of Wedderburn. The minister is very well aware of that, and this side of the house can only encourage the minister to get on with it and do that particular project. I know there is a lot of goodwill and a lot of work being done by the locals to make sure that project actually comes to fruition, so I encourage the minister to make sure that project actually gets done as soon as possible, because those people have been carting water for a number of years and they desperately need something to be done.

A number of the speakers on this side of the house will go into more detail about their specific areas in relation to this matter of public importance and explain how the desalination water is not going to be able to help the people in their particular area. I suppose what I have noticed in the vernacular being used and the story being developed by the Andrews Labor government over the last 15 months is that it has been saying, ‘We have to have a reason to turn on the desalination plant. We have to effectively have a manufactured crisis’. That has been around some of the issues in country Victoria.

I refer to reports in the Age newspaper in, I think, last October, where the story was effectively about how the Glenelg and the Wimmera rivers were going to run dry because of the dry conditions and we needed to turn the desalination plant on. Can I give the minister a short geography lesson? It is about 460 kilometres from Wonthaggi to the head of those two rivers, and there are several mountain ranges in between, so it is physically impossible — anything is possible with enough money; but within reasonable expense it is impossible — to pipe that water over into those particular rivers. So we have had this story being developed about how we have to turn the desalination plant on to solve real issues for country Victorians who have not got water.

Then on Sunday we awoke to the press release that Melbourne has a critical water issue. Melbourne’s storages are at 63‑point‑something per cent — nearly two‑thirds full. If you actually go to the Melbourne Water website and look at its water reserve chart, you will see that we are well and truly in the secure area for Melbourne water. The minister tried to mislead the house yesterday, saying that Melbourne water was actually in the medium level — —

Ms Neville interjected.

Mr WALSH — Well, read Hansard. We are actually 10 per cent above the trigger point to go back into the medium level. Melbourne’s water storages are at 63‑point‑something per cent, nearly two‑thirds full.

For the benefit of those in the house who have not read about the history of our water supply, our forefathers actually built reservoirs so that they could capture water in the winter and the spring and then use it in the summer and the autumn. That is how the reservoirs work, and the reservoirs usually go down over summer and autumn. That has happened since man started building dams, so there is no surprise that the Melbourne storages have gone down over summer. Again, if you go to Melbourne Water’s website, you will see there is five years supply in the Melbourne storages. That is on the Melbourne Water website.

Honourable members interjecting.

Mr WALSH — Members should go and read the information that is on the website. There is five years supply of water there for Melbourne. However, there is not that sort of supply for some areas in country Victoria. Those people are suffering badly, but they cannot get that particular water. This is a manufactured water crisis. It will have an impact on cost‑of‑living pressures, particularly for Melbourne water customers, because not only have they had to pay the $1.8 million per day for the desalination plant to sit there but they are now also going to have to pay the consumptive charge of actually getting that water produced. That, I might add, is providing the powerline actually works.

Those people that read the Herald Sun today would be wondering why the government actually made an announcement on Sunday that it was going to turn the desalination plant on. You pick up the Herald Sun today and it says that the people who operate the desalination plant are actually having to rely on diesel generators for the desalination plant while the powerline is turned off and being repaired. It just defies logic to me as to why that particular announcement would be made.

If you think about the announcement that was made on Sunday about where people are going to benefit from water from the desalination plant, yes, Barwon Water customers did pay to have the Melbourne–Geelong connector built — something like $140 million for that particular project — but they have been quarantined from Melbourne pool prices until they actually start taking water down that pipeline. So for those customers of Barwon Water, once they start taking water out of the Melbourne pool the prices that Barwon Water pays will actually go up.

If you think about the numbers that are being used in relation to the Barwon Water storages, Barwon Water actually has access to the Barwon Downs and the Anglesea bore field. That is what kept it going through the drought. That has not been factored into the press release that the government has been putting out. The government has also said in an announcement that water from the Lal Lal Reservoir will now go to Ballarat in totality and Barwon Water will be able to get water out of the Melbourne pool.

