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Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Page: 12740

Mr BURKE (WatsonMinister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) (09:59): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Today in introducing this bill, I am seeking a commitment from this parliament to restore the Murray-Darling Basin to health.

The Murray-Darling Basin reform has relied on a number of steps being taken: the National Water Initiative; the development of the water market; the Water Act; the soon to be presented Murray-Darling Basin Plan; with the final step of parliament using this bill to maximise environmental outcomes in the plan.

For over a century, the Murray-Darling Basin has not been managed with a basin-wide plan. This has resulted in environmental degradation, a lack of resilience and an ongoing layer of uncertainty for communities.

The Basin Plan, to be made later this year, will restore the health of our rivers, support strong regional communities and ensure sustainable food production.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority is proposing a plan which starts at a benchmark of 2,750 gigalitres of environmental water. The proposed plan includes an adjustment mechanism which will allow the SDL to move up if environmental outcomes can be delivered with less water and move down if constraints are removed and additional water is acquired in a way which is not detrimental to communities.

This legislation allows the Commonwealth to use that mechanism. It will provide funding to projects that improve environmental outcomes over and above that in the proposed 2,750-gigalitre benchmark.

We will fund removing constraints in the system and we will also fund projects such as on-farm infrastructure required to acquire up to an additional 450 gigalitres of water beyond the benchmark in the plan. This will give us an even better outcome for the basin.

The additional environmental water made possible by this bill does not only work to achieve better outcomes for the Coorong and Lower Lakes. There are environmental assets, Ramsar listed wetlands, river red gum forests, national parks and homes for Australian wildlife throughout the basin that will benefit because of this bill.

Importantly, the plan being proposed by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority stipulates that additional water beyond the benchmark should only be acquired through methods that deliver additional water for the environment without negative social and economic consequences such as infrastructure.

By way of example, the benefits of modernising on-farm irrigation infrastructure are already well established. The government agrees with this approach and this bill is framed in these terms.

A secure funding stream extending a decade into the future is required since recovering water is a long-term endeavour.

Accordingly, this bill amends the Water Act 2007 to provide a secure funding stream to enable up to an additional 450 gigalitres of water to be recovered.

It complements the Water Amendment (Long-term Average Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment) Bill 2012 introduced into this House on 20 September this year.

Through the Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure program, this government is already recovering water for the environment through upgrading on-farm and off-farm irrigation infrastructure.

The bill also secures funding to enable the increased environmental water to be delivered to wetlands in an efficient and effective manner by addressing existing constraints that limit higher water flows.

Such constraints include outflows from storage dams, low-lying infrastructure and the need to provide for flood easements or agreements with landholders.

All basin governments will be fully involved in the development of projects that would underpin sustainable diversion limit adjustments, including initiatives to remove constraints.

Projects to be funded through this special account will be considered alongside projects that allow an increase in the SDL by using environmental water more efficiently so that governments have a complete picture of what the final sustainable diversion limit will be in all catchments.

The enhanced environmental benefits from the provision of an additional 450 gigalitres of water and the removal of physical constraints are many. The government intends, with a combination of real-time management and the additional 450 gigalitres of water, to achieve outcomes such as:

salinity in the Coorong and Lower Lakes being further reduced so that it does not exceed levels which are lethal to insects, fish and plants that form important parts of the food chain;

water levels in the Lower Lakes being kept above 0.4 metres for 95 per cent of the time, helping to maintain flows to the Coorong, to prevent acidification, and to prevent acid drainage and riverbank collapse below Lock 1;

the maximum average daily salinity in the Coorong south lagoon being less than 100 grams per litre for 98 per cent of years and less than 120 grams per litre at all times in the model period;

the maximum average daily salinity in the Coorong north lagoon being less than 50 grams per litre for 98 per cent of years;

maintaining the Murray Mouth at greater depths, reducing the risk of dredging being needed to keep the mouth open;

two million tonnes of salt being exported from the basin each year as a long-term average;

barrage flows to the Coorong being increased, supporting more years where critical fish migrations can occur for estuarine fish,

opportunities to actively water an additional 35,000 hectares of flood plain in South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria, improving the health of forests and fish and bird habitat, improving the connection to the river, and replenishing groundwater; and

enhanced in-stream outcomes and improved connections with low-level flood plain and habitats adjacent to rivers in the Southern Basin, which can be achieved.

After a century of getting it wrong, this bill, combined with the soon-to-be-finalised Murray-Darling Basin Plan, says that this parliament will not fail the basin. The system will return to health and the environment and the communities which are nourished by these mighty rivers will have a strong and resilient future.

Debate adjourned.