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Impact of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan on regional Australia
House of Representatives committee
Tuesday, 25 January 2011
Impact of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan on regional Australia

CHAIR (Mr Windsor) —Ladies and gentlemen, if I could call the meeting to order, please—we would like to start on time. We have a very detailed program that we have to work through.

I declare open the seventh 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 in regional Australia. This inquiry was referred to the committee by the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government, the Hon. Simon Crean MP. The committee has received something like 600 submissions, most of which are now available on the website; the rest will be very soon.

The committee will call witnesses to the table as per the program and, time allowing, will then allow some members of the public to make some short comments—and I emphasise ‘short’ because the program will not allow extended arguments and developments of—

Interjector—Why not?

CHAIR —Everybody can have their say, but we want people to know that we have got to adhere to a timetable. This is a legal proceeding of the parliament. May I remind those wishing to make statements to let the secretariat know so that we have a list of names of those to call forward. Before introducing the witnesses I will 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.

I will introduce myself and the members of the committee. My name is Tony Windsor; I am the chair of this committee. I am the member for New England. I am a farmer. I have a son who is farming. He has been inundated by floods on two occasions in the last month. The seat of New England represents most of the major catchments in the Darling component of the basin.

I have been on the road for a fortnight now, looking at this issue, and most of our members have been on the road for about 10 days. We have had a very interesting look at the various issues that are out there. Rather than make a speech at this particular point—because today’s hearing is not about us; it is about you—I will say that we are very serious about trying to do something in relation to this issue. The integrity of the people on this committee, irrespective of which political organisation they belong to, in my view has been very good in terms of trying to deal with a very involved and complicated issue. I thank them for that. This is the last of the hearings on this round. We will be doing more in February, in the breaks between parliament; we will be travelling into Queensland and parts of New South Wales. And I thank you—particularly the people who have made submissions, for being here today and being able to be questioned on those submissions.

To the members of the public: you are very welcome to be here, but I just emphasise that this is a legal proceeding of the parliament where we are trying to get a snapshot across the basin of the various issues that are within the basin. Today we have some major national and state organisations that are particularly involved in the irrigation industry, and we need that capacity to question them. We have received their submissions before, so this is not being done cold. The submissions are before the committee, and today is more about questioning them on their particular issues. Without further ado, I ask members of the committee to introduce themselves. Before doing that, I thank Michael McCormack, the local member here, for the cooperation that he has given. He has been on the road from day one and has been giving us a guided tour as we came into this part of the world—as have the other members of the committee as well. As a group, I think, we have worked very well together. The challenge as to how meaningful our deliberations are is not only a challenge to us as a group to try and work together to come up with some strong recommendations but very much a challenge to the communities as well to give us the ideas that are out there and that can partly solve the particular issues that people have.

Today is not about bashing the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. I think we have all realised that the way in which the message was delivered from them was not in the most appropriate fashion. We have heard it; we do not need to keep reiterating that. We are more interested in what we do from here on rather that what has happened in the past. I think that the political process will take care of some of those issues as well.

Mr ZAPPIA —I am the federal member for Makin. It covers the northern and north-eastern suburbs of the city of Adelaide in South Australia.

Ms LEY —I am the member for Farrer, your neighbours to the south, and I represent the New South Wales Murray irrigated agriculture communities and also the far west of New South Wales, including the lower Darling and the Menindee Lakes.

Interjector—Could you please stand so that we can see you.

CHAIR —Ladies and gentlemen, we can stand now, but we will not be able to keep standing up and down. This is being recorded, and we will be getting a Hansard transcript of the evidence, so we cannot go walking away from microphones. These are all plugged into the system. We can stand so that we can look out. If you want to look at me, I am Tony Windsor. You will probably want me to sit down now!

Mr McCORMACK —I am the member for Riverina. I am aware of my responsibilities and proud to be your local member.

Dr STONE —I am the member for Murray, to the south of here on the Victorian side. The northern Victorian area is the part I represent—a big irrigation community. I am a fourth generation irrigator myself, and my son is on the land. I have to say that we are half underwater with the floods at the moment—shocking floods. You might not hear enough about them. We are all still focusing a bit further north, but we are very pleased to be here amongst all of you at Griffith.

Mr GIBBONS —I am the federal member for Bendigo in central Victoria, probably the largest single regional community within the Murray-Darling Basin, with a population of about 100,000. In the short time we have been on the road in this trip—nine days—the one thing that has been coming out at every meeting is: ‘We want consultation.’ Today this is what this is all about.

[8.53 am]