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Tuesday, 16 September 2008
Page: 19

Senator FISHER (2:39 PM) —My question is to Senator Faulkner, the Minister representing the Minister for Climate Change and Water. On what empirical analysis has the government based its decision to pay $24 million to put 20 gigalitres of Toorale Station water into the Murray-Darling Basin whilst at the same time agreeing to pipe 110 gigalitres of water from the Murray-Darling to water the city of Melbourne?

Senator FAULKNER (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) —I will provide what information I can to Senator Fisher in response to her question. I can inform the Senate that on 10 September the New South Wales government reached agreement with Clyde Agriculture to purchase the land and associated water rights of Toorale Station for some $23.75 million. The purchase of Toorale Station in New South Wales is in accordance with the principles of buying from willing sellers at market prices and will be assisted through a substantial grant from the Commonwealth to New South Wales for this purpose.

The purchase of Toorale Station will return an average of 20 billion litres of water to the Darling River each year, peaking at up to 80 billion litres in flood years. I can say that significant environmental assets that will benefit from this purchase include some wetlands of national importance at Menindee Lakes as well as the Darling River itself. Of course the recent CSIRO sustainable yields audit for the Barwon-Darling system also found that the middle zone of the Darling River, between Bourke and Menindee Lakes, is in poor condition. When the water-sharing plans for the Warrego and Darling rivers are finalised, Toorale Station’s 14 billion litre per year water entitlement and flood plain harvesting rights will be transferred to the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder to boost environmental flows in the northern Murray-Darling Basin.

In relation to the second part of Senator Fisher’s question, which goes to the Sugarloaf pipeline, I can inform the Senate that the Victorian government has provided assurances that there will be no reduction in flows to the environment, and particularly to the Murray, as a consequence of this particular project. I can also say to the Senate that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Mr Garrett, has imposed conditions to ensure that those assurances from the Victorian state government are met. Specifically, it is a condition of Mr Garrett’s approval that no water can be taken from savings allocated to the Living Murray Initiative, from the Water for Rivers entitlements or from environmental reserves and that all water-savings projects supplying the pipeline are compliant with the EPBC Act. The proponent has identified water savings in allocations for the first year of the pipe’s operation in 2010, including savings achieved from the Central Goulburn 1 to 4 projects, the Shepparton Modernisation Project and a water quality reserve not allocated to environmental projects (Time expired)

Senator FISHER —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. From that answer I take it that there is a lack of empirical modelling upon which putting water back in and taking water out is based. Minister, what four or five other farms does the government propose to take out of food and fibre production to feed the 110 gigalitres promised to put Melbourne on the Murray-Darling Basin?

Senator FAULKNER (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) —The information I have and I can assist Senator Fisher with is this. The project was assessed at the state level by an independent advisory committee, which has reviewed the project impact assessment report and the public submissions received in relation to it and has also held public hearings. I can also indicate to the senator that this assessment process was accredited under the EPBC Act to address matters of national environmental significance, which of course are matters for which Mr Garrett is responsible, as you would appreciate. If there is any other information I can provide to the senator I am happy to do so, but I will ask Mr Garrett, as minister for the environment, as well as my colleague Senator Wong. (Time expired)