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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee

REX, Ms Suzanne, Chair, River Lakes and Coorong Action Group

TREGENZA, Ms Elizabeth, Secretary, River Lakes and Coorong Action Group

Committee met at 09:32

CHAIR ( Senator Cameron ): I declare open this public hearing of the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee. The committee is hearing evidence on the committee's inquiry into the Water Amendment (Long-term Average Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment) Bill 2012 and the Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012. The committee's proceedings today will follow the program as circulated. This is a public hearing and a Hansard transcript of the proceedings is being made.

Before the committee starts taking evidence, I remind all witnesses that in giving evidence to the committee they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee and such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to the committee.

The committee prefers all evidence to be given in public but, under the Senate's resolutions, witnesses have the right to request to be heard in private session. It is important that witnesses give the committee notice if they intend to ask to give evidence in camera. If a witness objects to answering a question, the witness should state the ground upon which the objection is taken and the committee will determine whether it will insist on an answer, having regard to the ground which is claimed. If the committee determines to insist on an answer, a witness may request that the answer be given in camera. Such a request may of course also be made at any other time.

I welcome everyone here today. On behalf of the committee, I thank all those who have made submissions and sent representatives here today for their cooperation in this inquiry.

Before I go to the representatives from the River Lakes and Coorong Action Group, I just indicate that I have been contacted by the South Australian water minister’s office, who indicated that there is some publicity out there indicating that they were scheduled to appear, had agreed to appear and were not now appearing. The indication they have made to me is that they had not agreed to appear. They are making a written submission. They indicated that they were advised on Tuesday and have decided that there is another committee hearing as well, which is the House of Representatives committee hearing, and they will put a written submission to both our hearing and the House of Representatives hearing.

On that basis, I welcome the representatives from the River Lakes and Coorong Action Group. Thank you all for talking to us today. The committee has received your submission for the inquiry into the Water Amendment (Long-term Average Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment) Bill 2012 as submission 5. Do you wish to make any amendments or alterations to your submission?

Ms Tregenza : No, thank you. I understand from your office that the bill has been amended and in fact accommodates the changes that we requested.

CHAIR: Okay. Do you wish to make a brief opening statement—you have nearly done that—before we go to questions?

Ms Tregenza : Yes, please. I would like to make a statement about our second submission, on the Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012. I would first like to acknowledge the Kaurna people, on whose land we are meeting, and the Ngarrindjeri traditional owners of the land and waters around the lower reaches of the Murray River, the Coorong and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert.

The River Lakes and Coorong Action Group is an independent, community based organisation which formed in 2006 to advocate for the biodiversity of the region and to protect people’s livelihoods from overallocation upstream. It incorporated in January 2007. It has a track record of engaging with Murray-Darling Basin matters through submissions, symposia, meetings and campaigns. This is, in fact, the group’s 20th submission regarding government inquiries and actions on environmental matters.

I will just speak to you a little about this region’s importance in the system as a whole. We believe that this forms a critical region in the management of the system overall. It is an extraordinary freshwater system that supports an estimated 68,000 people or thereabouts in intensive agricultural, tourism and service industries in a region which, compared to the rest of South Australia, is characterised by relatively rapid growth. The Coorong is recognised as a globally significant wetland with remarkable physical and biological diversity. The Australian government has responsibility, as you know, to manage the ecological health of the Coorong under the Ramsar convention of 1985. The RLCAG—River Lakes and Coorong Action Group—has long contended that this area is critical not only because of its environmental, social and economic assets but because this is the canary in the mine. Rivers die from the mouth up. If we are okay, upstream is more likely to be okay. At the same time, we are critically concerned with the health of the river system as a whole and with the fair allocation of water for all users and for the environment. We note there are another 16 Ramsar-listed wetlands in the Murray-Darling Basin potentially at risk.

Overall, may I say that therefore we welcome the creation of a bill that supports responsive management of the basin system and at the same time aims to provide funding for the acquisition of an additional 450 gigalitres of water. We strongly support quarantining of funds which can only be used for the acquisition of extra water. We welcome the recognition in this bill—referred to in paragraph 8 of the explanatory memorandum—of the importance of the key environmental benefits of reducing levels of salinity in the Coorong, Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert; maintaining the Murray mouth; the critical need to flush accumulated salts from the whole system; increasing barrage flows to the Coorong to support critical fish migrations; and environmental watering of flood plains throughout the whole basin.

