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Management of the Murray-Darling Basin system
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Hanson-Young, Sen Sarah
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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee
(Senate-Tuesday, 24 April 2012)
CHAIR (Senator Heffernan)
Ms Le Feuvre
Mr La Nauze
- Mr Morris
Content WindowRural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee - 24/04/2012 - Management of the Murray-Darling Basin system
KELLY, Mr Tim, Chief Executive, Conservation Council of South Australia
LE FEUVRE, Ms Juliet, Healthy Rivers Campaigner, Environment Victoria
SMILES, Ms Beverley, Executive Member, Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales
CHAIR: I welcome representatives from the Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales, the Conservation Council of South Australia and Environment Victoria via teleconference. The Conservation Council of South Australia has lodged submission No. 102. Are there any amendments or alterations you wish to make to that submission?
Mr Kelly : No. The submission is a joint submission from the conservation councils of Australia to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and there is a submission from the Conservation Council of South Australia itself to the authority.
CHAIR: Would you like to make an opening statement and, if so, how many of you would you like to make one, because I mucked it up in the previous one?
Mr Kelly : Yes, please. What we would like to do today is that I would like to briefly run through our joint submission from the conservation councils of Australia.
CHAIR: Please, Mr Kelly, we would like an opening statement that does not mean reading the submission, because we have limited time and we can read that. We usually say a 'brief' opening statement.
Mr Kelly : I understand that. I do not believe I will take more than five minutes to go through the points I have identified.
CHAIR: Righto. Away you go.
Mr Kelly : After that the other states would like to make several points of their own as opening statements and then I would like to just go back and refer to some South Australian issues.
CHAIR: The clock is ticking—we have only got three quarters of an hour.
Mr Kelly : Thank you very much. The conservation councils of Australia represent 450 member groups, so we have very much taken a national interest in this. I would just like to draw out a number of points. In our view the proposed plan as it is presented is noncompliant with the Water Act 2007. We do know that the proposal of 2,750 gigalitres is not scientifically defensible because it will not deliver the key ecological outcomes across the basin. This is highlighted by groups such as the CSIRO, who have confirmed that the levels of take proposed does not achieve the majority of the hydrologic targets and is not consistent with the stated environmental goals.
The plan, in our view, must be based on rigorous, defensible science, returning sufficient water to restore the health of the basin and fix the overallocation, as required by the act. It must keep the Murray mouth naturally open, ensuring that two million tonnes of salt mobilised from the basin in an average year is exported to the sea annually. The environmentally sustainable levels of take must not be compromised by social and environmental considerations, because that is not what is described in the act in our view. The SDLs must be based on achieving a healthy basin, not lowered to match constraints. We would like to see that the constraints are removed and that the water is returned progressively to the environment to achieve truly environmentally sustainable levels of take.
We are very firm that we would like to see the proposal to allocate a further 2,600 gigalitres of groundwater removed from this plan. By default, we believe that these systems should be treated as connected. It is terribly concerning that a plan that is meant to be restoring healthy flows to the river is allocating more water, potentially, from the basin. If the groundwater is from other groundwater systems that are disconnected, obviously it needs to be assessed as to what is sustainable for those separate groundwater systems. But the main thing is that, by default, these systems should be treated as connected to the basin and they should not be allocating further water from them. We would like to see taken into account the full effect of climate change and increased climate variability—the two things, climate change and climate variability, which is on the increase—on future water availability in the basin. The plan needs to be able to take those climate constraints into account.
That is a summary of the key points that I would like to draw out from our submission—collectively from the conservation councils of Australia. I will now hand over to others.
Ms Smiles : From the Nature Conversation Council perspective, just very quickly, we have been involved in the water reform process in New South Wales since the mid-nineties, with people involved in the river management committees and developing the water-sharing plans. We felt that a lot of the outcomes were not good for the environment and tested this through the courts. When we were granted special leave to appeal in the High Court the New South Wales government actually amended the Water Management Act 2000 so that all of the deficient water-sharing plans were then legally valid. We felt that this was a very backward step in the New South Wales water reform process for the environmental protection of water dependent ecosystems.
