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Thursday, 22 November 2012
Page: 9526

Murray-Darling Basin


Senator McEWEN (South AustraliaGovernment Whip in the Senate) (14:11): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Senator Conroy. Can the minister explain to the Senate the significance of the final Murray-Darling Basin Plan announced today?


Senator CONROY (VictoriaMinister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:12): I thank the honourable senator for her question and note her longstanding interest in the health of the Murray-Darling Basin. After more than 100 years of disagreement, the Gillard government has today presented a final Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The government had committed to delivering a plan that restores our rivers to health, supports strong regional communities and sustains food production. Such a plan has now been delivered by Minister Burke.

The government has accepted the Murray-Darling Basin Authority's recommendation to return 2,750 gigalitres of surface water to the environment. It sets up a mechanism which allows governments to improve environmental, social or economic outcomes on the proviso that improving one outcome does not sacrifice others. Importantly, the government has also committed to provide an additional $1.77 billion to relax key operating constraints and to allow an additional 450 gigalitres of environmental water to achieve greater environmental outcomes. This will be done through projects designed to ensure that there is no social or economic downside for communities.

For decades the Murray-Darling Basin has been treated as though it ended at state borders. It does not, and consistent mismanagement has seriously degraded the health of the whole system. Only a national plan was going to address the many problems that fragmented administration brought. That is what this government has delivered today in this plan. (Time expired)


Senator McEWEN (South AustraliaGovernment Whip in the Senate) (14:14): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister advise what this final plan means for the environment?


Senator CONROY (VictoriaMinister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:14): The foundation for this reform is unequivocally and unapologetically to restore the river system to health. Wherever possible we have chosen the pathway that is sensitive to basin communities. The plan will deliver vital additional water to the basin, including some 40,000 hectares of iconic vegetation such as the river red gums. The plan will result in the Murray mouth being open for more than nine years out of 10. This will flush an average of two million tonnes of salt from the basin each year, significantly improving water quality and preventing land degradation. The plan will also result in a 33 per cent increase in the potential for large breeding events in the Macquarie Marshes.


Senator McEWEN (South AustraliaGovernment Whip in the Senate) (14:15): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister advise the Senate what this final plan means for the basin communities and industry?


Senator CONROY (VictoriaMinister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:16): As I said, the government has sought to minimise the impact on communities without compromising the health of the system. The plan will ensure strong regional communities and sustainable food production with a vibrant irrigation industry. To help bridge the gap to the sustainable diversion limits set in the Basin Plan, the government will spend $5.2 billion on irrigation infrastructure. This will increase irrigation productivity and provide valuable employment benefits during construction. New trading rules will reduce or remove water trade barriers, making it easier for irrigators to realise the value of their water licences. Improvements in the basin environment and water quality will benefit many businesses, such as flood plain farming, tourism, boating and fishing. (Time expired)