However, we remain deeply concerned that in any case 3,200 gigalitres may not restore the river, lakes and Coorong even by 2024, as the best available science shows. This timeline may be too long. There is also a concern that the arbitrary time line and amounts of funding do not allow for the changing environmental requirements of the river, which may well need water sooner, and that the apparent emphasis of this bill is on acquiring the additional water primarily through investment in off-farm efficiency projects—referred to at paragraph 11 of the explanatory memorandum—and only then on purchase of water access entitlements.

Finally, there does not seem to be a system for how this would be managed. How the fund would be administered is unclear. I have further comments about each of those points—I do not know if you would like me to elaborate.

CHAIR: When we go to questions now, you will have an opportunity, I am sure, to elaborate on the issues.

Senator XENOPHON: Thanks, Ms Tregenza, for appearing here today and for the work that you have done with others over many years. I would like you to elaborate on some of those points, but one issue I want to get to initially is that the water for the special environment account bill makes reference in clause 86AA(3)(b) saying:

(3) The object of this Partis to be achieved by:

…   …   …

(b) increasing the volume of the Basin water resources that is available for environmental use by up to 450 gigalitres

Do you have any concerns in relation to the fact that it says 'up to' and does not mandate that 450 gigalitres? Do you think there is too much wriggle room in that 450-gigalitre amount?

Ms Tregenza : Yes, I do in the fact that it is only up to 450 gigalitres and the manner in which that water is to be acquired.

Senator XENOPHON: So do you think it would benefit from being strengthened in that regard or you do not think it can be?

Ms Tregenza : I think it would be strengthened by making that a mandatory amount of water. I think that—and I should have perhaps said this in my opening statement—there needs to be a benchmark of water. It should be a minimum of 450 gigalitres of water, because the system may require that. One of the weaknesses in the bill at the moment is that it does not take into account that the system may require water over and above that.

Senator XENOPHON: Further to that, are you concerned that the plan does not include specific salinity targets and water level targets below Lock 1—because I do not think it does in its current form? In other words, water levels and salinity levels—should there be specific targets?

Ms Tregenza : There should be specific water levels and salinity levels below—

Senator XENOPHON: Is your reading of the bill that it does not include those benchmarks?

Ms Tregenza : I was not sure of that actually.

Senator XENOPHON: As a general principle, it should include specific targets.

Ms Tregenza : As a general principle, we have argued for several salinity measuring points below Lock 1, between Lock 1 and the mouth of the Murray. My understanding was that the plan had one measuring point in but that the levels were not there.

Senator XENOPHON: Could you elaborate on some of the specific points there. I think you were talking about environmental assets—are you concerned that the bill is not prescriptive enough? What is your specific concern in relation to those environmental assets?

Ms Tregenza : We have analysed the Murray-Darling Basin's hydrological modelling of the relaxation of operational constraints in the southern systems and it shows that there are still areas where the ecological flow targets are not achieved or are only achieved at a high level of risk. They include the mid-Murrumbidgee wetlands, the Barmah-Millewa Ramsar site, the Gunbower and Koondrook-Perricoota Ramsar sites, the Hattah Lakes, and the Riverland-Chowilla Wetlands. In the Coorong Lakes and Murray Mouth region, with respect to low flows out of the Murray Mouth, that is not achieved. Overall, we feel that the bill does not go far enough.

Senator XENOPHON: So it is an improvement on the 2750 of the original plan?

Ms Tregenza : It is certainly an improvement on the 2750 of the original plan indeed, but the fear of the people living around the lower reaches of the Murray is that there may still be a huge gap and that this region will suffer first in the event of drought or any other impacts which have not been modelled. We still do not have the benchmarks of what a healthy river system will look like.

Senator XENOPHON: Finally, so you are saying that, in the absence of those benchmarks in relation to salinity and river levels, the lower levels of the river in South Australia will be the first to suffer in the event of a drought?

Ms Tregenza : Yes, and are at immediate risk.

CHAIR: I notice that the media are seeking to film the hearing. There are no problems with that for any of the senators? No, so that is fine under the normal rules and regulations, thanks.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Ms Tregenza, thanks very much for your time and, as always, for the River Lakes and Coorong Action Group's involvement in these proceedings. Do you think that the announcement by the Premier and the Prime Minister of about two weeks ago was all it was cracked up to be?

Ms Tregenza : I think that there is a danger that the additional 450 gigalitres will be seen as an offer to irrigators. I think that the duty of everybody who is involved is to try and ensure that that 450 gigalitres is 450 gigalitres and that it does go to the environment.