So we actually welcomed the Commonwealth act and the proposal to have a Basin Plan. Our main concern is that the Basin Plan, as it stands—the proposed plan—will not in effect reverse the problems caused by inefficient water-sharing plans in New South Wales but will further entrench their lack of environmental credibility. I have some examples there that you can read.
We believe that the Basin Plan has the capacity to build the adaptive management flexibility so that adequate water is available to the environment when it is most needed. Many of the existing rules in the water-sharing plans are not conducive to this flexibility and therefore will not improve environmental resilience.
Again, just to highlight our concerns with the Gwydir system, the MDBA has decided to consider that system as disconnected from the basin because, if any contribution to downstream water needs from their existing allocation were made, that it would result in negative impacts with their in-valley indicators, which they have specified for the Gwydir wetlands.
We really do have concerns that the proposed Basin Plan is locking itself into some very poor water-sharing decisions made in the past.
Ms Le Feuvre : Environment Victoria also has a long history of involvement in the Murray-Darling Basin and have been working on these issues for more than 10 years at both the state and federal level. We have conducted our own analysis of what the proposed sustainable diversion limits will mean for the health of Victoria's rivers and we assessed their ability to meet the environmental objectives set by the MDBA. We found that the draft plan will provide reasonably good environmental outcomes of four in-stream habitats but further away from the river channels it is a different story. Floodplains are at best uncertain and at worst disastrous. There will be some improvements in mid-level floodplain condition in some locations, but conditions in the upper levels of floodplains will not improve anywhere in Victoria. Lake Albacutya in the Wimmera system is likely to lose its status as a Ramsar wetland of international importance, and conditions at all the other Ramsar sites in northern Victoria will continue to decline. This sorry state of affairs is in part due to inadequate environmental objectives set by the Victorian government through their own water-planning processes, and these objectives were then adopted by the MDBA. It does not mean to say that they have got any better in the meantime.
All the scientific evidence is pointing in the same direction—that the proposed SDLs will not do enough to return rivers to health or to meet the requirements of the Water Act. Risks to surface-water-dependent ecosystems are likely to remain severe, particularly for the higher level floodplain ecosystem components on the Goulburn floodplain, in the lower Murray regions like Hattah Lakes and Chowilla, and in the northern basin. The Basin Plan 3,200 scenario does not significantly mitigate these risks and further modelling is required to show the volumes of water needed to actually meet the ecological objectives set by the MDBA, starting with 4,000 gigalitres.
The picture for ground water is no happier, with the MDBA proposing an increase in permissible extraction of 2,600 gigalitres across the basin. It should instead return to the precautionary approach it took in the guide. Environment Victoria supports the introduction of the cap on ground water use but it should be immediately set at the current level of entitlements, as occurred when the Murray-Darling Basin cap on surface water extraction was introduced. Any consideration of increased extraction should be delayed until a thorough assessment of characteristics, surface groundwater connectivity, groundwater dependent ecosystems and resource sustainability can be carried out.
As Tim has already mentioned, our other key concerns centre on climate change and system constraints. The MDBA makes a risky assumption that future climate will fall within the range of past climate variability, flying in the face of the huge body of climate change research and projections for a dryer future, particularly in the southern basin and here in Victoria. Contrary to the risk provisions of the National Water Initiative, the environment continues to shoulder the burden of the risk as most environmental water is planned or rules based rather than held and is less secure. Professor Mike Young goes further and argues that held environmental water will also carry a disproportionate share of the risk because it sits outside the SDLs. The MDBA has stated that system constraints are very important limiting factors in setting SDLs and that they hinder the availability of environmental water, particularly to the upper levels of the subplane. Constraints have been cited as a key reason for selecting the 2,750 gigalitre figure. If that is the case, and the MDBA has to be prepared to do something about them, it should conduct a systematic assessment of the feasibility, costs and benefits of redesigning river management operations and infrastructure to deliver ecological outcomes, followed by a prioritisation of works and measures. Once an impediment to the delivery of environmental water has been removed, the MDBA should review the ability to achieve improved environmental objectives and adjust the SDL accordingly.
