Draft Murray Darling Basin Plan
Nationals Senators Fiona Nash, Nigel Scullion and Barnaby Joyce, and Nats Member for Riverina, Michael McCormack, talk to Griffith businesses about community and farmer concerns regarding the draft MDB plan
The Nationals team heard first-hand of the likely impact the draft Murray Darling Basin plan will have on irrigators, businesses and communities in the state’s south.
The Murray Darling Basin Authority released the draft plan on November 28, which recommends cuts of 2750 gigalitres for environmental watering - much of it will come from the southern part of the Basin including Deniliquin and Griffith. This compares to an amount of 3,000 to 4,000 GL in the Guide to the Draft Plan that was released last year.
The Nationals travelled to Griffith the day after the draft plan’s release to attend a public meeting organised by the Nationals Member for Riverina, Michael McCormack. In contrast, the Minister for Environment, Tony Burke, tried to slip into Griffith under the radar to attend a closed meeting.
Such concerns include the impact on future food production, rising costs of food, stranded irrigation assets, higher irrigation fees, job losses, impact on local businesses and services, and a diminished property market.
There is also a lot of uncertainty in the absence of a detailed environmental watering plan. Local communities won’t know for years how much water will be taken from productive use.
The Murray-Darling Basin Authority has begun its consultation, holding meetings at inconvenient times during harvests and holidays. The consultation period will end in April and the final basin plan is expected mid to late next year. The plan is a regulatory instrument which can be disallowed by either house of parliament. The Greens are already threatening to do that unless the government commits to at least 4000 gigalitres for the environment.
The Senate Rural Affairs and Transport References Committee also has an ongoing inquiry into the Murray-Darling and will continue hearings early next year.
The Coalition began the process of water reform in 2007 and remains committed to that process but the social and economic effects of permanently removing water must be properly considered. We established a $5.8 billion infrastructure fund of which Labor has spent just $245 million on projects which will actually deliver water for the Murray-Darling Basin's environment. Over $2 billion has been spent on advertising campaigns and paying public servants. Labor has mismanaged the buyback program and has failed to end the non-strategic buyback of water.
Interim Coal Seam Gas report
Recently the Senate Rural Affairs and Transport committee released its interim report on Coal Seam Gas mining impacts on the Murray Darling Basin.
The committee is investigating the economic, social and environmental impacts of CSG mining on:
• the sustainability of water aquifers and future water licensing arrangements;
• the property rights and values of landholders;
• the sustainability of prime agricultural land and Australia’s food task;
• the social and economic benefits or otherwise for regional towns and the effective management of relationships between mining and other interests; and
• other related matters including health impacts.
The Nationals Senators proposed that affected property owners receive an equivalent to 1 per cent of the gross income generated by CSG extracted from their land. It is the Nationals’ view that if 99pc is shared between the state and the miners, then 1pc for farmers should hardly be deemed unreasonable for an asset that is extracted from their place and an asset that historically in many instances they owned.
The report can be found at: http://www.aph.gov.au/Senate/committee/rat_ctte/mdb/
interim_report/index.htm. The final report is due June next year.
The Nationals recently released its five point blueprint on coal seam gas mining that outlines five key principles covering the environmental, economic and social impact of coal seam gas developments.
1. no coal seam gas development can damage aquifers or water quality,
2. no developments should occur on prime agricultural land,
3. no developments should occur in close proximity to residential areas,
4. landowners deserve a return, not just compensation, from a resource on their land, and
5. real investment must be made back in the communities that generate our resource wealth.
A win for regional students
Senators Fiona Nash and Nigel Scullion with indigenous students from Elcho Island in the Northern Territory
Regional students, at long last, have certainty when it comes to independent youth allowance.
Inner regional students no longer have to work 30 hours a week over two years to qualify. After lobbying by the Coalition, students and stakeholders for more than two years, the Gillard government finally decided to reinstate the original, fairer criteria of working part-time of 15 hours a week for two years, or earning a lump sum of around $21,000 over 18 months. This criteria also applies to students in outer regional, remote and very remote areas.
It was Julia Gillard, as the education minister, who forced the 30 hour a week rule on inner regional students in early 2010. It was an unreasonable demand as work of nearly a full time capacity is hard to find in regional communities. As a consequence, students were forced to defer their tertiary studies of up to two years while those who went straight on to uni struggled to juggle these work hours with their study commitments. Others just gave up on their aspirations to do further study. Coalition efforts to make the criteria fairer were consistently blocked by Labor, with the support of regional independents, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott.
The government announced its backflip on the criteria for inner regional students in September this year and legislation passed the senate on the 25th of November. It means inner regional students can apply for independent youth allowance under fairer rules from the 1st of January next year. This also applies to 2009 and 2010 school leavers. More details on the changes can be found at: http://www.deewr.gov.au/HigherEducation/Programs/YouthAllowance/Pages/
Mind you the cost of reverting back to the original criteria will cost the government $265 million, with cuts and deferrals to be made to other programs disadvantaging other students. The government could have avoided this costly mistake had it bothered to listen. It is yet another example of this Labor government’s extraordinary waste and mismanagement.
