5 March 2013 ASSEMBLY



Second reading

Mr WYNNE (Richmond) — I am pleased to follow my colleague the member for Bendigo East in making a contribution to the debate on the Water Legislation Amendment Bill 2012 on behalf of the opposition. In doing so I reiterate the position of the opposition. We are not opposing the bill, but there are a number of issues we seek to ventilate in this house, and we wish to use the opportunity while the bill is between houses to see if we can have a productive conversation with the government around a couple of matters.

I will only briefly touch upon the contribution of the member for Rodney, who used much of his time to provide a commentary on my colleague the member for Bendigo East, but I remind the member for Rodney that this state was previously in a situation of critical water shortage. He knows that, and we know that. We had 11 years of drought, with no real prospects of it breaking.

I respect the fact that the member for Rodney comes from a rural setting and has been a farmer himself, but you cannot have a credible public policy position, whether it be from the current federal opposition that will build 100 dams — —

Ms Beattie — How many?

Mr WYNNE — A hundred. Apparently it is a 100-dam policy, and perhaps my colleague the member for Yuroke might elaborate on that at a later point. But you just cannot have a pray-for-rain policy. It is just not credible. We put together — —

Mr Weller interjected.

Mr WYNNE — The member for Rodney says, ‘You can’t say it’s not going to rain again’.

Of course not, but you cannot leave a state the size of Victoria open to the vagaries of climate. We in this place collectively have a responsibility, regardless of our political persuasion, to ensure that we have a reliable supply of water across the state. That is simply a non-negotiable position. As the member for Rodney and everyone in this house, including you, Deputy Speaker, will recall we were down to less than a third of our water capacity in this state, and if the drought had not been broken, we could have found ourselves — —

Mr Weller interjected.

Mr WYNNE — The member for Rodney said, ‘Well, it did break’. Frankly, this wish-and-pray-for-rain approach is just not a credible policy position.

Turning to the bill itself, it is a relatively straightforward bill because it clarifies that water authorities have the power to require the installation of separate meters for individual residential units and new buildings, which I understand was a coalition policy. It gives water authorities the power to require the installation of separate meters for individual services such as drinking water, recycling water and fire services, and it will require separate licences for extracting water from individual sources on a property rather than for the entire property, as at present.

The bill also removes the levy that bottled water producers pay for extraction. My understanding is that that is 1.5 cents per litre, raising about $60 000 a year, which basically covers the administrative aspects of managing this extraction. The surcharge was introduced in 1980 as a means of funding the development of mineral springs through the activities of the Victorian Mineral Water Committee.

I understand that funding support for that committee comes from the Consolidated Fund, and that has been the case for a number of years. It is unclear, however, if the government has continued to collect revenue from the surcharge and where it has been spent. We are interested to know where those surcharge funds have subsequently been spent.

 I want to draw particular attention to correspondence the opposition has received from Native Title Services Victoria. As you would know, Deputy Speaker, that is one of the specialist organisations that provide expert legal support to traditional owner groups in Victoria.

It is made up of a very skilled group of people who provide expert legal advice on a range of native title-related matters.

It has sent correspondence to the Honourable John Lenders, a member for Southern Metropolitan Region in the other place, who is also the shadow Minister for Water; to me as the shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs; and to my leader, the member for Mulgrave. In its correspondence it points out what it sees as a potential deficit in taking the levy off the extraction of mineral waters. It puts this in a broader context because the argument it mounts, in essence, is that there are many sites across Victoria where the previous government transferred, and this government will be transferring, parcels of land to traditional owners under land use activity agreements and under the broader scope of the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010.

What is crucial about this is that to date we have always sought to reach agreements not just on how land is managed — whether it be managed solely by traditional owner groups or in partnership with the state via Parks Victoria or other state government instrumentalities — but also on the opportunities for traditional owner groups to reap some of the benefits from that land. Those benefits could be cultural, such as hunting, fishing, licensing and so forth, or tourism. And in a much more developed sense there could be opportunities for these land use activity agreements to be used for economic development by those traditional owner groups — for instance, the capacity for them to enter into partnerships for the extraction of minerals. It is in that context that this particular levy has significance. Native Title Services Victoria would not want to see the expunging of this levy take from Aboriginal communities the opportunity to extract the embedded benefits that derive from their having traditional owner settlements and control of their lands.

 We believe this is not unreasonable advocacy by Native Title Services Victoria. We seek to have a more meaningful conversation with the government to satisfy ourselves, and Native Title Services Victoria on behalf of traditional owner groups, that the opportunity to extract the benefits — whether they be in the context of the mineral springs surcharge levy or in the context of other opportunities to use the land in a more economically productive way — will not be taken away from traditional owner groups. It is in that context that we must, as a Parliament, take the next step.

I have spoken in the past about how crucial it is that the connection between Aboriginal people and their land be respected and understood. This is the next stage of that where we say, ‘Not only is there the capacity to have your own land over which you can have some exclusivity of use, but there is also the opportunity to reap some economic benefit from it’.

Ultimately, if we are truly to ensure that we close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Victorians, economic development is at the heart of it. We look for some clarity around those issues.