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Thursday, 16 October 2003
Page: 21642

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (2:14 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. I refer to the minister's claim yesterday that the scientific report released yesterday did not support the return of an additional 1,500 gigalitres to the Murray River, and I ask: doesn't the report conclude that substantial improvement to ecological habitat condition is largely achieved by the 1,500 gigalitres scenario and that 1,500 gigalitres would provide the greatest benefit to river red gums, the greatest reductions in salinity, substantial reductions in algal bloom risk, the greatest improvement to waterbird populations, the greatest improvement to floodplain vegetation, the greatest improvement to wetland vegetation and the best outcomes for the Coorong and the Murray mouth? Why didn't the minister tell the truth about this report?

The SPEAKER —The member for Wills will reframe the latter part of his question; it ought not to contain an imputation. I am allowing the question to stand; I am merely asking him to rephrase the latter part of the question.

Mr KELVIN THOMSON —Mr Speaker, will the minister now tell the truth about this report?

The SPEAKER —The member for Wills is aware of the fact that the implication is that the minister has not told the truth. Questions should not contain implications. I ask the member for Wills to rephrase the latter part of his question or I will rule the question out of order. The member for Wills might consider that, given my own interest in these matters, that would involve my taking quite a substantial step.

Mr KELVIN THOMSON —Yes, Mr Speaker. I am happy to ask the minister the question which I asked him concerning the contents of the report and its impact in relation to salinity, algal bloom risk, waterbird populations, floodplain vegetation, wetland vegetation and the best outcomes for the Coorong and the Murray mouth.

Mr TRUSS —Mr Speaker, not only was the latter part of the question from the honourable member for Wills—which you rightly ruled out of order—inappropriate but also the earlier reference where he misrepresented what I said yesterday was inappropriate. The clear facts are that if you put water down the Murray River it can achieve ecological benefits and environmental benefits, and if you have got more water to use then you can achieve more. That is clearly self-evident and the report makes that clear as well. What the honourable member for Wills is trying to avoid is the embarrassment of the Labor Party's policy in relation to this matter, which is essentially to put 1,500 gigalitres down the River Murray—who knows where, who knows when, who knows why and who knows what it is going to achieve? Just take 1,500 gigalitres and put it down the river without any outcomes in mind, without any planned process and without any objectives to be achieved. What is very clear from the report is that carefully managed water for environmental purposes is able to achieve substantially more than just indiscriminate flows. That is the work that the government is doing in relation to the development of the first step proposal concerning the Living Murray, where we are identifying key icon sites and looking at ways of acquiring water to achieve the objectives that we have for those icon sites. So the clear emphasis in the report is that we need to manage our environmental flows just as much as we need to allocate various amounts of water.

Of course, the key alarm that everyone feels in the Murray-Darling Basin region, when it comes to the Labor Party policy concerning environmental flows, is that they are promising to put down 1,500 gigalitres for no identified purpose but they have allocated only $150 million for that purpose. That is a clear sign that Labor intend to just take this water off people without any compensation, without any consideration of the economies in regional areas and without any care for the people who will be adversely affected. So, not only is their policy ill designed and without clear direction; it is also one which will seriously damage regional New South Wales and indeed the whole of inland Australia, because they propose to take water off people without any compensation.