What the government has conveniently forgotten is that Central Highlands Water customers actually paid to build the goldfields super‑pipe, which was also a supply of water for Ballarat.

Ms Neville interjected.

The SPEAKER — Order! The Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water will have her opportunity shortly.

Mr WALSH — We are finding a duplication of projects. Yes, there is a need for water pipelines in certain places, but there is a need to be prudent as to how money is invested because ultimately it will have impact on people’s water bills. Through the years of the last Labor government, you saw Melbourne water bills go from a bit over $500 per year to nearly $1200 per year. I believe that this is the start of a significant increase in water bills again because this Andrews government does not care about cost‑of‑living pressures for people when it comes to their bills and how it has got its hands in people’s wallets into the future.

I really am concerned that the government is using the drought as an excuse to turn on the desalination plant. It is exploiting the vulnerability of our country communities. We heard comments from the Minister for Education yesterday about the need for sporting ovals and school playgrounds. I absolutely agree with that. They are absolutely essential to the livability of our communities, but the desalination plant is not going to put water into a lot of those communities. Those that do have access to the Wimmera–Mallee pipeline and will have access to extensions when they are done in the future will have access to water. However, there are communities that do not have access to pipelines and may not have access to pipelines in the future but which will need help into the future. There are opportunities with groundwater to help those particular communities.

Through this whole process I have found it interesting that there has been absolute silence from that side of the house when it comes to water use efficiency, when it comes to re‑use water, when it comes to using stormwater or any of those things that we talked about as a government, anything that we funded out of the Living Victoria Fund, all those great water projects, particularly in Melbourne, that took the pressures off the storages for drinking water. I cannot recall one announcement of one project that has actually been instigated by this government around those sorts of projects that was not actually started or planned or developed under our government. Because we had a real commitment to water use efficiency, to recycling water, to the use of stormwater into the future.

Ms Neville — How about the Ballarat project? How did that go?

Mr WALSH — The Living Ballarat project is actually going very well. I pick up the interjection from the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water. The aquifer recharge, the Cardigan aquifer, is actually going on now. We are actually harvesting stormwater which is being stored underground to bring back out again. It was something that Labor would not ever consider in its term in government. It took the coalition to come to government to actually put re‑use, recycling and stormwater harvesting on the radar to happen. I would hope that the minister has enough common sense to bury her prejudices against these sorts of projects and actually do something into the future.

To finish off, as I said, a number of the speakers on this side will talk about their particular areas and the deceit of this government in claiming that turning the desalination plant on will solve the water issues in their particular parts of Victoria. It will not do that. You cannot take desalination plant water to the head of the Wimmera River. You cannot take desalination plant water to the head of the Glenelg River. You cannot take desalination plant water to some of the people in the member for Ripon’s seat, where it is just physically impossible to do that.

I would urge the government to actually come clean, to say this is about justification of a white elephant project that was done under the previous Labor government. I thought the cartoon in the Herald Sun the day before yesterday, with the Premier pulling on the tail of a big white elephant who was slowly waking up and saying, ‘I don’t get out of bed for anything under $600 million a year’, was probably one of the best cartoons I have seen in the Herald Sun, and there have been some doozies over the years. That cartoon said it all about the desalination plant.

To finish off, there are people doing it very tough in country Victoria through a lack of water supply, and we need a continuation from this government of the very good work that was done by previous conservative governments, both state and federal, to build the Wimmera–Mallee pipeline project.

Ms Neville — That was us, thank you very much. John Brumby, thank you.

Mr WALSH — It was not you. It was John Forrest, John Anderson and John Howard who put the majority of water into that project. Some people are very good at trying to rewrite history. Unfortunately country people just do not believe that because they know who actually does the real work to get things done for their communities, and I condemn the government for the announcement it made on Sunday.


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