In the body of our submission we mentioned concerns, for example, about administration of the fund and the need for checks and balances and so on.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: In response to some of the questioning by Senator Xenophon, who touched on the terms of the 450 in the legislation and the description of it: it makes clear that 3,200 is as much an aspiration as it is actually a commitment. Is that how you would interpret the legislation?

Ms Tregenza : Yes.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: And is that satisfactory?

Ms Tregenza : No. We do not, but the people around the River Lakes and Coorong area have said for a long time that it should be more about measuring the health of the river system as a whole and less about focusing on numbers which may in fact not mean anything in reality. This is where the whole concept of localised and responsive inputs into management of the system come in.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Did it come as a surprise to you when you saw this legislation and discovered that 3,200 was not a fixed figure but instead was an aspiration?

Ms Tregenza : No; that was how we read it all along.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: That is how you interpreted the press release by the Prime Minister and the Premier when they went down there and committed to 3,200?

Ms Tregenza : That is how I interpret this bill. I think it is a very fine aspiration to have and I think that we have some very realpolitik issues with the whole issue of bringing so many diverse interests in the Murray-Darling Basin system together. I understand that there is a political imperative to try to achieve that and I think that certainly people around the lower reaches of the river are keen to have some sort of plan that provides them with a way forward. But there is still a lot of concern; they see this plan, I think—and this is my interpretation of our meetings—as providing a platform from which we can move forward. But there is still grave concern if there is a drought. I guess the concern is: how is it going to be reviewed? If the outcomes are not achieved, what then?

People around our region are saying, 'Well, we're just going to have to stay together until 2019 and keep advocating,' which is a bit of a—

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Or even 2024!

Ms Tregenza : Even 2024 and out, which is a very daunting prospect actually.

Can I just say in addition: people like Leslie Fisher, whose name you will no doubt know—

Senator BIRMINGHAM: I know Leslie well.

Ms Tregenza : That family has been advocating for a healthy river system for three generations. Her son will be the third generation, and she is saying, 'Enough is enough. We are running out of time.'

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Indeed. So, not perfect but a good step forward is perhaps how you would describe what seems to be on the table?

Ms Tregenza : Not perfect but a step forward; one which I think that people would accept reluctantly as a basis to move forward on.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: And you appreciate that, as you just indicated, obviously there are difficulties in trying to corral all of the stakeholders into something that gives us that step forward, and that is why there are concessions on the table such as the commitment that the 450 will be achieved by on-farm infrastructure upgrades rather than by buybacks?

Ms Tregenza : I am not sure I would be prepared to accept that on behalf of the whole group, but, yes, we recognise it as something that exists. May I just add that, in that whole political realm of satisfying all the different needs, we do not support things like coal seam gas mining, for example. One concern about the plan and even this bill as it stands is that coal seam gas mining in the Murray-Darling Basin system could undermine all these good works. That is why I am saying that it is a great pity that there are no real benchmarks in place for what a healthy river system looks like, so we are kind of picking our way through a minefield until—

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Have you had a chance to review Minister Burke's letter and instructions back to the MDBA from last Thursday?

Ms Tregenza : I have read it briefly. I am sorry; I work full time in a very demanding job as well, but, yes, I have read it briefly.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: I fully appreciate that. It is complicated in its nature, but it does—

Ms Tregenza : I have not matched it up completely.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: It does set some very clear salinity targets related to Lake Alexandrina and the Coorong, and it also sets in place some of the terms, particularly for reviewing groundwater targets within the plan, which would relate to the issues around CSG that you raise. Do you think that those measures provide some comfort that there are at least environmental targets associated with this, as well as just volumes of water, and that there is a process at least in place to try to get a better handle on the groundwater side of the equation too?

Ms Tregenza : Yes, when I read the letter briefly I thought that there were promising acknowledgements and statements in that letter which provided a good basis.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Ms Tregenza, I am trying to get a feel for where you think the parliament should go on this issue at present. Are you broadly satisfied with the bills that are before us, and, so long as the final plan reflects what Minister Burke has asked for, do you think it should be supported?

