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Wednesday, 6 February 2013
Page: 229

Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaParliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water) (09:50): I thank all of the senators for their contributions to this debate. The Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill is a significant reform to the Water Act and a commitment to restore the Murray-Darling Basin to good health.

For over a century, the Murray-Darling Basin has not been managed with a basin-wide plan. This has resulted in environmental degradation, a lack of resilience and an ongoing layer of uncertainties to the basin communities. Murray-Darling Basin reform has relied on a number of steps being taken, the National Water Initiative, the development of the water market, the Water Act 2007, the making of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan last year and this bill to maximise indirect outcomes in the Murray-Darling Basin. The Murray-Darling Basin Plan has set a benchmark of 2,750 gigalitres of environmental water in the Murray-Darling Basin. The Basin Plan will restore the health of our rivers, support strong regional communities and ensure sustainable food production. This bill, having now passed the parliament, will facilitate the operation of the SDL adjustment mechanism in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and provide environmental outcomes over and above the 2,750 gigalitres that are benchmarked in the Basin Plan.

The government welcomes the report of the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee and the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Regional Australia. The support of both committees for this bill is recognition of the benefits it can bring to the social, economic and environmental outcomes achieved through the Basin Plan. The government has incorporated both committees' key recommendations into this bill. This bill, as passed, clarifies the outcomes to be achieved by the funds in the special account and it also makes clear that funds cannot be used by the Commonwealth to conduct open tender rounds for water entitlements.

This bill allows the Commonwealth to support the SDL adjustment mechanism. The SDL adjustment mechanism, which this bill supports, will allow the SDL to move up if the environment outcomes can be delivered with less water, and move down if constraints are removed and additional water is acquired in a way which is not detrimental to communities.

This bill establishes a secure funding stream of $1.77 billion in a special account to maximise the environmental outcomes of the plan. These funds will be used to ease or remove constraints on delivering environmental water and to acquire—through projects such as on-farm infrastructure—an additional 450 gigalitres of water. This bill also provides for two reviews to be conducted by an independent panel into whether the funds in the special account are sufficient to acquire the 450 gigalitres and remove key constraints. These reviews will happen by 30 September 2019 and 2021.

The additional environmental water made possible by this bill is better not only for the Coorong and Lower Lakes in my home state of South Australia, but also the Ramsar-listed wetlands, river red gum forests, national parks and homes for Australian wildlife throughout the basin. The majority of the $1.77 billion in the special account will be directed towards achieving further improvements in irrigation efficiency. It will also address existing constraints that limit higher water flows, including outflows from storage dams, low-lying infrastructure and the need to provide for flood easements or agreements with landholders. All basin governments will be fully involved in the development of the projects that would underpin the SDL adjustments, including initiatives to remove constraints, and will have a complete picture of what the final SDL will be in all catchments. The government is committed to ensuring the Basin Plan delivers a healthy river, strong communities and sustainable food production and this bill will provide for even better environmental outcomes being achieved in the basin. This bill, combined with the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, demonstrates the government's commitment to ensuring that the Murray-Darling Basin system will return to health and the environment and communities which are nourished by these mighty rivers will have a strong and resilient future.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.