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Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Page: 11784

Mr WINDSOR (New England) (10:55): On behalf of the Standing Committee on Regional Australia I present the committee's advisory report, incorporating a dissenting report, on the Water Amendment (Long-term Average Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment) Bill 2012, together with the minutes of proceedings.

In accordance with standing order 39(f) the report was made a parliamentary paper.

Mr WINDSOR: by leave—As the House would be aware, the Standing Committee on Regional Australia has conducted a number of reports and is currently conducting one into the phenomenon of fly-in-fly-out. Two reports have been done in relation to the Murray-Darling Basin planning process—originally, the guide, and now the consequent innovations that have been put before the parliament and the various states. A bill has been introduced into the parliament, and that was referred by the Selection Committee to the committee for examination to look at the issue of long-term average sustainable diversion limit adjustment processes.

In the second report from the committee, a shorter report than the original inquiry report, the committee actually recommended that some sort of automatic process of long-term average sustainable diversion limit adjustment be put in place rather than having to continually refer back to the parliament to make minor adjustments.

The bill amends the Water Act 2007 to allow the long-term average sustainable diversion limit set by the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to be adjusted without invoking the formal Basin Plan amendment process. Section 23 of the Water Act sets out how the long-term average sustainable diversion limits will be specified. The explanatory memorandum to the bill states that this section currently creates the legal possibility of an adjustment mechanism; however, no adjustment mechanism is currently specified. If section 23 provides a legal possibility of an adjustment mechanism, that means that the sustainable diversion limit can be adjusted without any formal notification to the community or parliament. The bill proposes a mechanism whereby any adjustment must undertake a formal notification process.

The proposed adjustment process provides that the Murray-Darling Basin Authority may propose an adjustment of the sustainable diversion limit by no more than plus or minus five per cent. This must be done with reference to the Basin Officials Committee, without preparing an amendment to the Basin Plan under subdivision F of the Water Act, with notice to the minister, who must then adopt the adjustment and table it before parliament as a non-disallowable instrument under section 38 of the Legislative Instruments Act 2003. Adjustments will be determined through savings or offsets found through environmental works and measures projects. This is an issue that many in the community have been calling for in terms of environmental works and measures.

The existing process for selecting and implementing environmental works and measures will not be amended as a result of this proposal.

The proposed projects will still be required to undergo stakeholder consultation processes as set out by the basin state water resource planning processes prior to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority's consideration of their inclusion in any sustainable diversion limit adjustment.

In addition, the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council has stated that it is their expectation that the sustainable diversion limit adjustment mechanism will operate as follows:

To ensure stakeholders confidence and facilitate the preparation of water resource plans, Council requests that the SDL adjustment mechanism and associated provisions in the Basin Plan:

a. simplify the operation of the mechanism such that the SDLs determined by the operation of the mechanism in 2016 are adopted in the Basin Plan at that time, to take effect from 2019;

b. allow for the construction and implementation of adjustment measures to be finalised in a specified timeframe and confirm the Commonwealth's responsibility to continue to bridge the gap over this period;

c. account for situations where adjustment measures do not proceed as planned;

d. enable state water resource plans to account for the time taken to complete adjustment measures, particularly through the use of 'reasonable excuse' or 'permitted take' provisions or the incorporation of formula based SDLs in state water resource plans; and

e. clarify how any formula-based SDLs in state water resource plans should operate to reflect progress in SDL adjustment initiatives from 2019.

It is worth noting that the ministerial council has agreed that environmental works and measures should include any further modelling of works under the Living Murray program.

The committee is satisfied that the processes already in place for community and stakeholder consultation as specified in state water resource plans should adequately address any concerns about adjustments being subject to community consultation. The committee is further satisfied that the consensus view of the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council, as outlined above, outlines the clear intent of the basin states to ensure that all stakeholders will be involved in any processes they put in place to determine projects to be considered in the proposed SDL adjustment mechanism.

The committee is confident—although I did mention at the start that there is a dissenting report—that the proposed amendment strikes an appropriate balance between allowing the Murray-Darling Basin Authority the capacity to act in a timely manner when making sustainable diversion limit adjustments and continued parliamentary oversight. Given that the scope and intent of this bill is limited to governance issues and is in direct response to a House committee report, the committee recommends that the bill be passed.

There is a dissenting report, and I am sure members, if leave is granted, will allow those dissenters to present their particular arguments. But as chair of this committee I would highlight how proud I have been of the way in which this committee has worked and the exhaustive process that this committee took on in terms of the Murray-Darling guide, our first report and the second report that was done as well, which included recommendations for an automatic adjustment of the sustainable diversion limit process, which this bill that we have been asked to examine puts in place so that that process can occur.

The states have recommended that that process occur. Many of the stakeholders within the basin have recommended that the process occurs so that you do not have to continually refer back to the parliament—the House and the Senate—for minor adjustments to achieve positive outcomes in environmental works and measures. You could end up with the absurd situation where one or 10 gigalitres of water become the subject of a major political debate that opens up a whole range of other issues. So the majority of the committee recommends that the bill be passed. It recognises some of the recommendations made by the committee itself and, more importantly, by the community at large.

This is the first dissenting report that the committee has experienced. I appreciate that people are entitled to their views on these issues, but I would urge those who do not fully comprehend the complications of the Murray-Darling and water and the politics generally to have a very close look at the committee's own recommendations in the second report, which are reflected in this bill. In fact, given the legal sensitivities of section 23, this amendment to the Water Act 2007 gives direction to the act to put in place the very thing the committee recommended.

I have recommended the report and hope that those who take the time to read it and come to grips with it and not just the dynamics of the politics around it may well find that it is a constructive part of an exhaustive process that has been going for 100 years and, hopefully, will not go on too much longer.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Lyons ): Does the member for New England wish to move a motion in connection with the report to enable it to be debated on a future occasion?

Mr WINDSOR: I move:

That the House take note of the report.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: In accordance with standing order 39, the debate is adjourned. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.