Ms Tregenza : No, I do not think we are broadly satisfied with this particular bill. Unless a real system for managing this fund is put in place, it is in danger of being dissipated and the 450 gigalitres not being delivered. So I think it is really important that it is somehow strengthened to have some sort of minimum benchmark of water to be returned so that the 3,200 gigalitres becomes a real return and also that the fund has in place some quite stringent management things around it. The sorts of things that we were thinking about, about the administration of the fund, are that there should be clear requirements for qualification for irrigation projects; that the money should not be handed over to any government or peak organisations to administer so that the actual amounts on offer are diminished through administration; and that the clear requirements for qualification for irrigation projects should include clear environmental benefits analysis, including an indication of how much water the project will return to the system over a period of 10 years. This is, after all, the purpose of the bill. They should also include ongoing measurement of these returns and an undertaking to maintain the improved irrigation systems over time, as well as considerations of liability in the case of a default, as you would have with any other contracts with the Commonwealth.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: But, Ms Tregenza, when the government undertakes these types of projects to support the irrigation infrastructure upgrades, it does so on the quid pro quo that the government provides investment for this amount for these activities and in return receives this volume of water licence. Really, from—to be frank—your perspective and from the environmental perspective, isn't the prime objective here that you get that water licence back? As to what the project is and who is undertaking the project, surely that is of little consequence; it is actually just getting the water that matters?

Ms Tregenza : Certainly we have said that as a starting point we would actually prefer all the money to be spent on buybacks.

Our first preference is not irrigation works. However, we acknowledge in this political process of bringing together all the stakeholders that there is a need for irrigators to put efficiencies in place. We have irrigators within the River Lakes and Coorong Action Group. I myself irrigate a small area of olives, and we are fully supportive of irrigation efficiencies, but what I am saying is that it is not clear from my reading of the bill whether this money can just be used for on-farm improvements or how much certainty there is around the return of 450 gigalitres to the environment or how that is to be measured.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: I accept that. I do not think that is how it was sold to the public when this was first announced, but in the end I would have thought from your perspective that the key question to be asked is, 'Will it return the volume of water that has been promised?' That is really where the focus needs to lie. As for how it is returned, that is a matter for that negotiation upstream. To otherwise try to get the water back into the system you would acknowledge what needs to be the fairest way possible to preserve the economy of those communities who are being asked to give up the water.

Ms Tregenza : The first concern is to ensure the return of as much water as possible to the system so that the lower reaches of the river are in a healthy state and the environmental assets along the river system are returned to a healthy state and maintained that way. I am saying that there is a history in this country of significant amounts of money being lost in administration fees in programs and it would be nice if it did not go that way with this relatively small amount.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Thanks.

CHAIR: Thanks. Senator McKenzie.

Senator McKENZIE: Thank you. I have a couple of questions. I wanted to broadly get your views on how we optimise the environmental outcomes with the social and economic outcomes, which is actually the object of the act. We see your submission goes to ecological flows; fair enough. I am wondering how you see that playing out in the optimisation, because some of the commentary from your submission goes to maximising the ecological outcomes rather than optimising ecological, social and economic outcomes. I would appreciate your commentary around that, particularly in the commentary you made about the buy-backs.

Ms Tregenza : Where I am starting from is the fact that 3,200 gigalitres—all of this is unproven. We do not have confidence yet that even with the return of the extra 450 gigalitres—and that needs to be made secure—that will solve the problem. We do not solve the issue of over-allocation, which is what has caused the problem. Overallocation upstream has caused the problem for the people around the base of the river. Throughout its existence, River Lakes and Coorong Action Group has seen the health of the environment as being inextricably linked with the health of the communities throughout the whole Murray-Darling Basin system. Social and economic outcomes follow from a healthy environment, and it is very complex and very layered. The healthier our environment, the better off the people and the industries will be. That would be our position on that.

Senator McKENZIE: But you have got to recognise that it is a system of trade-offs.

Ms Tregenza : I am a sixth-generation farmer. My family farm all through New South Wales and Queensland—one of those big families. I think farmers are very resilient people. They also have a lot of common sense and know that when something fails you do not pursue it.

If you work a paddock to the point where it does not produce anymore, then you have to do something about it. We have worked the Murray-Darling Basin system to a point where we have nearly killed it, and we need to do something about it. If that means that some farmers will not be able to continue farming in the way they have been farming, that is a reality that we all have to face. Nobody has a God given right to farm or to irrigate, and if the water is not there it is not there.

Senator McKENZIE: You were commenting on the lack of detail regarding how it is all going to play out. You also mentioned that we can prescribe a volumetric amount of water to achieve the outcomes. How can we prescribe an actual amount of water if we lack that planning and that detail that seems to be lacking?

Ms Tregenza : I think that was my statement.

Senator McKENZIE: So, in your opinion, you cannot put a volumetric amount on it?