CHAIR: Thank you for that. Mr Kelly, do you have an opening statement?
Mr Kelly : I just point out that South Australians would really like to support a plan going ahead, but they do not want to accept a bad plan, and that is the message I have picked up from attending a number of forums. If we cast our minds back to 2008 and 2009, we had no float out to sea, and that prolonged over years. Dredgers were used to keep the mouth open. The Coorong system was virtually in a state of collapse, with the key food plant group absent, with impacts on the migratory birds and the entire ecosystem. Water levels in the lakes were dropped, prompting millions to be spent on temporary bunds. SA irrigators faced deep cuts in water entitlements and there was removal of permanent plantings. It was a very dire situation. Emergency pipelines were built around the lakes for irrigators as water could not be accessed from the lakes. South Australia committed to building a 100-gigalitre desalination plant, and water near Tailem Bend off-takes prompted the development of emergency plans to provide water for 30,000 people because of the risk of salt coming up underneath the off-take pumping station.
So, from a South Australian point of view, there are severe impacts and we would really like to see a plan that works. Particularly in the lower system, that seems to be very absent in the proposed plan by the authority. There has been a strong desire for maintaining salinity levels in Lake Alexandrina at less than 1,000 EC units for 95 per cent of the time, and never over 1,500 EC units, and also for maintaining the health of Lake Albert. There needs to be sufficient water for keeping the Lower Lakes above sea level and allowing those lakes to be varied in their height, up and down, so that you get the pulses of water into Lake Albert, back out into the lakes and then down into the Coorong, and there needs to be sufficient improvement to the Lower Lakes barrages and how they are managed so that you get the correct amount of water delivered into the Coorong and prevent saltwater ingress. So there are a number of things that we feel need to be addressed in this plan from a South Australian perspective.
CHAIR: From a South Australian perspective, are you aware that nothing has changed since, say, 1910 to 1930? Are you aware of what happened back then? You are the Conservation Council.
Mr Kelly : I am not exactly sure what you mean, Senator.
CHAIR: The debate we are having now we were having then, because in those days they had the same problem before they regulated the river. The Lower Lakes used to go to salt.
Mr Kelly : I fully appreciate there is climate variability in the natural systems.
CHAIR: No, we are not talking about climate variability; we are just talking about the natural workings of the system before whitefellas interfered with it.
Mr Kelly : Certainly, there was not the level of abstractions in the river system back in 1910 as there is now. We did not have the sophisticated irrigation systems.
CHAIR: And, certainly, if you look at the debate in the parliament in 1921, I think it was, you will find they were having an argument. When the river ran dry—when the Murray stopped running—the sea would come in, and the Indigenous people managed that as part of a natural cycle. Then whitefellas came along and regulated the river system, and they thought that whitefellas were cleverer than Mother Nature and they could keep freshwater lakes and build an industry and expectation around that in the Lower Lakes which defies Mother Earth. Do you think we should continue to defy Mother Earth?
Mr Kelly : Historically, over the past 1,000 or so years, the Lower Lakes have been generally fresh water. There have been periods of dryness and saltwater inundation, but generally they are fresh. That is why you had reeds and Aboriginal communities using the reeds that grew in the lake for thatching. So most of the time, historically, the science suggests that these lakes were fresh water. If you changed that now—if, say, you removed the barrages now—they would turn to salt water extremely quickly.
CHAIR: So have you managed to get your head around the proposition for an Indigenous allocation—a cultural flow?
Mr Kelly : Certainly, we support the cultural flow. That should be part of a sustainable allocation for the river system.
CHAIR: Can you describe to me what a 'cultural flow' is.
Mr Kelly : I do not think it is appropriate for me to go into that area of business.
CHAIR: But you support it?
Mr Kelly : Certainly, we support it.
CHAIR: Even though you do not know what it means.
Mr Kelly : And, if we get the sustainable diversion limits right for the river, then there should be enough water to provide for cultural flows.
CHAIR: And how much is a fair thing for cultural flows?
Mr Kelly : That is not my area of expertise, so I do not think it is appropriate for me to seek to answer—
CHAIR: How would a fish swimming up the river know whether he was swimming through the cultural flow or the environmental flow—or work water on its way to the work?
