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Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Page: 6402

Mr WINDSOR (10:14 AM) —I would like to raise with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts a couple of issues which particularly relate to the budget allocations for the Murray-Darling system. The minister would be aware that only last week the Murray-Darling Basin Authority board was announced. The board will have to embark on putting a Murray-Darling Basin plan together. The minister should be very well aware of the mandatory content arrangements in the Water Act 2007, and I presume that the board would have to follow fairly closely the mandatory content arrangements outlined in the act.

Part of that process, Minister, as you would be aware, is a water resource plan. You once said in another place that the act allows for the minister or the authority to instigate scientific inquiries in relation to certain activities which may either divert water within the Murray-Darling system or impinge upon some of the interconnectivity issues between groundwater and surface water. There is a lack of scientific knowledge of our groundwater systems and connectivity issues with groundwater to river systems, which has been demonstrated in this budget with a $6 million allocation to study groundwater ecology. This demonstrates quite clearly that we do not have a proper scientific understanding of these systems, how they relate to the river systems and how we can construct a basin plan with various caps on the various catchments. My questions to you, Minister, are whether you are concerned about that lack of knowledge and where you would use the Commonwealth powers to instigate scientific inquiries or to prevent certain activities from occurring, such as mining on the Liverpool Plains, until we do have full scientific knowledge of the impact of these activities on those groundwater systems; otherwise, these activities might potentially undermine, through off-site impacts, the integrity of any basin plan that is put together. Minister, are the mandatory content arrangements outlined in the 2007 act and endorsed in the 2009 act going to be followed through at the Commonwealth level or will the Commonwealth, even though it has embarked on what I agree is a great coming together of the four states and the Commonwealth, refer these activities conveniently back to the state governments, as has happened in the past?