Ms Tregenza : There has been some modelling which would indicate certain amounts, and it is good to use the best available science and information that we have. That is as much as we can do at this stage, I think.

Senator McKENZIE: I would like to get your views on flood easements from private land to reduce the flow constraints in delivering, say, the extra 2,750 gl of water to the Murray-Darling system. Do you have a view on what happens upstream when we do remove constraints et cetera on flood easements from up river?

Ms Tregenza : It is complex and I think it probably needs to be looked at on a case-by-case basis. In many cases, the areas of farming throughout the Murray-Darling Basin actually benefit from flooding and survive on flooding. It needs to be approached with caution.

Senator McKENZIE: Would that be something you would recommend being a part of the amendments or the bills themselves or something that is within—

Ms Tregenza : I do not think I could answer such a broad question. Could you elaborate more specifically on what you are asking? Could you give me an example?

Senator McKENZIE: You spoke earlier about needing to actually articulate how we are going to review this if the outcomes are not achieved et cetera. So, if there are intended consequences from this policy initiate, would you welcome a review process written into the bills themselves around that?

Ms Tregenza : Yes.

Senator RUSTON: I probably should put on the record that I am an irrigator and have a water diversion licence. That is not to say that I do not sympathise entirely with achieving a health river system; in fact, it is probably all the more reason that I do. Ms Tregenza, you said in your opening comments that you believe that the 450 gl could be seen as an offer to irrigators. Could you explain that comment?

Ms Tregenza : That actually arose from a conversation I was having with a member of my family in New South Wales who is an irrigator and saw it as an offer to irrigators.

Senator RUSTON: I am not quite sure I understand the reasoning behind that comment.

Ms Tregenza : One could postulate that, if we look at the politics around pulling together all of the different stakeholders in the basin, this particular legislation could be seen in two ways. It could be seen as an amount of money that is being offered to irrigators to improve efficiencies on farm and to make the whole plan more palatable to irrigators. It could also be seen as a genuine attempt to return water to the environment. And maybe it is both of those things. I think that is probably just different interpretations that would be played out around this bill.

Senator RUSTON: I suppose the response to that would be that I cannot see why the two outcomes cannot be mutually beneficial. In fact, I would suggest that, if you look at the intention of the plan to balance environmental, economic and social imperatives, it would make a whole heap of sense—that you are not actually removing productivity in returning water to the environment; you are doing it by not doing that. I just found it a very funny comment for you to have made.

Ms Tregenza : It was put to me as that by somebody in New South Wales.

Senator RUSTON: The other comment that you made a minute ago was that you would have liked to have seen all the money spent on buyback.

Ms Tregenza : Yes.

Senator RUSTON: That is a bit of a red ragger, as you could probably imagine. I was wondering whether you could explain, once again, on the basis of the social, environmental and economic imperative of the act, why we would be seeking to do something that is obviously the most damaging thing to our river communities? I would have thought from your perspective in the Coorong that the most important thing for us is to get you sufficient water of sufficient quality at the correct time, to be able to deliver your environmental outcome. I cannot understand why you would be worried.

Ms Tregenza : During what they called 'the drought', which exacerbated the overallocation upstream, I think at the end of that it was pretty generally recognised that, if the amounts of water that had been put in engineering works and measures had been simply spent on buying back water, there would have been a better outcome for the region in which I live. There would have been more water flowing down the system. For example, at Clayton Bay, near where I live, there was what they called a 'regulator', which was basically a large dam, that was put in despite fervent and ongoing opposition from the local community. That was put in across fish-breeding grounds; it has done no good whatsoever. In fact, the government is taking it out or has started the process of removal, but it will probably never be removed. The amount that was quoted to us was that it could only be removed at a cost of $44 million. That is what I mean by saying every project needs to be analysed according to its own merits so that there is not that sort of wastage, however well intentioned at the time. The local people knew that it was a complete disaster. It has been; it has served no good. We would have been a lot better off to have $44 million worth of water.

Senator RUSTON: You cannot solve your problem by creating a problem for somebody else.

Ms Tregenza : No. I think I said very clearly that we are concerned with the health of the system and the people as a whole, but we believe that a healthy environment is the starting point for the social and economic gains for the people upstream.

Senator RUSTON: Just one last thing. You acknowledged before in relation to the benchmarks necessary to define what it is that is going to deliver the environmental outcomes that you need. You said that we have not really done enough work to identify what they are and put them in place. Are you suggesting that there needs to be more information in relation to an overall environmental watering plan to determine the number that we should be looking at—not just a number in totality of 3,200 or 2,750, but the number that needs be required at certain times? Is there enough data around that information for you to be confident that we are able to deliver these environmental outcomes efficiently?

