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Monday, 29 November 2004
Page: 38

Mr SECKER (3:00 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Would the minister update the House on the progress of the Living Murray initiative, especially with respect to my seat of Barker and with reference to the premiers' withdrawal during the election campaign?

Mr TRUSS (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —I thank the honourable member for Barker for his question. He will be aware that the Murray-Darling Basin has experienced the driest four years in recorded history, so the reserves of water in the basin are exceptionally low and it will not be possible to meet all of the commitments to irrigators and other users in the year ahead. Nonetheless, the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council is proceeding with plans to develop and implement the Living Murray initiative first step.

Honourable members will be aware that six icon sites have been identified where 500 gigalitres of water will be used to help improve the environmental health of the river. Those sites and the engineering works associated with putting these projects together have been approved over recent months. At the meeting last Friday, ministers agreed on four packages of projects in New South Wales and Victoria to provide 240 gigalitres of the water intended for the first stage. That is a very significant step. It is about half the volume of Sydney Harbour to be available every year to improve the environmental health of the river, and it is around half of all the water that will be required for the first stage. So, well ahead of schedule, around half the water has already been identified for the Living Murray initiative, and there is about another 70 gigalitres available in projects under development to help make this ambitious plan a reality.

What is also important—and I am sure the honourable member for Barker will be particularly pleased by this—is that none of these projects will require the commission to enter the marketplace or distort the market. This will all come from savings through the system: the cooperation of the various jurisdictions and users of water to help deliver savings to benefit the environment. This is a very significant environmental project for Australia. As soon as the jurisdictions recommit to the National Water Initiative it will be possible to roll out the environmental projects for these six icon ecological sites along the river and to help build a stronger and healthier river.

Can I also mention that the meeting adopted salinity targets for the various river systems in the Murray-Darling Basin area, and it will release a salinity management strategy to help address this other key problem in the Murray-Darling Basin region.

Finally, I am sure the honourable member, along with other members from South Australia, would be interested to know that the council has committed a further $7.5 million towards maintaining the sand pumping and dredging project at the River Murray mouth. When there is no water, it is simply not possible for it to be flushed out naturally, so this extensive pumping and dredging arrangement will need to continue. Adequate budget funds have been provided to make sure that the mouth of the river is kept as healthy as possible in these dry times.