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Monday, 29 October 2012
Page: 12254

Ms RISHWORTH (Kingston) (16:05): The Water Amendment (Long-term Average Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment) Bill 2012 is an incredibly important bill. This is not the first time that I have raised in this House the importance of the Murray-Darling Basin. Indeed, I have spoken on numerous occasions about how important it is that we restore this river system to health. Mr Deputy Speaker Georganas, you would understand that our state, South Australia, relies on this system for its drinking water; but, not only that, it is the lifeblood of our nation. As I have said before, if we do not act now to restore this river to health it will be not only the environment that loses; if the river dies, the agriculture along it will die. This is what is sometimes lost in this debate. We can have a debate about agriculture versus the environment, but the truth of the matter is that, if we do not restore this river, there will be nothing. An unhealthy river is no good to irrigators and it is no good to the environment. So it is very important.

I have been taking a very active interest in this. Indeed, on behalf of my constituents I have put in my own submission to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority consultations, I have moved private member's motions in this House and I have also spoken numerous times on this very, very important issue. If we do not do something, so many of the important wetlands and floodplains will die. The mouth of the river needs to be kept open. We need to ensure salinity does not continue to have a destructive impact in the basin, getting worse and worse as you go up the system.

In South Australia we have seen the impact that salinity has had not just on the environment—although it has had a devastating impact on the environment in the Lower Lakes region—but also on farming, ensuring that none of the water, because of the salinity, is able to be used at all for irrigation. It is not of a quality that is great enough. That is why I put in a submission to the Murray-Darling authority actually commenting on the level of water which they had planned to return to the Murray, which was the 2,750 gigalitres. I did say in my submission that I believed that was an inadequate amount to restore the basin to health and that we needed to make sure we were returning enough water to restore the basin to health.

We have heard those on the other side today—in fact, in question time, the member for Murray in her personal explanation said this—say that they do not believe any more water should be returned to the basin, which I think is a very concerning statement from those on the other side. I do not know whether that is flagging the intention of the whole coalition. I know that that would be—I assume—very disturbing for the constituents of South Australia that I represent. But certainly it would be concerning for members on the other side of the House that are from South Australia. The message is loud and clear: we need to do something and the time is now. No longer can we put this in the too-hard basket.

That is why I was very pleased that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities did make an important announcement on Friday just last week, meeting my call for an increased amount of water to be returned to the basin. I was very pleased that the Prime Minister and the minister for water did announce that it would be the government's commitment, in addition to the 2,750 gigalitres returned through the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, to return an extra 450 gigalitres of water to achieve greater environmental outcomes to the basin through water recovery projects that minimise the impact on communities.

This important injection of water will have great results. It is important to note that this is additional environmental water and—as the Prime Minister and the minister for water did mention in question time today—water which will be returned by infrastructure investment. Importantly, it will be returned through an investment of $1.77 billion over 10 years from 2014 to relax key operating constraints that will allow for this additional environmental water to be obtained. This is an important point to note: through investing in infrastructure, we can deliver more water back into the system to ensure that there is water delivering key environmental outcomes, which include ensuring we keep the mouth of the Murray-Darling system open down at the low end, down at the bottom end. I very much welcomed this announcement on Friday. Indeed, I know it is something that the South Australian members on this side of the House, and indeed members from South Australia on the other side of the House, believe in very strongly.

Dr Stone: I rise on a point of order, Deputy Speaker Georganas, and it is relevance. This is not the bill that we have in front of us for debating. It is an announcement made on Friday about the total plan. It is not the bill in front of us to be debated.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr S Georganas ): The member will resume her seat. The member for Kingston is in order. She is talking about water. It is a water bill and the River Murray has an impact on water.

Ms RISHWORTH: This is talking about the sustainable diversion limits and the power of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to move their sustainable diversion limits within a range. One would think that sustainable diversion limits, which are all about ensuring water is returned to the basin, are really critical. I am not surprised that the member for Murray is trying to interrupt me explaining to the House how important this announcement is for South Australia, because of course she announced, just before in this House, that she was not for returning any water to the Murray-Darling system.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I remind the member to refer to people by their seats.