Mr Kelly : I am not sure of the purpose of answering—
Ms Smiles : It depends on whether the flow actually gives it passage across weirs and other things that fish need.
CHAIR: The Murray-Darling Basin Authority has actually allocated $1 million for some figuring to be done on what it actually means. Symbolically it means a lot; I appreciate that. But, what about in a physical sense if the purpose of the cultural flow is the same as that of the environmental flow without the spiritual input? They talked about some sort of spiritual thing. They wanted the spiritual thing, by the way, to be a financial instrument and able to be traded, which is true.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: They talked about the ability of communities to be self-sufficient, yes, but not in place of.
CHAIR: So the water had to be a financial tradeable instrument according to the person who represented them, but they did not really know—and you do not really know either—about the environmental wellbeing of the flow. When I asked if we could take the cultural flow, because it would serve mostly a useful purpose, as the environmental flow and just allocate that between the two, the answer was no; that had to be separate, on top of that, and it had to be tradeable. Do you really think the system can afford that sort of luxury?
Mr Kelly : I do not think I can speak on behalf of Aboriginal communities, who would be best able to answer the question.
CHAIR: I am talking about from the environmentalist section. And you will not be any greener than me, mate. I know water better than you, I think. Why wouldn't you have a dual-purpose flow? The bank of the river will not know. The fish will not know. The bloke fishing in the river will not know. The symbolism will know.
Ms Le Feuvre : I think there is a lot of overlap between cultural water and environmental water. Many of the objectives are the same. It is probably more, from the Aboriginal perspective, an issue of timing and exactly when the flows are released to coincide with cultural events. As you say, from the fish's point of view it does not make a lot of difference. But I think we just need to be clear about at whose behest that water is coming.
CHAIR: I absolutely accept what you say except that if, for whatever reason, there was an overpowering influence in the people who have not yet determined how they are going to divvy up the water—the allocation of the water and the tradability of the water—you could actually have a group of people who had enough say and enough firepower to say, 'No, sorry. We're not going to include the culture water flow to top up the environmental flow to water the whatever or stop the fish having to grow legs or something.'
Ms Le Feuvre : The MDBA has got a job ahead of it—
CHAIR: That would be an understatement.
Ms Le Feuvre : in pulling together the different sorts of water. There is a lot of talk about using consumptive water en route to do stuff and piggybacking environmental flows on the back of irrigation demand et cetera. These are obviously all really important aspect of water management, but I think you would have to include the cultural flows in that discussion of how you best manage the water to achieve the multiple objectives.
CHAIR: Given that the global food task is going to double in the next 50 years, 50 per cent of the world's population or 9 billion people on the planet will be poor, 30 per cent of the productive land of Asia will have gone out of production with two thirds of the world's population living there and with 1.6 billion people on the planet possibly displaced, do you think the global food task is pretty overpowering?
Ms Le Feuvre : Our food producers are among the most efficient in the world—that is not to say that they cannot get a great deal better. There are billions of dollars worth of investment going into food production alongside the basin plan.
CHAIR: With great respect, there is $40 billion globally going into food production research. It should be $80 billion—we spent $1.7 trillion on global research.
Senator EDWARDS: Mr Kelly is a fellow South Australian. Under the proposed plan, there is an increase of water allocated to the environment over what we have traditionally had. I get a procession of people giving me advice on what we should be doing with the Murray-Darling Basin. Some of the advice is that we should grab the 2,750 with open hands now, go along with it and then try and reassert a position down the track from a political point of view. What would you say to that?
Mr Kelly : I would suggest that that approach is risky, and it also does not comply with what the act requires because the act requires the overallocations to be dealt with. My reading of the science and the science groups that have been commenting on the plan state that 2,750 is not enough to achieve a healthy basin; we really need the 4,000 gigalitres and other higher volumes of water to be modelled to determine what would deliver a healthy basin. I think that is a really important so that we can build resilience in the system and not get back to the situation where we were a few years ago so that we are better prepared when we do have those dry periods and say that the people of the Lower Lakes—the irrigators in the Lower Lakes, the irrigators and the communities below Lock 1—do not have to sit by and watch a system that is virtually failing before their eyes.
