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Thursday, 30 September 2010
Page: 346

Mr WINDSOR (2:56 PM) —Mr Speaker, my question is to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. As the minister responsible for the joint issues of population and water, and with the imminent release of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, could the minister outline the way in which he intends to handle the key issues of water in regional communities in the Murray-Darling Basin system and the potential population shifts in both a positive and negative direction in country areas due to changes potentially in the plan?

Mr BURKE (Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) —I want to thank the member for New England for the question. Can I begin by clarifying to the House what gets released on 8 October. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority will be releasing a guide to the draft plan. What comes out on 8 October—

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr BURKE —This is all consistent with legislation that was first put through when the Liberals were in government, so there has been bipartisan support on these sorts of issues. What comes out on 8 October is a guide to the draft plan. That is then followed by a period of consultation. That consultation will be real. None of this adjustment is easy. We are talking about a situation where up and down the Murray-Darling Basin there has been over-allocation and we need to be able to adjust to have a long-term healthy river. We need to be able to do that in a way that pays respect to the importance of environmental flows, to the importance of food production, and to the importance of the future of regional communities. None of it is easy and that is why the levels of consultation go along for the period of time that they do.

The guide to the draft plan that is released on 8 October is put together by the authority, not by myself. But I will be doing everything I can to encourage people up and down the basin—those who are concerned about what sort of adjustment comes through and about where we end up in terms of sustainable diversion limits—to make sure that they do participate in that, because we want to make sure that we end up getting the balance right. It is towards the end of next year that we end up with a situation of putting forward, as an instrument before the parliament, the actual planning powers—and when that plan goes forward it is after a long period of consultation, first following the guide and then following a draft plan. I would urge all to be involved with it, but certainly I, as the minister for water, will not be giving public direction to the authority. I want them to take up their independent role. I want them to be involved in what is for many communities an incredibly sensitive issue. We also have to acknowledge that notwithstanding the fact that in many parts of the basin we have had great rain of late. Only about a week ago I stood at Lake Alexandrina and saw something that no water minister has seen for a long time: pretty much a full lake. But we should not allow the fact that we have had good rains in recent times to divert us from the fact that we do need reform. Even if in many parts of the country drought has broken, we know the nature of our continent, we know it will be back and we do know that we need a long-term adjustment for a sustainable and healthy river.