Ms RISHWORTH: Sorry, the member for Murray did indicate that she was not for any water—

Dr Stone: Deputy Speaker, on a further point of order, I do think we have to stick with the facts here. Again, it is not appropriate to actually misrepresent facts. I did not say what the member is claiming.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member will resume her seat. She will have an opportunity to correct any facts that she would like corrected.

Ms RISHWORTH: Sorry, maybe I misunderstood, but I heard the member for Murray saying that no more water should be taken off any irrigators anymore. So it is disappointing, but the people of South Australia know which party is on their side when it comes to the Murray-Darling Basin. They know who is on their side and who will stand up to the other states to ensure there is a national approach to this important water resource. I thought it was important to bring to the attention of the House this important development to making sure that the Murray-Darling Basin is healthy.

Indeed, the bill before us today is also a development and an improvement, something in which many of the basin states have agreed upon. We do have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change the way we manage the Murray-Darling system. The bill before the House today, the Water Amendment (Long-Term Average Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment) Bill amends the Water Act 2007 to provide the Murray-Darling Basin Authority with the ability to adjust the long-term average sustainable diversion limits set by the Murray-Darling Basin plan in accordance with the provision of the Basin Plan without invoking the formal Basin Plan amendment process. This bill will provide for the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, in consultation with the Commonwealth and relevant states, to be able to make adjustments to the sustainable diversion limits in accordance with the provision of the plan to enable more efficient use of environmental water, enabling more water to be available for consumptive use without impacting on the environment, and to enable more water to be recovered for the environment, enabling enhanced environmental outcomes without impacting on rural and regional economies beyond what is envisaged in the Basin Plan.

This will also assist to bridge the gap between the current diversion limits and those allowed under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to ensure that irrigator entitlements will be cut or compulsorily acquired as a result of the Basin Plan.

The key elements are as follows. There is a threshold of plus or minus five per cent of the sustainable diversion limits for water resources as a whole, with formal amendment required to adjust beyond that five per cent threshold. Any adjustments must not reduce the environmental outcomes achieved by the Basin Plan or worsen the socioeconomic impacts. Conversely, the adjusted sustainable diversion limits must continue to reflect the environmentally sustainable level of take, preserving the fundamental requirements of the act. The mechanism under which this will occur is outlined.

I think this is a very sensible amendment. Indeed, I believe it was suggested by states and territories as part of the consultation process. It allows for a simplified adjustment mechanism to be included in the Basin Plan which is easy to understand, and will aid confidence and transparency for all stakeholders. It will improve certainty surrounding decisions to adjust the sustainable diversion limits, enabling states to plan using the adjusted sustainable diversion limits, and provide business improved confidence to invest. So it is a sensible amendment. It builds on our determination, since being elected, to get this plan done. It was the determination of those on the other side at one point, or maybe it was just the determination of the then Minister for Environment and Water Resources, the member for Wentworth. It was his determination to get this done. This is about a national plan to address this issue, and the bill really builds on that.

I look forward, as we continue to reform the Murray-Darling Basin, to seeing what those on the other side will do when this bill comes to a vote. Soon there will be nowhere to hide for the opposition. They will no longer be able to go to communities upstream and tell them one thing and go to communities downstream and tell them another. This has been going on for a number of years. We have seen the Leader of the Opposition duck and weave when questions are asked. He had his then minister for water upstream telling communities one thing and his parliamentary secretary downstream telling communities another thing. When this water reform bill comes to this parliament the opposition will have nowhere to hide. They will have to draw a line in the sand and indicate whether they support water reform or whether they want to continue to let the Murray-Darling Basin die.

We need to ensure that we are acting appropriately, with the national interest in mind, and that is what I believe we are doing here today. I believe this bill is a step towards true water reform and something which will allow us to manage the Murray-Darling Basin as a whole. I commend the bill to the House.