Senator EDWARDS: You talk about the science, and the science of this is mind-boggling and somewhat numbing in some cases. Do you agree that the science provided by users along the way into this inquiry varies and is dependent on whichever postcode it is written from?
Mr Kelly : No, I would not support that because groups, like the Wentworth group and the CSIRO that have said that the plan will not deliver all the hydrological and environmental outcomes, are actually giving a perspective that is above the state perspective.
Ms Le Feuvre : From a Victorian perspective, the South Australian government is actually to be commended for investing in independent research into what this actually means. If the other states had done the same thing for their river systems, we might be in a better position to judge how good the plan actually is.
CHAIR: Do the Conservation Council and the present witnesses have a view on—and it has not been included in the calculations—the vagary of the snapshot of the future out to 50 years and the decline in run-off, increase in temperature and declining snow?
Are you aware of and have you done the sums on at what point in that science vagary in most years low-security water allocation would be zero?
Ms Le Feuvre : That partly depends on what state you are in. Here in Victoria even with the rain we have had in the last couple of years still no low-reliability water has been allocated on the Murray and the Goulburn.
CHAIR: You are probably familiar with the Goulburn—would that be a fair statement?
Ms Le Feuvre : Yes.
CHAIR: So what is the mean annual flow of the Goulburn?
Ms Le Feuvre : About 3½ thousand gigs.
CHAIR: 2750, and 38 per cent of the run-off comes from the two per cent of the landscape that is the top of the Murray and the Murrumbidgee. If the science is 40 per cent right in most years in those river systems, there will be zero allocation for general purpose water if the vagary is 40 per cent—or perhaps 45 per cent right. You are talking to a Senate committee that actually understands the difficulty.
Ms Le Feuvre : The Victorian government said that under a severe climate change scenario you would still get low-reliability water in about four per cent of years, so low-reliability really does mean low-reliability in Victoria.
CHAIR: So does the Conservation Council's intellectual merit accept that it is possible to grow a lot more tucker with a lot less water if you go about it the right way?
Ms Le Feuvre : Absolutely.
Senator EDWARDS: How do we do that in South Australia, given that our efficiencies are very high also? With all this promise in the plan of new efficiencies and ABARES predictions of new efficiencies, how do we get more efficiencies out of South Australia, given that we have been doing it since 1969?
CHAIR: In 2002, Senator Edwards, for your benefit, I suggested that if we do not move with the times, we might have to move Adelaide upstream and that would assist.
Senator EDWARDS: Thank you, Chair, I have nothing further.
Mr Kelly : I will chip in there and I recognise that South Australia capped its water take in about 1969, and we have extremely efficient irrigation systems on average. There is the opportunity to assist those communities that are already efficient in other ways to diversify their economies and build resilience in other parts of their economies.
Senator EDWARDS: What does what you just said actually mean?
Mr Kelly : Not everything in a rural economy depends on irrigation from the river, so certainly if they are already highly efficient—and there is an issue of fairness here; South Australia has been extremely efficient on average on its irrigation systems—and there is support for regional economies to support infrastructure and other things, then South Australia would be at a potential disadvantage but there are other opportunities to help economies in other ways. That needs to be fully explored. There are also opportunities to support the infrastructure improvements that need to be provided for the Lower Lakes and the Coorong to get those systems working properly that would deliver better outcomes for the community, the irrigators and the environments that depend on those systems in the lower system.
Senator EDWARDS: Mr Kelly, I am concerned with the economic viability of the people that are current irrigators in South Australia, and you talk broadly about redefining their roles. I am interested to know: has the Conservation Council of South Australia in its identifying that we can diversify into other things actually done any work on what these farmers diversify into to remain profitable?
Mr Kelly : These farmers exist. They are already established. We are not talking about closing any irrigation systems down. We are not talking about taking water away from irrigators in any compulsory manner.
Senator EDWARDS: What is the diversification that you have now mentioned twice that they need to go into to remain viable?
