24 September 2019

Dr MARJORIE O'NEILL (Coogee) (17:15): I welcome the opportunity to debate water management in New South Wales and I support the amendment moved by the member for Cessnock. I am glad that this debate will bring to the attention of the House the crisis that the Coalition Government seems all too willing to ignore. Our State is in drought. Our regions, their people and our primary industries have been crying out for help from this Government from all across New South Wales and Australia—and they have been ignored. Water restrictions have been enforced for residents across Sydney since June. This is the first time in a decade that Australia's largest city has been placed under water-usage restrictions.

These water restrictions have been marketed by this Government as a safeguard for our most precious resource. This is spin. These water restrictions are simply a front for poor planning. They are a kneejerk reaction to the steeply worsening dam levels and steeply worsening polling for the Liberals and The Nationals in regional areas. Today's debate provides yet another example of the Coalition Government's systematic approach to throwing up its hands and handballing complex issues of government for the people of New South Wales—just like the water Minister has done today, buck-passing her problem onto mayors and local councils when the Government has already cost shifted more than $800 million dollars onto New South Wales councils to date.

Water is a basic utility. Throughout the history of New South Wales our water supply has been readily provided by the State Government of New South Wales—until now. This is not the first drought this State has seen, but due to the incompetence of this Government it is certainly the worst. The Government claims it is acting and working to solve the problem and provide solutions, yet besides some well‑overdue water restrictions the Government has done nothing. I take this opportunity to bring to the attention of the House how a sound and competent Government behaves and the actions it takes. During the millennium drought Labor introduced level 1 water restrictions in Sydney when supply levels were just below 60 per cent.

This time the Coalition waited until levels were at almost 50 per cent before commencing water restrictions. When Sydney dam levels dropped below 50 per cent in 2004 level 2 restrictions were introduced. Level 3 water restrictions were introduced when dam levels fell below 40 per cent in June 2005. The difference in these strategies is billions and billions of litres of water. Despite Labor introducing a statewide water tank rebate scheme a whole year before Sydney water restrictions during the millennium drought, the Coalition Government has introduced no such statewide scheme.

The washing machine rebate program was introduced four months before the Sydney level 1 water restrictions were implemented during the millennium drought under Labor; but, no similar program has been implemented today. Not only has the current Coalition Government failed to introduce adequate water restrictions, but it has also failed to introduce any real and prominent water awareness programs. As I stated in my private member's statement last week, prior to the introduction of Sydney water restrictions in 2002 the then Labor Government introduced the "Go Slow on the H2O" campaign, but there is no campaign to be seen. The inaction of this Coalition Government shows.As of May this year more than 60 per cent of Sydney residents were unaware that a drought even existed in New South Wales.

My question to the Premier and the water Minister is this: How on earth do you expect anyone to even follow your water restrictions when they have no idea a drought exists? While Labor started building a desalination plant in 2004, in 2012—after a few rainy months—some low-altitude flyer on the other side of the Chamber went on record saying that we would never use the desalination plant, and the Government sold it. But on 26 January this year it was switched back on. We are now paying Veolia, a French company, to access resources the United Nations defines as a precondition for human existence and for the sustainability of our planet. That's right: A resource we must consume, which we should be spending money on and that money should be going up into the New South Wales coffers, but it is going to a foreign-owned company.

One of the great successes of the Labor State Government during the millennium drought was its capacity to work with Federal counterparts to achieve outcomes for everyone. A Daily Telegraph analysis of spending during the Howard and Rudd governments between 2001 and 2009 shows that spending totalled more than $5.7 billion, or just over $7 billion adjusted today. But between 2014 and 2019 the Federal Government has spent only $970 million for comparative measures. When it comes to water policies Liberal-Nationals governments at every level are failing the people of New South Wales. Is it sheer incompetence or is it just that the Deputy Premier has fewer friends in Canberra than he does in regional New South Wales and in this place?