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Tuesday, 14 August 2012
Page: 5185


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (17:24): I rise to speak on the same matter as my South Australian colleague Senator Birmingham. I think it is extremely disappointing that we are at this point of the review into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan—draft after draft—and yet we still do not have the accurate modelling that we need to allow parliamentarians and our constituents to understand exactly what it is that we are being asked to decide between. What is it that we are being asked to trade off and what is it that we are being asked to favour when we talk about the amounts of water to be returned to the river under the current plan, as put forward by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority?

For quite some time—in fact, since the guide to the draft plan—many people, not just in South Australia but across the rest of the country, politicians, environmentalists and irrigators alike, have asked for correct modelling on the different volumes of water to be returned to the Murray-Darling Basin. The best available science continues to tell us that a minimum of 4,000 gigalitres is what is needed to return the river to health—or to give it a fighting chance—into the future. Yet the Murray-Darling Basin Authority has refused to model the impacts of returning 4,000 gigalitres. They have absolutely refused to model the return of that amount of water and put on the table squarely for everybody to see what that would mean.

They have also refused to model returning the figure that they had originally suggested, based on the best available science, was needed if we were to have a gold-clad guarantee that we would save the river system, and that would be in the vicinity of 7,600 gigalitres. We are being asked to sign off on a plan without being given all the information that should be available if parliament is going to lock in a plan that is meant to take us out to 2029, which is what this plan does. It nearly takes us to 2030 and yet there is nothing in the current draft plan that takes into consideration the impact of climate change.

The best available science tells us that there is a drying climate—that there is going to be less run-off, particularly in my home state in South Australia and other parts of the southern basin, where the climate is drying. Run-off is going to be lower. None of that modelling, none of that data, is being used in this plan, and there is no avenue for incorporating it into the management of the Murray-Darling Basin once this parliament signs off on the plan, which of course Minister Burke would like us to do before the end of the year.

I think it is a bit rich to expect South Australians in particular to cop locking in a plan that is currently delivering less than the best available science tells us that we need. What is currently on the table is 2,750 gigalitres but that is much less than what the best available science tells us is needed to flush those two million tonnes of salt out to sea, to keep the pollutants flushed out, to keep our river healthy, to ensure that we have quality water that can be drunk, used for feeding our stock and of course keeping the ecosystem healthy and well. The best available science tells us that we need 4,000 gigalitres and yet what is on the table is 2,750 gigalitres. The difference between 2,750 gigalitres and 4,000 gigalitres is the death of the Coorong and the death of South Australia's Lower Lakes. That is what South Australian parliamentarians, along with everybody else in this place and the other, are being asked to tick off on.

Yet this is a plan that is meant to be in line with the Water Act, which says, 'We know there has been overallocation throughout the basin for generations.' Some people have been far too greedy, taking more water than they can sustain, more water than they deserve—'Let the river run dry'—and are now squealing about the fact that we have to start putting some of that water back to keep the river healthy. Yet South Australians are being asked just to go, 'Okay, we'll take the bare minimum.' Well, no, we will not take the bare minimum. We will not lock in a system that is going to create failure for our system and that is going to condemn the Lower Lakes to a slow death and kill the Coorong, to leave our irrigators in South Australia high and dry when drought hits. This plan has a lack of modelling, a lack of data and a lack of a basis of having the best available science, resulting from ignoring Australia's top scientists when it comes to putting this plan together. This has meant that we are being asked to tick off a plan that is not a plan for drought. This is not a plan for the tough times and it is only going to help us in the good times.

We know that it is not actually that long ago that we were in drought in South Australia, which of course had been extremely exacerbated by overallocations and by a greedy 'take and then take as much as you can and hope no-one notices attitude', particularly by the big irrigators in the upstream states. South Australians remember how high and dry we were left by the rest of the country. Our communities remember, as it was not so long ago, the stories of the members of our elderly communities who were living in communities along the river and could not shower and even boil their kettle because the water that was coming out of the tap was polluted and salty. That was not that long ago, yet we are being asked to sign off on a plan that does not take the tough times into account and will not set us up to be resilient when we need to be resilient the most. When the chips are down, when there is less water in the river and when everybody is worried about the little amount of water that there is available, it is those of us who live at the bottom end of the river who suffer the most. I am not just saying that because it sounds nice to say, as a good sound bite. We know that because it has happened consistently over years and years and years—and it happened only five years ago in South Australia.

I am extremely disappointed that Minister Burke has not required the authority to do the appropriate modelling so we can have an honest and transparent discussion about what we are trading off if we do not go with what the scientists tell us we need. If we accept 2,750 gigalitres, tell us what that means we are going to lose. It will be the Coorong and the Lower Lakes. Tell us what that means for Adelaide's water quality when the dry time hits. Tell us why the plan will not be enabled to take into consideration the impacts of climate change when this is meant to be a plan for the future. There is no justification for this place or the other place accepting a plan to be handed to this parliament that does not tackle the issue that it is meant to, overallocation. If we do not start putting more water back into the river and if we do not tackle those big greedy irrigators from upstream, we are setting ourselves up for failure, we are selling out South Australia's beautiful Coorong and Lower Lakes and we are going to be condemning South Australian communities to drink salty water for years to come and saying goodbye to our irrigating communities in the Riverland in particular.

At the moment this is a plan for failure. This is a plan that fails South Australia and because it is so inconsistent with the objectives of the act, to save the river system, it is destined to fail in the courts as well. I do note that the minister has also refused to put the government's legal advice on the table in the way that the Senate has asked. I think there is very little excuse for the minister to be refusing to do that. It is everybody's right in this place to know what this plan will do and what it will not do, who it will fail and who fails because of it.