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Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Page: 13569

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (MaranoaDeputy Speaker) (22:16): It is a great pleasure to follow the member for Riverina on this Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012. This reform of the Murray and the Darling river systems has gone back a long time in history. It is not something that only this government has been dealing with. In fact, I well recall John Anderson, the former Deputy Prime Minister and the former member for Gwydir, introducing the National Water Initiative, which was instrumental in starting a very credible process that not only was designed to deal with reform of water and ensure environmental flows within the Murray-Darling Basin system but also acknowledged that we have got to look after the communities where there is a water buyback or a loss of allocation and what that might mean to some of the regional economies along the Murray-Darling system.

In relation to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, I put a submission in to the initial inquiry by this government. One of the points I raised was that the Murray and the Darling are two ecologically different systems. The Murray is in southern Australia and it comes from more of a Mediterranean type climate. A lot of the water comes from winter rainfall patterns and it also comes from a lot of melting snow. I represent the seat of Maranoa, which has the entire Condamine-Balonne river system, the Warrego River system and the Paroo River system within its boundaries. They are all part of what we call the Murray-Darling Basin catchment area. I also have within my electorate the border rivers of the Macintyre, the Weir and the Moonie. The Macintyre is one that I share with my good friend Mark Coulton, the member for Parkes.

Mr Laming: It is a fine river in Goondiwindi.

Mr BRUCE SCOTT: Indeed, as the member for Bowman says—but it extends further back. It goes right back to the headwaters of the Macintyre system and the Severn system, which comes right up into the back of Stanthorpe. I know that at Stanthorpe, for the last 20 years, they have been searching for ways to be able to get more water to secure the horticultural production that is so important not only to the food source in Australia but also for the export effort that goes into the products that are produced in the Stanthorpe and the Southern Downs Regional Council area.

I have a very real concern that, whilst a large part of the bill that we have before the House—and the works and measures and the proposed buybacks of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan—has much support from this side of the House and many of my producers, there are still very real concerns that there is not science backing up the issue of the quantum of water in relation to buybacks nor is there any research or regional impact study that has been done on where that water is proposed to be bought from. That is a very real concern. In the Lower Balonne region in my electorate, I know that the government want to buy back some 100 gigalitres. They have already bought 35 gigalitres.

As the member for Riverina said, there are farmers who will sell water for all sorts of purposes. We understand that, but what we must understand is that when water is purchased from a region there can be a regional impact on the economy of that area. There has not been the research done to satisfy me nor many of my constituents, whether it is concerning the Macintyre, the border rivers, the Condamine or the Balonne river systems in my electorate. In fact, they are telling me in the Lower Balonne that, if 100 gigalitres is purchased, it will equate to 25 per cent of the total allocation in that part of the Condamine-Balonne river system. They say they can live with the 35 gigalitres that has already been purchased and at this point it is not having any impact on the regional economy. But they tell me that if the government does buy up to 100 gigalitres—in other words, the other 65 gigalitres—it will inevitably have an impact on the regional economy of that part of the Condamine-Balonne river system.

I want to also point out at this juncture that in Queensland we have been through an exhaustive process for the last 10 to 15 years in relation to water allocation management plans and the resource operational plans that have been done by state governments. In the Condamine-Balonne river system, 15 per cent of the allocations were given back to the environment as part of that process without compensation. They moved from the older type allocation systems to an events based process of allocation—the 'event' meaning the time of the year and the flow in the river, which determined how much water you would be able to extract at that time.

Many in my community and many of my irrigators are exhausted at this process that has gone on for so long. It creates a great deal of uncertainty in the communities. It does not give confidence to business to invest in the region. What they are saying to me in relation to buybacks is they want a cap on the buybacks, that there will be no more buybacks without the science being presented to the community so they can understand. They are prepared to look at good science, as they did with the ROPs and the WAMP allocation process, where they moved to an events based allocation rather than the older type where they just had an allocation from the river systems. So they want to see the science that underpins the buybacks. They want to see more work done and they do support the works and measures money, because out of efficiency you can get a win-win situation. You can get water for the environment. As a result of that, you can also make the use of that water more efficient, which gives both a dividend to the farmer and a benefit to the environment.

We have little time tonight, and I am disappointed that the government want to see this going through here tonight. As outlined by the member for Riverina, there has been a House Standing Committee on Regional Australia inquiry going on and we have not seen the report tabled in this place, which we should have seen before this final bill was presented for consideration by members on both sides.

The Border Rivers Food and Fibre group have said to me—and they have said it to the state ministers on both sides of the border—that they still believe that the Basin Plan remains unacceptable in its current form. I have outlined some of the concerns that they have. They see that, as I said in my original submission, the northern part of the Murray-Darling system—in other words, the Darling system—should be considered separately from the Murray system. I outlined earlier in my remarks tonight the reasons why. They believe there should be a completely separate Basin Plan. I reflect those comments on behalf of Border Rivers Food and Fibre. Before any further buybacks are conducted, they want to see the science that underpins why that water is needed, where it will be delivered and where it will be bought from within the system. These are all very, very real concerns that Border Rivers Food and Fibre have, whether it is the Macintyre River system, the Condamine-Balonne or even the Warrego system.

I was out in the Warrego only 10 days ago, talking to the irrigators. There is very limited irrigation there at the moment. It is a very arid area but there is limited irrigation, particularly for high-value crops such as grapes and melons and some organic production of cereal grains. When we went through the water allocation management plans for the Warrego some seven or eight years ago, 8,000 megalitres was given back to the environment without any compensation for the impact that the loss of that water from the Warrego would have on the economic activity in the Warrego business areas.

I have to say that the producers in my electorate will work with a good plan. They still believe the science does not underpin the 1,500 gigalitres that the government wants to buy. They are concerned that there is no assessment of the regional impact, the cost of the buyback and what it would mean to some of those communities if they lost that volume of water in those areas. That should be done before any buyback occurs so it can be explained to the community and a package of measures put in place to ensure that there is no loss of economic activity in that part of the basin.

I say tonight that I am disappointed that this government has decided that they want to see this bill passed tonight, in the last sitting week of this year—almost rammed through this place. It is such an important issue. It has gone on for many years—in fact, decades. In Queensland we have been going through this at a state level and now at the federal level for 10 to 15 years. Farmers do want to be part of the solution. They want to work for an outcome that is sustainable and will mean greater security for their business operations and also no loss of economic activity in their business areas.