Ms Tregenza : I am probably torn between saying that it needs to move ahead with all possible speed and, no, we will not know. I do not think anybody will know until probably five or six years down the track what it is going to look like. It would have been great if more modelling of higher flows had already been done and if we had those benchmarks of what a healthy river system looks like, but I do not know that we are going to achieve that anyway.

Senator RUSTON: The outflow from that fund is the fact that, if we do not know what they are, it makes it very difficult to become fixated on a number, as I think you have mentioned before.

Ms Tregenza : Yes. There may come a time in 2015 when the people around where I live are back in the same situation that we were in during the drought, and then we will have to advocate all over again.

Senator McKENZIE: So having that more flexible language in the amendment itself of 'up to 450' is actually beneficial given the discussion around needing to not fixate on a particular number?

Ms Tregenza : No.

Senator McKENZIE: I know in your remarks to Senator Xenophon earlier, you wanted it—

Ms Tregenza : Just one comment in response to that. When the first draft plan came out we all thought that 7,000 gigalitres was far too small. We were absolutely appalled at 2,750 gigalitres. The extra 450 gigalitres offers some small comfort, and maybe the plan will be a basis on which we can move forward. At the end of the day, the environment, the state of wetlands like the Coorong, and the wellbeing of the people who rely on these areas will be the marker by which we are all judged. I think that we need to focus on the health of the river as a whole, so that every incremental amount of water that can be returned to the river—when we have a pretty clear indication from the best available science that we are not going to get enough water—is going to be a positive.

CHAIR: The Murray-Darling Basin Plan has been a long time coming has it not? We have not had a plan for the Murray-Darling ever, have we?

Ms Tregenza : No, indeed.

CHAIR: To get a plan that can start a debate on these issues is a positive step.

Ms Tregenza : Yes, I think that having a plan is a positive step, but it does not entirely allay the fears of the people around the River Lakes and Coorong that it may not go far enough. At the end of the day, we will continue to advocate for this through our representatives.

CHAIR: I suppose that you would accept that the further up the river you go there are different priorities that people have in relation to irrigation and water.

Ms Tregenza : I go back to my earlier statement that, at the end of the day, the health of the system as a whole will be the marker by which the whole thing is judged.

CHAIR: Some people are not arguing that it is the health of the river. Further up, some people are saying that the health of the river is fine, it is the social issues that you have got to look at. That is the argument that has been put to me by many groups further up the river.

Ms Tregenza : Yes, but I think that is a very short-term view. Overall, I think that we need to be concerned with the strength of the basin as a whole. The River Lakes and Coorong Action Group has a lot of links with people throughout the whole basin, and there is a pretty strong concern that we have probably over-allocated as much as we possibly can of this river system, and the only way from here is to a better outcome.

CHAIR: Have you read the second reading speech of the minister in relation to this bill?

Ms Tregenza : I am sorry; I have not.

CHAIR: You were concerned with getting some definable outcomes. Can I just draw your attention to the minister's speech on 31 October 2012 where he goes through a range of issues. I will place them on the record and note that this is a summary. The government intends, with a combination of real-time management and an additional 450 gigalitres of water, to do the following: to reduce salinity in the Coorong and Lower Lakes; to keep the water levels in the Lower Lakes at a minimum of 0.4 metres for 95 per cent of the time; to maintain a maximum average daily salinity in the Coorong of less than 100 grams per litre for 98 per cent of the time; to maintain the Murray mouth at greater depths; to export two million tonnes of salt from the basin; to increase barrage flows to the Coorong; to seek opportunities to actively provide water to an additional 35,000 hectares of flood plain in South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria; and to enhance in-stream outcomes. I draw your attention to those outcomes. I am sure you would agree that these outcomes are better than where we are at the moment, even though you may want further improvements. Would that be right?

Ms Tregenza : A lot of those outcomes have come from the consultation around the River Lakes and Coorong. They were also in the letter that the minister wrote to Mr Knowles. They would be very good outcomes. I guess the abiding concern of the River Lakes and Coorong Action Group is that we are talking about seasons, the environment and climate change and there are still unknowns. We will not really know if the legislation has been successful until some point in the future. We are also a little unclear how that might be assessed at that point in time.

CHAIR: But you need a plan and some targets and this provides both of those.

Ms Tregenza : Yes.

CHAIR: Thanks very much for your help. It has been very good.