Australian Capital Territory Water Management Legislation Amendment Bill 2013
Water management in the ACT is an issue that I am particularly passionate about. That is why I spoke on this legislation, the Australian Capital Territory Water Management Legislation Amendment Bill 2013, in June of this year and that is why I am taking the opportunity to speak on it again today.
The ACT has some spectacular waterways. However, as is often the case in cities, sometimes these waterways have suffered with the urbanisation of their surrounds. Since my election in 2010, I have campaigned for the better protection and restoration of Canberra's waterways. In particular, I have advocated for the development of a wetland area in the Lake Tuggeranong catchment area. The beautiful Lake Tuggeranong is the heart of the Tuggeranong community. From my electorate office, I see people using this lake every day, walking or running around it, using the parks on the shores of the lake. However, I join many residents of Tuggeranong in my concern for the lake's wellbeing.
That is why I have supported a community initiative for the restoration of the ecosystems of the Tuggeranong catchment. That is why I am a regular at the 'clean up Lake Tuggeranong' sessions—one was held just recently, and we pulled an enormous amount of debris out of the lake—and that is why I take great joy in the Great Carp Catch of the Tuggeranong Festival, hauling out dozens and dozens of hideous carp to protect the Lake Tuggeranong ecosystem. The Tuggeranong catchment project will encourage and empower the community to become directly involved with the restoration of the lake through activities such as clean-ups and tree plantings. The project also has the long-term aim of developing a wetland area by the lake, which I know would be a huge benefit to the community and to the environment of Tuggeranong.
The bill we are debating today is an important step in the water management of the ACT. It will enable the ACT to complete its responsibilities under the MurrayDarling Basin Plan. For over a century, the MurrayDarling Basin has not been managed with a basinwide approach; rather, it has been managed state by state, catchment by catchment. This has resulted in environmental degradation, a lack of resilience and an ongoing uncertainty for basin communities.
October 2010 saw the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, set up by the former, Labor government, release the draft Basin Plan, which was heavily criticised by those opposite at the time. The report made it clear that we needed a new way to manage the Murray-Darling Basin and highlighted the poor approach taken by the Howard government. Labor undertook a comprehensive consultation process, working with the basin states and the communities that rely on these rivers, like those in Albury-Wodonga, Echuca, Swan Hill, Mildura, Renmark, Murray Bridge, Goolwa and other towns and population centres right along the basin, because Labor know that our farming communities have a proud history of sustainable farming, with an outlook to protecting our natural environment.
The Basin Plan acknowledged that environmentally sustainable limits on the quantities of water that may be taken from the basin needed to be in place not just in a local or state based setting but nationally. An efficient water trading system right across the basin, from Queensland through New South Wales and the ACT right down to South Australia and Victoria, was needed. We needed to ensure that water quality and salinity objectives were put in place and then met year in, year out. Throughout the development of the plan we acknowledged that we needed strategies in place to keep the social and economic fabric of our rural and regional towns strong while also achieving the plan's environmental outcomes. After an extensive consultation period, the 43rd Parliament, in a moment that brought together environmentalists, rural communities, farmers and small-business operators, made the Basin Plan Australian law, guaranteeing that 2,750 gigalitres of additional water will be returned to the Murray-Darling Basin.
The bill we are debating today is a legacy of Labor's reforms and is vital for ensuring the ACT government can fulfil its obligations under that plan. The MurrayDarling Basin Plan requires that the ACT prepare a water resource plan that covers all of the territory's water resources, as well as Googong Dam. However, currently, the management of water on national land in the ACT is a Commonwealth function and is not managed by the ACT government. This bill amends the act which regulates the management of land in the ACT so that the abstraction of water on national land is no longer managed by the Commonwealth government and can be managed by the ACT, consistent with the Basin Plan. This bill therefore enables the ACT government to take full responsibility for the management of water within the territory and enable an end to the peculiar and inefficient system that currently designates the management of water on territory lands to the ACT government and water on national lands, such as the Googong Dam, to the Commonwealth.
Cooperative, consistent and efficient management arrangements for water extraction within the ACT will have long-term benefits on the sustainability of water resources here in the territory. However, this bill is about more than water. By giving this responsibility to the ACT government, this bill is further recognition that the government of the ACT has well and truly come of age. The ACT achieved self-government in 1988, and I was privileged enough to work for our first Chief Minister, Rosemary Follett, shortly after that. It was a privilege to be a part of the unfolding of selfgovernment in the ACT, and it has been a privilege to watch the ACT Legislative Assembly mature over the last 25 years.
In 2011, I was proud to be a part of this parliament and part of the Labor government when we passed laws to remove one of the final and most significant barriers to ensuring the democratic rights of the citizens of the ACT and Northern Territory. That was the Territories Self-Government Legislation Amendment (Disallowance and Amendment of Laws) Bill 2011, which removed the ability of federal parliamentarians to veto the laws made by the ACT government. This was an important step for ACT self-government, and so is this bill we are debating today—handing the important role of water management in the ACT to the ACT government, where it rightly belongs.
For over 25 years, the Legislative Assembly has been making laws for the peace, order and good governance of the ACT. It has grown to be a mature, stable chamber which is accountable to its constituents. As former Chief Minister of the ACT Jon Stanhope said:
From ambivalent beginnings, self government is now firmly embedded in the consciousness of our community. The ACT, through its stable government and mature parliament, has embraced the social responsibilities with which it is charged. On average, Canberrans are among the healthiest, best educated and most prosperous in Australia. We are just, free and relatively free of prejudice. We have grown in population terms and as an indispensable presence in our region. We have also grown as a community, a vibrant and engaged polity, and increasingly we are recognised as such by a nation whose capital and seat of government we are proud to uphold and sustain.
This is a significant moment for me to be speaking in this place about territory rights. As members will be aware, tomorrow the High Court will hand down its ruling on whether or not the ACT's same-sex marriage laws are inconsistent with the federal Marriage Act.
The Commonwealth has argued that the 2004 Howard government amendments to the federal Marriage Act to define marriage as being between a man and a woman in order to prevent same-sex marriage make it clear—
Dr Stone: Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. I ask that the speaker return to the topic of this debate. It is not about same-sex marriage.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Craig Kelly ): This is a bill for Australian Capital Territory water management, and I would ask the member to refer to the bill.
Ms BRODTMANN: I have been referring to the bill, Deputy Speaker. This is about territory rights, and that is what I am discussing now.
They made it clear that marriage is between a man and a woman and there is no room left for the states and territories to pass laws about samesex marriage. The ACT has argued that the 2004 amendments actually narrowed the Commonwealth law. The Commonwealth law now only deals with heterosexual marriage, so it leaves room for a state or territory to pass a law on different forms of marriage. The ACT law would therefore be able to sit side by side with the federal law.
I am no constitutional expert, so I can in no way guess or pre-empt the High Court's decision tomorrow. However, as a supporter of marriage equality and of self-government, I hope that tomorrow's decision upholds territory rights. ACT Labor has taken a policy of marriage equality to every election since 2001 and has won government each time. Tomorrow we will learn a great deal about the rights of the ACT to make laws for its citizens.
Water management is a very important responsibility, and the ACT government has well and truly demonstrated that it is mature enough to manage this responsibility. Not only is this bill an important milestone for our environment; it is an important milestone for the ACT and territory rights, and I commend it to the House.