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Thursday, 15 May 2003
Page: 14771


Mr FITZGIBBON (9:59 AM) —The Murray-Darling Basin Amendment Bill 2002 amends the Murray-Darling Basin Act of 1993 to give effect to an agreement between the Commonwealth, New South Wales and Victoria on new arrangements for sharing water made available to the River Murray catchment. The Murray-Darling Basin covers one million square kilometres and comprises about 14 per cent of Australia's continental land mass. It extends across four states and includes Australia's three longest rivers—the Darling, the Murray and the Murrumbidgee. The basin incorporates 75 per cent of Australia's irrigation and supports 40 per cent of Australia's agricultural production. The health of the basin is critical to the Australian economy and the prosperity of the regional communities that depend on it. I see my colleague the member for Wills on the speakers list for this bill, and I am sure he will have a little more to say about the environmental issues.

The Murray-Darling Basin Agreement was made in June 1992 between the Commonwealth, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia and replaced the River Murray Waters Agreement. The state of Queensland became a party to the agreement in 1996. The agreement concerns the management of the basin's land, water and environmental resources. In short, this bill gives effect to the Murray-Darling Basin Amending Agreement. The amending agreement was agreed to by the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council in October 2001 and was signed by the Prime Minister and the premiers of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia in June 2002.

The amending agreement makes important changes to the regime for sharing water in the River Murray catchment above Hume Dam and is subject to parliamentary approval in all relevant jurisdictions. The amending agreement removes references to the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority and the associated Snowy Mountains Agreement. This is required in the wake of the corporatisation of the Snowy scheme which occurred on 28 June 2002, following repeal of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Power Act of 1949 and its replacement with the Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Act of 1997.

The amending agreement also requires the Murray-Darling Basin Commission to determine the respective allocations to New South Wales and Victoria from increased water flows according to an environmental strategy developed by the commission. It, one, protects Victoria's and South Australia's rights to water from the River Murray; two, enables the transfer of water savings and purchases to environmental entitlements for the Snowy River and the River Murray; and, three, establishes additional water accounting, notification, consultation and modelling mechanisms that will be the responsibility of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission.

The basis of the amending agreement is a deal between the Commonwealth and the governments of New South Wales and Victoria to allocate an additional 70 gigalitres per annum in environmental flows for the River Murray. The deal is also designed to deliver improved environmental outcomes for rivers in the Kosciuszko National Park. The New South Wales and Victorian Labor governments have agreed to a staged return of 28 per cent of average natural flows to the Snowy River. To do this, these two Labor governments have committed $300 million to return 21 per cent of original flows to the Snowy over 10 years. A key element of the arrangement is the absence of adverse consequences for irrigators' water entitlements, South Australia's water security, water quality or existing environmental flows. The amending agreement has been the subject of extensive consultation and agreement and is supported by the New South Wales, Victorian and South Australian Labor governments. Federal Labor also lends its support to this bill.