Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (10:45): The Greens do not support the amendments in the National Water Commission (Abolition) Bill 2014. The amendments do not improve the situation. We need to remember that this legislation is about removing the National Water Commission and that once the legislation has gone through that body is gone. The amendments that we now have before us to the Productivity Commission are not a saviour in any way at all, and that is what we need to be focusing on in this aspect of the debate. We are about to lose a body that has great expertise, that brings the independence that is so critically needed to something that is so fundamental to this country and to this continent-a very dry continent. We have heard many speakers in the second reading debate refer to the challenges with el Nino that are possibly coming on. Individual farmers are experiencing drought. Some of the National Party members are speaking about these issues regularly, and here we have a situation where National Party members will be voting with the Liberal Party to ditch this most important body that is not favouring any side of politics-but it is needed for our economy, our environment, our livelihood, for the very way our rural areas work and for how we protect the environment. It is right across so many areas.
That is why it is worth reminding ourselves of what will be lost-like the Murray-Darling Basin plan, which is not completed yet, and which is critical to Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia. That work will continue, but it is a reminder of why we need the National Water Commission in so many areas - particularly in New South Wales, which I obviously know well, as I come from there, but increasingly in other states. Conflicts between mining, development, farming, local environment protection are very challenging issues for our governments to work out. For us as lawmakers, this is where this body is so urgently needed. What possessed the government to come up with this legislation? Let us remember where it comes from. It comes out of the very ugly 2014 budget-a budget that will go down in the history of budgets. When else have we had a budget that people talked about for a whole year? The moves by the government to get rid of the National Water Commission is again an attempt to save money, which is one of the key aspects of this legislation. That is where this bill has come from.
On the second day after the 2015 budget came down, surely this government should have come to its senses. They remembered a few things in the budget that were bad news for the people of Australia and shifted away from them to some extent. Surely this should be one item that is put into the basket of 'we will just rescue that from the 2014 budget, and we will not pursue it', because the National Water Commission is our only independent body that oversees water policies in this country. That is what we are about to lose. Again, I would remind you that these amendments add nothing. They do not retrieve the situation at all. It is an enormous setback. It is a setback for our country and it is obviously a setback for wise water policies. But I would say it is particularly a setback for people in rural communities. That is where lack of water hits first, and hits hard.