Mr Kelly : There is a whole range of potential options whether it is low-water use—
Senator EDWARDS: Can you tell me what they are?
Mr Kelly : crops, whether it is manufacturing, whether it is different low-emission opportunities for the future.
Senator EDWARDS: But what are they? Manufacturing—what are they? What are these farmers going to diversify into that you are talking about?
Mr Kelly : All I am suggesting is that, as we go through this process, there are different ways to support irrigation communities, particularly those who have already proven to be highly resilient and highly efficient in their water usage.
Senator EDWARDS: How?
CHAIR: 'He does not know' is the answer.
Ms Le Feuvre : Could I give you an example from Victoria where VicSuper, a large super fund, has a farming future fund. And that is all about purchasing irrigation land in northern Victoria and reconfiguring it so that the good bits stay in irrigation and the not-so-good bits get put to other uses, be it for carbon sequestration or returned to conservation purposes. VicSuper believes it can make money out of doing this. The board is committed to that kind of approach. That is one example of how it can be done.
CHAIR: Can I just clarify that?
Ms Le Feuvre : The only thing I can say to the committee is that Farms, Rivers and Markets, which is a project by Uniwater at Melbourne university, is all about how you can get efficiencies both in farming and in water management and how the two can work together. They have just completed a report, which has gone up on the website in the last few weeks. If you want some examples of how you can do this stuff better, that is a group of some of the best academics in the country trying to work it out and running practical, on-ground projects through their Dookie campus at Melbourne uni near Shepparton.
CHAIR: Can I drill down into that. You are saying that a super fund is going to invest in northern Victoria?
Ms Le Feuvre : Yes, near Kerang. The project is already underway. They have been buying up property.
CHAIR: They have acquired the freehold?
Ms Le Feuvre : Yes, that is right.
CHAIR: They are not looking for a return on their investment?
Ms Le Feuvre : Obviously, they are looking for a return for their investors, otherwise they would not be doing it. They are a super fund; they are not about throwing money away.
CHAIR: Are they doing that by a lease back arrangement or an enterprise arrangement?
Ms Le Feuvre : They are doing it through purchase and sale of land. They are obviously leasing some of it and they are selling other bits. They have got a whole complex model on how to view it.
CHAIR: It is not based on a productive model?
Ms Le Feuvre : It is a productive model. They are retaining water on the farm productive land for irrigation purposes. It is around the Winlaton Depression near Swan Hill. There is a potential to provide flood mitigation to Swan Hill. There are all sorts of other things they could do with that land.
CHAIR: Yeah, best of luck.
Ms Le Feuvre : As I say, if a super fund is prepared to invest in it, and they are not known for their lack of caution—
CHAIR: Oh, yeah! I will not take you to task on that. I can tell you they have made some very poor acquisitions, and I could run you through how they take the capital appreciation, which is what you were talking about as part of this, to the bottom line rather than the cash flow.
Ms Le Feuvre : Let us leave their internal mechanisms to them.
CHAIR: It is tomfoolery and roguery.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I would like to bring us back to the draft plan as is. All three of you have spoken about the fact that the 2,750 gigalitre figure is not going to be enough to achieve the environmental outcomes that we need in order to keep the system healthy into the future. Do you see the 4,000 gigalitre figure as a workable compromise?
Mr Kelly : Certainly the 4,000 gigalitre figure is one that needs to be modelled. What that delivers I do not know. The scientists have said that there is not enough information to know exactly how many environmental outcomes and hydrological targets that would meet because the modelling has not been done.
Senator NASH: Sorry, Senator Hanson-Young. So how do we ever come up with a figure of any sort?
Ms Smiles : It has not been done with the new approach that the MDBA switch to to develop the proposed plan. There was modelling done for the guide, but for their switched approach they did not come up with any figures to be able to compare the type of comparisons that we were able to make.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: They did say that they would be able to put the 4,000 figure into the model and let it run. Is that your understanding?
