March 5, 2013  |  Second Reading

Water Legislation Amendment Bill 2012

I am pleased to make my contribution to the debate on this piece of legislation, which relates to the water industry and makes some changes that are relatively minor in view of the changes we have seen made over previous years.

For the most part, however, these are sensible changes. As we have heard, one of the major changes is to provide greater authority for our water authorities to put single meters into units that are to be built in the future and also into existing flats and units so that water usage charges will be apportioned appropriately to the individual units, therefore ppropriately encouraging water savings.

In relation to that, while I accept that is a sensible policy, as with the member for Corio, there is clearly an issue associated — —

 An honourable member
interjected.

Mr HOWARD — The member for Lara, as the electorate is now;
I stand corrected.

The member for Lara recognised that clearly there would be a cost that would be apportioned to those flat and unit dwellers both in having the meters installed and then in terms of the ongoing costs associated with the charges that have been previously covered by landlords. There may be a need for the government to look at supporting people in low-cost housing and low-cost units to cover the costs of the switch to single metering. There is clearly going to be a significant cost involved, and I would have hoped the government would have addressed that as part of the legislation. I look forward to the responses of government members on how the government might be able to support low-income earners if they are required to convert the flats they are in to single meters.

As we have heard, within this legislation there are a number of other changes regarding
registration and the register associated with water licences.

Again these are sensible; they are so that the register picks up all of the issues associated
with the water industry so that the minister and the government can keep a closer check on them.

The other issue that is of particular interest to me in this legislation is the removal of the surcharge of 1.5 cents per litre for licences for the extraction of mineral water that is then bottled. While I understand the rationale for removing the levy is that it has not taken a lot of money — I believe the quoted figure was $60 000 a year — and that it also puts our
mineral water bottlers at a disadvantage relative to those in other states, I am disappointed that instead of taking this action we did not talk with other states, because clearly the water bottling industry is different from people simply taking water and using it for their own benefit. When mineral water is bottled and on-sold at a significant price increase there is clearly a profit to be made.

We apply appropriate levies to the mining industry as it extracts solid minerals, and I think it would have been appropriate to look at appropriate state taxation revenue as it would apply to mineral water, given the mineral water was being on-sold and a significant profit being made.

The benefit of that mineral water surcharge originally was that it went into a fund used by the Victorian Mineral Water Committee to allocate money to a range of projects to upgrade a number of the mineral springs sites around Victoria, particularly those in the electorate of Ballarat East, where a good percentage of the state’s mineral water activities are located.

I understand it is acknowledged in the legislation that the funding will now come from consolidated revenue, and I am hopeful that the funding for the upgrade of mineral springs will continue. It has been valuable in terms of both the promotion and appreciation of mineral water activity around the state.

I was pleased to open the upgraded Locarno Spring at Hepburn Springs some years ago, and was again pleased to be in Hepburn Springs last week to see that more work is taking place there, some of it funded through the mineral springs committee, to improve that area. In so many sites around the state and particularly across my electorate substantial funding has been
allocated to upgrading mineral water facilities so that they can continue to be
appreciated by tourists and other visitors to the area. I hope that funding
will continue.

 The member for
Benalla spoke earlier in the debate, and I am concerned about comments from the
government about future water planning. It points up the difference between the
Labor side of the house when it was in government and the now government. The
member for Benalla went on, saying, ‘Why do we worry about climate change? That
is not a big issue’, and, ‘What we know in the country is that it is always
going to rain sometime’. It appears that his philosophy is clearly what we
heard from the then opposition when the Bracks and Brumby governments were in
office. When big water projects were proposed its members often decried them as
unnecessary, saying, ‘It will rain eventually’. But as the member for Ballarat
East let me remind the house that until 2009 we had had 10 years of below average
rainfall, and if it had not been for the foresight of the Bracks and Brumby
governments in building the goldfields super-pipe — something that was decried
by the then opposition as unnecessary — both Bendigo and Ballarat would have
run out of drinking water before the rains eventually came in 2009. Maybe the
member for Benalla is right, that the rains might eventually come, or some rain
will eventually come. However, as a government planning for people’s future we
did not know when those rains would come, and over the years we had to plan for
droughts as well as floods. We need to recognise all those realities and ensure
that the people of this state will continue to have a secure water supply into
the future.

Clearly the Bracks and Brumby governments undertook a range
of measures that ensured that we would have a secure water supply. The
goldfields super-pipe certainly provided a secure water supply for the people
of Ballarat and Bendigo, which they benefited greatly from in 2009 and will
continue to benefit greatly from into the future as they continue to build,
knowing they have a secure source of water.

While it will eventually rain, we know that we will have
more years of low rainfall. Clearly the desalination plant is an investment in
the future. If we had not committed to it at the time and had it not rained
when it did, Melbourne would have been in a severe state without the water it
needed. In planning for the future at the time it was important to commit to
the desalination plant, and in the future it will be seen to have been a very
worthwhile investment.

I also noted that in his contribution the member for Benalla
expressed concern about bottled water going out of his area and some issues
with trucks. He did not seem to recognise that the coalition has now been in
government for two years and that therefore he should be proposing solutions,
as with his concerns about what happened with Lake Mokoan and reliability of water
in that region. Two years into office the government should stop whinging about
things and actually put forward plans. I look forward to serious plans coming
from this government in the future. The bill provides some sensible but minor
changes to the water industry. I commend the changes, but clearly there are
some significant issues that the government will have to deal with in the
future as we experience lower rainfall levels. I certainly hope and expect that
there may be a change of government in the not-too-distant future, with the
Labor Party returning to government and ensuring the future of Victorians in
terms of water security and a whole range of other issues, which it clearly did
when it was last in government.