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Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Page: 2451

Murray-Darling Basin


Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (14:50): My question is to Senator Conroy, representing the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Mr Burke. This morning, the Adelaide Advertiser held an event on the lawns of Parliament House urging politicians not to overlook South Australia in the plan to return the Murray River to health. At this event, lower Murray pistachio grower David Peake held up a Murray-Darling Basin Commission graph from 2009 that represented clearly that South Australian irrigators have stuck to the diversion caps since they were established in 1968, largely by investing in many self-financed water efficiency measures. I seek leave to table a copy of that graph.

Leave granted.

Senator XENOPHON: The graph also clearly indicates that other states have continued to extract more and more water from the system—some over 3,000 gigalitres since the late 1960s. Will the minister acknowledge that South Australia has stuck to the extraction caps where other states have not?



Senator CONROY (VictoriaMinister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:51): I thank Senator Xenophon for the courtesy. Minister Burke is aware of these points and saw the powerful information presented by David Peake on the lawns in front of Parliament House today.

Pressure on the Murray-Darling Basin for more than a century is why we now face tough decisions about how we manage our most precious water resource in the future. The Murray-Darling Basin has been dealt with as a tug-of-war between the states for more than a century. What you have described is one of the ways in which this tug-of-war has worked to the disadvantage of South Australia. By moving to a national plan for the Murray-Darling Basin, this year we can finally end the tug-of-war between the states that has always resulted in less water for South Australia.


Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (14:52): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for not answering the question. Does he acknowledge that South Australia has stuck to the extraction cap since 1968, whereas other states have not? And can he indicate whether the current draft Basin Plan provides any financial or environmental credit to South Australia, which has stuck to those extraction caps since 1968?


Senator CONROY (VictoriaMinister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:53): The Basin Plan takes account of all water use and environmental initiatives up to 2009. This includes the work of South Australian irrigators. The Australian government is committed to developing a Basin Plan which supports healthy rivers, strong communities and sustainable food production.


Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (14:53): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I again ask the minister: does the minister acknowledge that South Australia has stuck to extraction caps since 1968 whereas other states have not? And, at a recent public meeting into the draft Basin Plan in Renmark in South Australia, Minister Burke indicated that he accepted the criticism that many South Australian irrigators were unable to access a $5.8 billion federal fund for water-saving measures because they were already too efficient to qualify. The minister said the issue was being addressed. How is that issue being addressed?


Senator CONROY (VictoriaMinister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:54): Minister Burke acknowledged that it has been the case for water programs targeted at irrigators in South Australia that the percentage of applications received has been lower than in other parts of the country. Whenever this has occurred, the money earmarked for South Australia has remained available to South Australia. The Australian government is currently working with the South Australian government on how best to use these funds that will best deliver a healthy river.