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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 12625


Mr BURKE (WatsonMinister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) (19:55): I thank all contributors who have been involved in this debate. I should, in summing up, first of all explain the process from here, because a lot of people, with the different bills and the different parts of Murray-Darling reform, have been asking, 'What are the different votes that will come to the parliament?'

The vote that we take this evening is about the structure that a Basin Plan is allowed to have. It deals specifically with the codification of what is being referred to as a mechanism. Effectively, it is a way of saying that the recommended number—which, at the moment, we have seen is 2,750—has economic, environmental and social consequences; for each of those three, you cannot take backward steps, but if you can improve one of the three without hurting the others, the mechanism allows you to do so. There are some processes and some formality built into that in the bill that is before us. And that is the only decision that is effectively being taken tonight.

I will be introducing another bill which will explain how the government intends to interact with that mechanism. That will be the moment when the parliament has an opportunity to discuss the announcements that were made by the Prime Minister and the Premier of South Australia last week.

The third issue will be when I sign off on the Murray-Darling Basin plan. If anyone moves disallowance then that disallowance motion will also be before the parliament. I will not be in a position to do so until the bill before us now has been carried by both houses, because it actually underpins some of the structural aspects that would be contained within that plan. So either two or three of what I have just described will find their way through, to be in front of us in this parliament for the remaining sitting period.

To return to the bill in front of us, I thank everyone for their contribution to the debate. I acknowledge that there has been a strong and consistent refrain from the opposition on ministerial prerogative. I want to make clear both why that is not the government's position and why, when we get to the in-detail section, the government will be willing to look at a compromise proposal which has been negotiated effectively, as I understand it, with the opposition.

In the first instance, the argument that the opposition have been putting has been that it should not be an independent authority on its own; the decision should then fall back to the minister to approve or reject what the authority has recommended. Part of the reason that Prime Minister Howard and the then minister for water, the member for Wentworth, designed the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and the Water Act the way they did was to take the decision out of the hands of politicians, and that is our preference. For that reason I am reluctant to have processes which whack the decisions back into the hands of politicians after a plan and a structure have already been put in place. I do not believe it is the ideal way to go with policy. However, I do appreciate that the structure of how a mechanism can work is something that should have, in structural terms, a workability that is acceptable to both sides of the parliament.

With that in mind, while I understand that there is an amendment from the opposition already on the Notice Paper that deals with the ministerial prerogative part of it, I indicate now before we move to that stage of the debate the government has an amendment that incorporates all the aspects of the opposition amendments but adds a part that says that if that ministerial prerogative is exercised then any amendments that the minister puts through would be disallowable. We will deal with that when it comes. Given that our amendment incorporates all aspects of the opposition amendment, it is important to put on the record the context, which is that the government has arrived at this on the basis of the different contributions that have been made by the opposition in the course of this debate. It is not our preferred course of action. But we believe that the compromise that it offers will provide a way through. I commend the bill to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms K Livermore ): Before calling the next speaker in this debate, I will deal with the division that was called after 6.30 pm. I took the view that the deferred division should not be proceeded with until the minister speaking at 8 pm had completed his speech, and so I did not interrupt the minister. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for a later hour.