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Tuesday, 2 February 2016
Page: 55

Murray-Darling Basin Plan

Dr STONE (Murray) (15:08): My constituency question is to the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources. Minister, how will our amendments to the Water Act 2007 help with the crisis my irrigators and food manufacturers now face in the Goulburn-Murray irrigation districts as water prices in the temporary market soar over $300 per megalitre? How will the amendments help rebalance the Murray-Darling Basin Plan so it genuinely delivers a community, economy and environmental balance of interdependent interests?

Mr JOYCE (New EnglandMinister for Agriculture and Water Resources) (15:08): I thank the honourable member for her question. I note the work that she has done over such a long period of time for the people in her constituency and the very capable analysis that she has, having a PhD in economics and also having started her life with study in anthropology. It means she might help us understand those on the opposite side!

It is incredibly important that we had the review into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. This has brought about a range of changes that are going to assist us—most importantly, the requiring of five-yearly reviews of the socio-economic impacts of the basin. I know that the member is absolutely focused on those socio-economic impacts, because it is the two million-plus people who live in the basin who need their rights reflected and need their rights respected. It is these people who will drive growth and jobs. It is these people who put the product on the boat. So it is only proper that we get a proper assessment of the assumptions that were initially delivered in the plan and we make sure that we are delivering back to them the outcome that secures their future so that we can continue to be the benefactor of their work, of the product that they produce.

Also, we have made sure in this review that the former anomaly where profits from the trading of water, which would in the past go to purchasing more licences, exacerbating the problems, has changed. We can use that money for such things as in-stream measures and works to alleviate our requirements for buybacks. We know that the more water that you buy back, the more it has a direct correlation to the socio-economic detriment of towns such as Shepparton, where you are.

We also want to reduce the regulatory burden and minimise the red tape for farmers, and this is part of the review process. Water prices in this area have been very volatile, but they have been affected by a range of issues such as the hot and dry season conditions. Storages across the basin have been low at times, and, consequently, seasonal allocations are low. This is particularly the case for general security water entitlements in New South Wales. Most owners of water entitlements—irrigators—are using limited allocations on their own properties, leaving little excess water to put on the temporary market. But we have been aware of this, and we are looking very closely at it. If there are unreasonable fluctuations in markets, we must make sure that we have proper market conditions, not people exploiting the market.

This is part of a process in which I am proud to work with all members of the Murray-Darling Basin to make sure that we are diligently delivering back to the basin the sort of future that we have delivered in the past.