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Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Page: 14725

Mr DRUM (MurrayNationals Whip) (11:05): The northern Victoria food bowl of the Goulburn-Murray irrigation district produces dairy products, fruit, meat and grains for pubs, restaurants, supermarkets and cafes and for all the families across Australia and around the world. The success of this massively productive area is due to one of the most efficient and effective irrigation systems in Australia. But, currently, the temporary water market is so expensive that water is trading at between $450 and $510 a megalitre. In the current market, to produce milk our dairy farmers cannot run their farming businesses, with the cost of water moving above $200. So they are currently priced totally out of the water market.

As of 28 February, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder was holding 1,473 gigalitres—over a million megalitres—in storage in the Southern Connected Basin. Of this, 270 gigalitres was held in the Goulburn system and 308 gigalitres was held in the Murray system. This water is for environmental assets, but currently all of the environmental asset targets in Victoria are being met because the rivers are running so high, due to the fact that there is trade water in the rivers moving from one region downstream to other commodities. So all of the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder's assets are being met and the Environmental Water Holder is sitting there with over 600 gigalitres of water just in the GMID sitting in its account. We have been calling for the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder to release 50 to 100 gigalitres of water onto the market at a reduced cost so that we might be able to help some of the farmers. If they are able to do that, I'm sure the federal government would also be able to get in and assist with the discounting of this water, to make it available for dairy so that we might give some respite to some of these farmers who are having to sell their cows to the abattoirs or, if they're lucky, to other milking herds.

At the moment, we are receiving a blank 'no'. Phillip Glyde from the Murray-Darling Basin Authority says he can't do this, because environmental water must be used for environmental purposes. We know that that is not true, because they've already released water to the agricultural sector on previous occasions. Jody Swirepik from the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder says that we cannot release environmental water for agriculture, because we might need it next year. We don't know about next year. So they're going to carry over these obscene amounts of water that aren't needed anywhere but the agricultural sector, which is desperately in need of this water at a discounted rate. The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder is simply going to sit it there. This water was always meant to be able to be shared between agriculture in dry times and given back to the environment in other years.