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Impact of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan on regional Australia
House of Representatives committee
Wednesday, 19 January 2011
Impact of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan on regional Australia

CHAIR (Mr Windsor) —We might call the meeting to order and thank those witnesses who are here to appear today and members of the general public who have an interest in the issue that this inquiry is looking at. There are a couple of mechanical things that we have to go through that I will do in a minute, but firstly I have a couple of comments, if I could. The first is an apology from the local federal member, John Forrest. John, as most of you would know, is the member for this area, but he cannot be here today because of the flooding situation in various communities. I think the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Premier are coming into parts of his electorate. So John is unable to be here today, but he is putting a submission in to this inquiry and has been very actively involved in various water issues over many years. We met with John and others last night and discussed some of the issues as well. So he asked me if I would apologise on his behalf.

The second thing that I would like to say is that the committee has decided to postpone our deliberations in Swan Hill due to the weather that is occurring there at the moment. We will revisit Swan Hill at a future date and carry out our duties there. We do not know what that date is yet. But, just so you are aware, even though we were programmed to go to Swan Hill today, given the circumstances we do not think it is appropriate that we do. Some of the witnesses would have had great difficulty getting there. Given the circumstances of the flooding et cetera, we think it is best to do that on another occasion.

Before going into the formalities, I might just allow the members of the committee to introduce themselves so you have a bit of a snapshot of who we are. Firstly, I am the Independent member for the seat of New England. New England is significant in terms of the broader Murray-Darling issues in that most of it is in the Murray-Darling catchment, but it also has quite a lot—I think about 80 per cent—of the structures and dams on the Darling system and the tributaries to the Darling. In the lower parts of New England, there are some irrigation areas as well—groundwater and surface water. So it is quite important in terms of some of the management of the upper end of the system. I might start from my far right today—we started from the far left yesterday, so we will start from the far right today—and have the members introduce themselves.

Mr SECKER —I am the member for Barker, South Australia, and I represent all the Murray River in South Australia and the Lower Lakes.

Mr McCORMACK —I am the National Party member for Riverina, and I represent an area which takes in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area and the Coleambally Irrigation Area, with the Murrumbidgee River winding through it.

Mr SIDEBOTTOM —I am the federal member for Braddon, which is in north-west Tasmania, and I am deputy chair.

Mr MITCHELL —I am the federal member for McEwen, which is north of Melbourne, up through the Seymour area. We have the Goulburn et cetera running through our area.

Mr ZAPPIA —I am the federal member for Makin, which is in the north-eastern suburbs of the city of Adelaide.

Ms LEY —I am the federal member for Farrer and known, I hope, to many of you as representing an area the size of New Zealand, which has the New South Wales Murray and most of the New South Wales Darling in it.

CHAIR —Thank you. There are a few other members of the committee who are unable to be here—the member in the Rockhampton area, for obvious reasons, and others who are involved in various flood activities in their part of the world. In fact, Sid Sidebottom, from Tasmania, was sandbagging his own house the other day when a flash flood hit his residence.

I now formally declare open the second public hearing of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Regional Australia as part of its inquiry into the impact of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan—or guide, as we know it—in regional Australia. The inquiry was referred by the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government, the Hon. Simon Crean, MP. The committee has received almost 600 submissions, and most of them are available on the committee’s website. The committee will call witnesses to the table as per the program and, time allowing, will then proceed to some public statements. I remind those who wish to make statements at the end of the formal proceedings to please inform members of the secretariat. I remind members of the media who may be present at this hearing of the need to fairly and accurately report the proceedings of the committee.

[8.52 am]