NSW Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan has launched a verbal spray at his political colleagues for engaging in “political bullshit” over water policy.
An angered Senator Heffernan interjected several times during a heated Senate session on Wednesday on a Matter of Public Importance (MPI) which suggested the Turnbull government was suffering “disarray and division over water policy”.
“Most of this is political bullshit and all the speeches that follow will be - the person in charge of the weather is Mother Earth,” the Junee farmer said during the exchange.
The MPI coincided with six of the eight federal Senate crossbenchers holding a group media conference yesterday supporting Federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce holding full responsibility for water policy.
They also raised concerns about implementation of the Murray Darling Basin Plan demanding it be “paused” due to record high prices of $300 per megalitre of water for irrigators contributing to a “crisis” for farming communities, in the river system.
That media conference also foreshadowed Mr Joyce’s meeting this week with Malcolm Turnbull to discuss final portfolio allocations, as per his Ministerial Charter Letters, and shared responsibilities with Assistant Minister and SA Liberal Senator Anne Ruston.
During one exchange, Senator Heffernan was forced to withdraw a comment made in response to a speech by Queensland Independent Senator Glenn Lazarus.
Senator Lazarus said landholders who rely on underground water “are being left with no water” because their bores are going dry, due to Coal Seam Gas mining companies operating on or near their land.
He said the CSG companies are “extracting water from the underground water table with such ferocity that they are depleting underground water resources”.
But Senator Heffernan said “It is a bloody disgrace”.
During his speech on the environment after the MPI, the NSW Liberal veteran and Junee sheep and grain farmer said he was “bloody insulted today”.
“I came through the (Senate) doors this morning and saw a group of people playing politics with people's livelihoods,” he said in reference to the crossbenchers’ media conference.
“I came into the chamber today and saw the same thing in speeches here - and I refer to the Murray-Darling Basin proposition.
“It is easy to go out to the electorate or to go to Griffith and say, 'We're going to give you more water,' or to go down the street and say, 'we'll provide free beer’.
“You will be popular but you have got to apply some science to it.
“The question the other day from Senator Wong to Senator Colbeck was, 'Do you promise, by legislation, that you will keep the mouth of the Murray open for nine out of 10 years?'
“It is complete rubbish.
“Mother Nature and Mother Earth control what happens.
“We have to take some notice of what the science is saying is going to happen in the future.
“For Senator Glenn Lazarus to say today that he is the only one who can speak - although he did not talk about water, because he knows nothing about it - because he is not attached to a political party and tied to their policy, well try me on.”
Senator Heffernan said “thank God we do not control the rainfall - but the science is warning us”.
“The science says that the weather is going to go anticlockwise and that south-west Western Australia is going to become un-farmable and that parts of the pastoral country of Western Australia will become farmable,” he said.
“If the science is 40 per cent right, the only water that will be reliably available in the Murray-Darling Basin will be the environmental flows for the fish - so they do not have to grow legs - and high-security water.
“What do we do about that?
“We do not go to Griffith or to Coleambally and say, 'We're going to give you more water’.
“I have places there and I know the people, but you cannot play politics with their livelihoods.
“You can argue for as long as you like about the politics of it (but) put the politics to bed, for God's sake.”
Senator Heffernan said parliament was arguing about whether the National Party was going to have water policy or someone else but “Every minister for water in this place has just about cocked it up”.
“As I said to Senator Wong yesterday, some of the buybacks that they made were ridiculous—Tandau and Toorale and Booligal Station,” he said.
“The biggest fraud on the public purse in my time in this place, with regard to water, was the Nimmie-Caira buyback.
“Cubbie Station—and Barnaby and I have had a few blues about this—was a great idea but it was built on the wrong scale.
“They did not issue licences based on the flow; they issued them based on the size of the bloody storages that were built and that depended on the size of the bulldozer.
“So we have got to apply science to this argument and not play politics with it.
“I am bloody angry that we are playing politics, because the global food task does not have a solution.”
Senator Heffernan said by 2050, science was saying “we will go to 9 billion people and by 2070 we will go to 12 billion people”.
“They predict that 30 per cent of the productive capacity of Asia will have disappeared,” he said.
“Thirty-five per cent of the world's population is going to live in that region.
“Fifty per cent of the world's population will be unable to feed themselves.
“Fifty per cent of the world's population will be poor for water.
“We have got a lot of work to do.
“Northern Australia needs to be developed.”
Senator Heffernan said Wednesday's events were “a wedge by the so-called independents against the government about who is going to take over water”.
“That is fair enough; that is politics (but) I do not want politics in water,” he said.
“I do not want some mug who knows nothing about water making decisions on it.”
SA Liberal Senator Sean Edwards said “It seems like a bit of a beat-up to me, quite opportunistic in some ways, because of the change of leadership”.
“We are now the Turnbull government and we are settling the right people into the portfolios where they can engage their constituency,” he said.
Labor has argued that water policy should remain in the Environment Ministry rather than being moved into Agriculture, as per the new Coalition agreement.