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Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Page: 13671


Dr STONE (Murray) (10:59): by leave—I was a supplementary member of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Regional Australia. I joined that committee when it was addressing Murray-Darling Basin matters. I, along with the member for Riverina, strongly disagree with the committee's recommendation to support this bill.

The bill was a consequence of modelling requested by the South Australian Premier. On 29 June 2012 the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council asked the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to respond to the calls from the South Australian Premier to:

… complete a 'relaxed-constraints' model scenario with a Basin-wide reduction in diversions of 3200—

gigalitres per year—

The purpose of this scenario is to explore the flow regime changes and potential environmental benefits that would result if some major existing river operating constraints in the southern connected system were relaxed.

This came out of the blue, this call for the removal of the constraints. Subsequently, some modelling work was undertaken and then, very quickly, we saw this very poorly drafted bill come into the House. The chairman of our committee has already commented on the fact that much of the bill is so poorly drafted that we had to call for the department to clarify some of the matters. One of the recommendations of the committee was to clarify the point about whether or not the bill actually allows for the general or non-strategic purchase of further water buybacks. This is a critical issue in the basin, but the government's purpose is totally unclear in this bill. Much in the explanatory memorandum is also inconsistent with what is implied in the bill itself. This is sloppy work. It is of great concern because the matters in this bill are of critical concern to the future economic, environmental and community sustainability of the basin.

But our concerns—mine and those of the member for Riverina—extend beyond just the sourcing of the additional 450 gigalitres to be pushed down the river to serve, they hope, some better environmental outcomes for the mouth of the Murray, the Lower Lakes and the Coorong. We are deeply concerned about the flooding impacts on the environment if this additional water was pushed down the system, having removed things like bridges and levies and having perhaps bought up more of the floodplain. We are very concerned that 2.5 years is to be the average recurrence of these man-made floods. They are to be on a regular basis. Just one example on the Goulburn flood plain would involve a 40,000-megalitre per day flood for a median duration of four days between June and November every 2½ years. We know that such flooding would cause extraordinary damage to infrastructure, very valuable agribusiness and farmland. There would be some 100 houses in Shepparton inundated. We cannot understand why this flooding would be deliberately created on the very false premise that the lower parts of the river, in particular the Lower Lakes, the Coorong and the mouth of the Murray in South Australia, would in some way be enhanced as a result of this flooding of upstream.

The point about the mouth of the Murray and the Lower Lakes is that they have been so engineered, so changed with works and measures for the past 70 years, that when in fact the biggest flood on record rushed past those assets—this was when the drought broke in very recent times—there was hardly any movement in the salinity levels in Lake Albert in particular, or in the southern Coorong. The floodwaters simply pushed on past those assets because they were so isolated due to their barrages and other particular engineering works. So there has to be a lot more thinking about how you would look after the lower part of the system. We also know that most of the salinity in the basin, quite sadly, comes into the South Australian section of the river. The parts that are flushed—the dryland parts of South Australia and much of the irrigated parts—contribute the vast majority of the salt to the Murray, so there is really no point flooding the upper parts in the hope that somehow, miraculously, less salt will be generated in South Australia.

We have a very serious problem here where now we have even further insecurity for the communities of the major tributaries and the Murray River itself with this additional 450 gigalitres. We are told: 'Well, they may not actually use the 450 gigalitres. There would be so much liability, there would be so many people suing, that it probably could not happen.' The problem is that this bill allows it to happen. We cannot support this bill. It is another example of a government that simply does not understand the hydrology of the system, it does not understand the economic imperatives and it does not understand the environmental sustainability imperatives. We have to object to this bill; certainly that is what we stated quite clearly in our dissenting report.