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Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Page: 13563

Mr GEORGANAS (HindmarshSecond Deputy Speaker) (21:51): It will be no surprise that I support the Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012. This bill does have a triple bottom line, and I will explain that to the House. Each and every community throughout the Murray-Darling Basin and beyond will see in this debate whether their MP supports the triple bottom line—the win-win-win scenario so often sought in this issue but so infrequently achieved. We have here such an outcome on offer—an outcome which will achieve the three objectives of protecting the Murray-Darling environment, maintaining economic development and industry and sustaining communities dependent on a healthy river system. This bill will, with the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, deliver that triple bottom line—and it is affordable. So, there is no excuse for not supporting this bill. Only those who oppose reform for opposition's sake or spite will oppose this bill.

On the first point—the environment—this bill delivers water which is absolutely needed to reach those parts of our Murray-Darling environment that are typically dependent on larger floods to keep them alive; those wetlands and forests which are central to the health of the greater river system and which are not catered for in any shape or form by the mooted Murray-Darling Basin Plan's 2,750 gigalitre compromise. The additional 450 gigalitres, when added to the 2,750 gigalitres expected to be within the plan, represents a win for the environment and the health of this tremendously important river basin.

On the second point—economic activity—this bill will use water sourced from water savings. This is not water currently being used by farmers or industry but water that is currently being lost to the system—wasted, blown, squandered, evaporated et cetera. Water currently lost to both farms and the river will be saved by federal infrastructure spends and only half of the water saved will be returned to the environment. The farms get to keep the rest. The farmers win, the environment wins and everyone, everything, is better off.

On the third point, with farmers increasing their effective water supply, communities will be able to better sustain their local economies and the social vitality of their regions. As I said, this is the epitome of the triple bottom line and that result is realised in this bill. Why would anyone want to oppose the bill?

The subject matter contained in this bill was made public by the Prime Minister on her recent visit to South Australia. Some from Victoria and New South Wales will ask, 'Why South Australia?' A number of the key Murray-Darling icon sites that we have heard so much about are in South Australia and each of them has been battling to get, at best, some prospect of recovery from the degradation of the millennium drought. These sites include the Lower Lakes, the Coorong and the Murray mouth. These are collectively an icon site as determined by the Liberal-National Party under the 2004 National Water Initiative. The National Water Initiative is held up by those opposite as being evidence of the Howard government having regard for our river systems. Yet we hear today a view different from that. In the same breath as they applaud the National Water Initiative, members of the opposition coalition, as we have just heard, dismiss the significance of these assets and the claim for enough of the water of the Murray-Darling Basin to keep them in a good state of health. Members opposite say one thing but mean another. The opposition say they uphold the principles of the National Water Initiative, so they really should support the objectives of the National Water Initiative—to protect these icon sites.

But there is another icon site which, under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan as negotiated between the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and the states, would not have a hope of surviving—the Chowilla Floodplain, which straddles the Victoria-South Australia border. This is another icon site which the opposition's favourite National Water Initiative held up for saving but which the opposition now want to see dead. The Chowilla Floodplain is a large area which is more elevated from the River Murray's water level than many wetlands. It takes a flood to get water up and over the banks and across the floodplain.

Despite its best efforts, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority was not able to include this icon site as a beneficiary of its proposed 2,750 gigalitre compromise plan. The particular problem with Chowilla is that there is so much salt beneath the soil. Without watering from flood, this salt rises through the soil and enters the root zone, killing the forests and a range of other vegetation in the area. The salt rises and enters the topsoil, and from there it enters the streams and eventually the Murray itself. Without watering to keep the salt deep in the ground, we end up with a wasteland of death and salt that will enter and kill the river system. Chowilla needs to be watered not just for its own health but for the health of the wider environment.

As I said, the compromised plan's 2,750 gigalitres is not enough to water this icon site. It would die. This leads to the purpose of this bill. The additional 450 gigalitres, added to the 2,750 gigalitres, will give the Murray-Darling Basin Authority the weight to water the Chowilla Floodplain and force the salt down, saving not only the floodplain itself with the benefits that brings but also the river system, in which salt is a constant problem requiring constant attention and effort to remove. Without this bill, Chowilla dies.

This is not just a South Australian issue, as the icon site spans the border shared with Victoria. This is not just an issue for South Australia and Victoria, as saving this stretch of the river and beyond is required by national law—it is an issue for all of us and action is required by law. If members of the coalition stand by the intent of the National Water Initiative, if they stand by the intent of the Water Act as proposed by the Howard government, I would like them to stand up and tell the Australian people whether or not they support the National Water Initiative as a whole, or just the river's icon sites in the eastern states. I would like them to stand up in this place and inform the Australian public that they support John Howard's plan for the Murray-Darling Basin as it pertains to New South Wales alone, or that they support John Howard's national plan for Victoria only. This bill amends the Water Act 2007 to provide a secure funding stream to enable up to an additional 450 gigalitres of water to be recovered for the environment to ease or remove constraints and to deliver environmental water without having a negative impact on the social or economic future of the communities of the Murray-Darling Basin. The bill complements the Water Amendment (Long-term Average Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment) Bill 2012, introduced into the parliament in September 2012. That bill facilitates the adjustment of the long-term sustainable diversion limit under the Basin Plan within clearly set limits and with a clearly defined process to provide transparency to this parliament and the community.

Amounts credited to the account may be debited for purposes including: improving the water efficiency of infrastructure, such as on-farm irrigation efficiency programs; improving or modifying infrastructure that constrains the delivery of environmental water in order to ease or remove those constraints, increasing the capacity of dams and storages to deliver environmental water, and entering into easements or agreements; purchasing water access rights and making payments in relation to projects whose aim is to further the objects of this bill; and, of course, addressing any detrimental social or economic impact on the wellbeing of any community in the Murray-Darling Basin that is associated with a project as mentioned above so as to offset any such impacts.

The majority of the proposed funding will be directed towards continuing and increasing existing programs, especially the On-Farm Irrigation Efficiency Program. The proposed funds will also enable increased environmental water to be delivered to wetlands by easing or removing constraints—for example, increasing the outflows from storage dams, raising a bridge and improving other infrastructure, and, importantly, providing for flood easements or agreements with landholders. I commend the bill to the House.