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Speech: Murray-Darling Basin & Political Integrity

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 12 Feb 2019

Just a few weeks ago, I was out at Menindee to see firsthand the Murray-Darling Basin in ecosystem collapse. The Darling River, the Barka, is dying. The Murray-Darling Basin Plan isn't working and the government tells us: 'Everything is fine. Nothing to see here.' I saw stagnant rivers, cracked, dry earth and locals red hot with anger at the federal government and the New South Wales Liberal-National government for their role in the slow death of the Murray-Darling Basin.

This is an urgent and a national crisis. State and federal governments have used and abused the system and turned a blind eye to blatant water theft and greed. The New South Wales government, especially, sides with the big corporate irrigators against the community, against their drinking water, against the environment and against river health. It is a case of profit over people. It is a case of profit over the environment. We know of the gross maladministration, the corruption, the negligence and the unlawful actions that have occurred. This has been confirmed by the recent South Australian royal commission.

Bret Walker SC severely criticised the plan for its lack of consideration of climate change. The report highlighted the particular lack of commitment to the plan from the Victorian and New South Wales governments. We also know of the water theft, the overallocation and the tampering with meters. Once again, politics, shamefully, wins over science.

As always, it is the community, the environment and the animals that bear the cost of corrupt public policy. We have seen well over a million fish dead in multiple fish kills. Locals told me about seeing dead goannas, dead birds and dead kangaroos around the riverbanks. They told me about the threats and intimidation from vested interests when they speak out. That's why we in here must speak out for the people and the planet. I spoke with Aboriginal elder Uncle Badger Bates about the Barka, its cultural importance to Aboriginal people and how they have watched the river slowly peter away, not just over the last few years but over the last few decades.

We know that climate change is biting. We are in the middle of a climate emergency and things will only get worse. Every minute we stay silent is a minute lost acting on climate change and protecting our precious water. You lot definitely need a big lesson in science. As a water engineer, I know that healthy river systems only function when they're allowed to have significant environmental flows. The system has been denied that for years by rules that privilege big corporations and operators over the environment and the community. For years this river system has been used and abused for profit. At every meeting I went to in Menindee, there were a few very clear asks—in particular, for return flows from upstream, to establish a royal commission to get to the bottom of this disaster and to criminally prosecute the politicians that are responsible for this.

We need to overhaul the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, put the environment at the centre and ensure that any future modelling is done in the context of climate change. The impending collapse of the basin, comprised of 77,000 kilometres of rivers, is of utmost importance and it is critical that we act now. We cannot hope to protect our mighty Murray-Darling system if we don't address the elephant in the room: dangerous climate change. That will mean more and more severe droughts and heatwaves. That means prioritising the environment and the people. Climate change is pushing us closer and closer to the edge. Natural disasters like bushfires, extreme heat events, drought, flooding and ecological failure of our rivers are becoming more and more common. How much more disaster, loss of life and environmental catastrophe will it take for this government and this parliament to take real action on climate change? Why can't politicians see what the community clearly sees? Why are politicians so wilfully ignorant of the need for urgent and rapid action to save our planet?

Even when they do recognise the need to act on climate change, they refuse to acknowledge 'king coal' as the biggest single source of carbon dioxide emissions from human activity. Both the Labor and Liberal parties are addicted to coal—or perhaps, more correctly, they are addicted to the corporate donations from the fossil fuel industries. Over the last three years, Liberals, Nationals and Labor have taken almost $3.7 million of dirty money from fossil fuel companies. That influences their judgements and their decisions. How else can you explain the Labor shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen, coming out and saying there will be no Adani ban on his watch? Alex Turnbull, the son of ex-Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has revealed the sickening influence of coal barons on Liberal Party policy. Contrast this to Germany, the fourth-largest economy in the world, which is going to phase out all coal power by 2038.

We see you for what you are: a bunch of cowards who are happier to see our country burn than to take on vested interests that stymie real climate action. How can you not see that our ecosystem is in crisis, from the disastrous fish kills in far-west New South Wales, to Tasmania burning in devastating and unprecedented fires, to Townsville being hit by 1.4 metres of rain in less than two weeks—around double what falls in London in a whole year—which led to massive floods? Every day you delay action on climate change, you're contributing to making Australia less safe.

It's no surprise, though, that we don't have policy on climate change and quitting coal. Corporate donors are buying policy outcomes that suit their bottom line because they know both the Labor and Liberal parties are up for sale. We need the Greens in the Senate because this is a disease that affects both the Labor and Liberal parties. They remain beholden to mining giants, property developers, the gambling industry and the big banks. Whether it's a meeting here or a dinner there, whether it's a slight adjustment to some legislation or just an extra few years of a loophole being left open, these are the small corruptions that rot the entire system. The Greens will hold both parties to account and make sure it is the interests of the community that are heard in parliament, not big corporate interests. We will clean up politics of corporate donations and stop the revolving door of politicians and lobbyists. We will lift the fog that shrouds the halls of power. I'm proud to be part of the Greens New South Wales. We are a party funded and wholly directed by members and community, entirely free from the influence of business interests.

For me, though, having integrity in politics goes far further than refusing to take corporate donations or to let lobbyists write your legislation, though both of those things are crucial. Being a politician of integrity involves being in this place for the right reasons. I'm a career engineer, not a career politician. I'm here for public service, not to wait for a pension or a plush board appointment when I retire, and I think our politics would be better if more people took that view. I've sat in parliament and watched career politicians pass bills written by lobbyists. I've sat in committees and watched MPs ignore expert advice and evidence because it doesn't match up with what their donors are telling them. I've sat in inquiries where witnesses have begged the major parties to listen to common sense and act in the interests of the people. But the interests of the people didn't match the interests of the developers, so the developers won out. If we are to have a parliament of integrity then we must have a parliament that can't be bought. The Greens cannot be bought, and we will never sell out the community.


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