Ms Le Feuvre : They have said a few things about the modelling. Obviously, when they did the guide, the figure they came up with for being certain of returning rivers to health was 7,600. That was the starting point, and from there we have gone down to 2,750. That is a fairly big difference. What they did was to show the figure of 2,800 and run that through the model to see what it would do, rather than saying, 'Okay, these are all the water requirements. How much water do we need to meet them?' So they took the 2,800 figure on that basis and then did the 2,400 and 3,200 on either side of it to track what the differences were, but they did not—and have not to date—actually look at the 4,000 and see how that would run through their model. They say there is constraint and there are rules, regulations and all that stuff, but on the other hand they have not actually given it a go.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You say that the figure of 2,800, which is now of course 2,750, was simply put into the model. Why was that figure chosen in the first place?
Ms Le Feuvre : That is a really good question. We have spent quite a significant amount of effort trying to get to the bottom of that. As we understand it, it was first raised as a figure early in 2011, post the guide, and it seemed to me and to most of the group to be a political compromise. So that was where it came from. It was a political figure rather than a scientific one.
CHAIR: Is it a net or a gross figure?
Ms Le Feuvre : It is a reduction amount off a baseline.
CHAIR: Yes, but is it net or gross? As you would know, if you trade water up the river then you can cause serious double-dip damage to the lower reaches of the river.
Ms Le Feuvre : Yes.
CHAIR: Is this net or gross? What proportion does it include by way of freight? What proportion does it include net after the groundwater extraction, with a 40 per cent contribution in some sections of the lower Murray-Darling Basin?
Ms Le Feuvre : It is treated completely separately from groundwater, and that is one of the serious problems. On the one hand they are proposing to recover 2,750 in surface water, and at the same time they are proposing to give away 2,600 in groundwater.
CHAIR: The net figure could well be only 1,000 gigs or something, so—
Ms Le Feuvre : Absolutely. Yes.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Or even less. Thank you. So if we do not know how they chose that figure—and I have asked them and they have not come up with an answer; they just say, 'That's the figure that was used in the modelling'—how do you think they came up with the figure for the groundwater extraction?
Ms Le Feuvre : That is based on the recharge risk assessment model, which estimates on a very broad basis what recharge to groundwater is. They say that they have taken a precautionary approach and halved it and halved it again, but there is no scientific review of the model that they have used, so it would not be a precautionary approach at all.
Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What type of consultation have the three organisations had with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority in relation to the draft plan?'
Mr Kelly : We have been invited to attend a number of information sessions and had discussions with the authority over last year and this year. My feeling was that at many of those meetings there were a number of questions continuously asked about modelling the 4,000 gigalitres, why certain things were done and when reports were going to be released as such. It was always a little bit constrained in the answers that were provided, so we have felt that there has not been a hugely strong amount of listening to the concerns of the environmental movement. If there were, we would have seen the 4,000 gigalitres and other values modelled already, and then there would be better knowledge and information out in the community and with policymakers to make an informed decision.
Ms Smiles : Just to answer that question as well, as far as the information sessions that the MDBA has been running are concerned, I think we were given 10 days notice of the last-minute decision to hold an information session in Sydney, and the 10 days included Easter, so it was very short notice for anyone that was interested in the issue in Sydney to be able to organise themselves to get along to that information session. So we do not feel that there has been enough notice to enable community access to the sessions that have been run. We have had our specific consultations as representatives, but the way the community consultations were run was different for different places.
CHAIR: Regretfully, we are running out of time.
Ms Le Feuvre : For some of the community consultations out in regional Victoria, they would ring up a couple of days before and say, 'Do you know of any environmental people we should invite?' That kind of notice is really very short. In terms of the ENGO consultation, we have had a number of briefings with them. Finally, in Sydney, probably a couple of weeks ago, we had the sort of conversation we wished we had had about a year before, while the plane was still under development.
CHAIR: The great comfort I can give you is that this committee does not intend to give up easily, and you will have another opportunity to give evidence as more detail becomes available, because at the present time it is a pretty scary scenario. I just want to confirm that you are going to table those documents.
Mr Kelly : Yes, I have provided them already.
CHAIR: Thank you very much. I am sorry we have to end things here, but there has to be discipline in the system or the next witnesses miss out and so on. Thank you very much for your evidence today. Obviously, we have a long way to go.
Ms Smiles : Thank you.