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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 633

Mr WINDSOR (2:41 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Given the recent interim recommendations of the Regional Australia Committee into the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s Guide to the Basin Plan, could the minister elaborate on recent initiatives announced in Dubbo last Friday?

Mr BURKE (Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) —I thank the member for New England for the question and, in particular, for the work that the parliamentary committee, led by the member for New England, is doing with members of both sides of the parliament in working with communities to make sure we have a constructive approach to building strong communities at the same time as we are working towards preserving and improving the health of the Murray-Darling Basin river system itself.

There were three recommendations that the committee put in an interim report to me a couple of weeks ago. Those three recommendations went, firstly, to wanting to see whether or not the buyback system is capable of being conducted in a more strategic fashion; secondly, wanting to look at some taxation arrangements which have been holding back some of the programs that we have; and, thirdly, wanting to look at how environmental works and measures might be able to lead to a more efficient use of the environmental assets within the basin.

I am pleased to report that in Dubbo on Friday, on behalf of the government, I was able to give the beginnings of our response to each of those three issues, and I want to thank all members of that committee for their work in highlighting those issues in the way they have. In a similar way, some of these issues have been highlighted to the government through the irrigation roundtable attended by the agriculture minister, the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government, and me.

To take each of those three issues in turn, there is some connection between the first two. The taxation arrangements have themselves prevented some of the strategic buyback programs from going ahead. It is important if you want to be able to purchase strategically from the outer channels that you have a local irrigation authority lead it. If it is simply done by the Commonwealth, you run the risk of a situation where you pay a premium on the outer channels. Having purchased that water, they are then free to trade back in on the water market at a lower price and essentially all you end up doing is getting bad value for money for the Commonwealth. If it is led by the irrigation authority then they can close the channel once the buyback has taken place, thus not just making that allocation available to go back to the environment but also freeing up some of the conveyance water that was there as well.

Those taxation issues are now resolved by a letter that was signed off by the Prime Minister on Friday morning, and there will be legislation which will be introduced to the parliament fixing those problems with taxation that go to the difference between when the liability was created and when the deduction was then claimed back over three years. That legislation, when it is introduced, will backdate to April 2010. There is still more work that we are doing in bringing about a more strategic approach to buybacks, but that is at least an early dividend on those programs. It has allowed round 2 of the private irrigation operators program to now be launched in New South Wales, putting a further $373 million on the table in this strategic area.

Finally, on environmental works and measures, I have contacted all my state colleagues within the Murray-Darling Basin, and there is an intention now for all basin water ministers to meet in April outside of the ministerial council process. That meeting will be for ministers themselves to put the items on the agenda that they want, but I have put as the first listing of items on the agenda from the Commonwealth a request for them to bring forward proposals for more effective use of environmental works and measures. There is a lot of good work that irrigators have done to be more efficient, and I do believe it is a fair call for us to see if we can manage some our environmental assets more efficiently as well.

I want to thank all members of the House for their participation on the Windsor inquiry. It is a very big part of making sure that around this time next year we can deliver certainty for communities.