Meantime, I have continued to meet with schools, universities and education stakeholders as part of my ongoing regional education tour.
One of the highlights was visiting indigenous schools and meeting students during a visit to the Northern Territory. Efforts are being made to address truancy, health and welfare issues so that indigenous children get a qualify education but it was evident that much more needs to be done.
Carbon tax to burden regional Australia
Nationals Senators Fiona Nash, Nigel Scullion, Barnaby Joyce, Bridget McKenzie, and John Williams address the media after the carbon tax legislation passed the senate on the 8th of November.
It was a dark day for regional Australia when the carbon tax legislation passed through the senate in November.
But with Labor, the Greens and regional Independents, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott on the same page, regional communities stood little chance of escaping this impost.
There is no doubt that regional Australia will be hit hard by the tax from next July, with wide ranging impacts.
Take for starters:
· An average abattoir processing 3000 cattle a week will see its electricity bill increased by a quarter of a million dollars in the first year. This is without considering other cost increases and the impacts of gas which will also rise by 9 per cent.
· Households and small business will still be hit by higher fuel prices because petrol stations use electricity, as do refineries, and fuel transport companies will soon be slogged with a hit on diesel. These higher costs will lead to higher prices at the petrol pump.
· The transport sector will be hit by the carbon tax in 2014, further pushing the costs up.
· Regional airlines may have to cut routes or cease flying as a result of the carbon tax, and passengers on major carriers face average domestic fare increases of $6 to $7 for a return trip.
· A Tourism and Transport Forum report says 6,400 jobs would go in the tourism industry predominately in regional and rural Australia and that a carbon tax would have an impact on our tourism economy of more than $600 million.
· The carbon tax of $23 per tonne will add at least $5,000 to the cost of building an average new home. This includes the cost of construction and developing the land.
· Childcare centres have next to no capacity to reduce their existing energy consumption and will face a 10 per cent hike in electricity bills and a 9 per cent hike in gas bills in the first year alone.
· Calculations suggest both government and non-government schools alone could be facing an additional cost impost of around $200 million, just for gas and electricity price increases due to the carbon tax, over four years.
· Access Economics has predicted 28,000 jobs would be lost in regional Australia – but that is only the beginning.
Our farmers will be among the hardest hit and they have no-one to pass the increased costs on to. Australian Farm Institute research commissioned by the National Farmers’ Federation show farmers across all sectors will face added costs in the tens of thousands of dollars. Processors and abattoirs have also warned they’ll have to pass on added costs to farmers. Further, increased electricity costs are a huge worry for farmers.
Neither the Finance Minister, Senator Penny Wong, or the Agriculture Minister, Joe Ludwig, could justify why no modelling was done to determine the average increased electricity costs to farmers from the carbon tax, and what assistance, if any, will be provided to cover these costs.
Nor could they say whether the carbon tax impact on agriculture was being considered as part of the long awaited National Food Plan.
More worrying is that there appears to be no guarantee of adequate compensation for regional families once an emissions trading scheme takes place in 2015. When asked, Minister Wong’s best response was that compensation will be assessed each year. It’s hardly reassuring when the carbon price will fluctuate continuously according to the market.
Rural health senate inquiry
The Coalition has successfully pushed for a senate inquiry into rural doctor incentive payments that are draining country towns of GPs not attracting them.
It will also investigate factors limiting the supply and distribution of health services and medical professionals in regional Australia.
The government currently has a myriad of programs in place to address the attraction and retention of rural medical practitioners in rural Australia. One of the programs, the Rural Relocation Incentive Grant (RRIG), uses the Australian Standard Geographical Classification – Remoteness Areas map (ASGC-RA), the same map used for the criteria for independent youth allowance. This has resulted in a significant anomaly in the inner regional zone where incentive payments are the same for doctors going to small regional towns as they are for large regional centres, thereby negating the incentive for doctors to move to the smaller towns.
This issue has been highlighted by many rural doctors individually, as well as the Rural Doctors Association of Australia. During the May Senate Estimates hearings the Department of Health and Ageing revealed they had no intention of reviewing the program for at least 12 months. The sector is calling for an immediate review.
Given the government’s reluctance to have a review, the Coalition set out to hold a senate committee inquiry as soon as possible. There are too many cases of rural communities losing their GP, specialists and other health professionals for it go ignored. Too many rural communities are unable to attract the health professionals they need. The Gillard government, and the Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, have been in denial for too long and cannot ignore it any longer.
Hearings are to be announced and submissions close on the 16th of December. The committee will report in April next year. Details on the senate inquiry can be found at: http://www.aph.gov.au/Senate/committee/clac_ctte/rur_hlth/index.htm
Thank you for your interest and support during 2011.
As a Nationals Senator, I am committed to representing regional communities. Please do not hesitate to contact my office if I can be of any assistance.
I wish you all a well earned break and a safe and festive Christmas and New Year.
I look forward to being in touch in 2012.