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Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Page: 12810

Murray-Darling Basin

Mr CHAMPION (Wakefield) (14:42): My question is to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. What steps does a government need to follow in order to put together a plan to restore the Murray-Darling Basin to health? What are the obstacles to achieving this outcome?

Mr BURKE (WatsonMinister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) (14:42): I thank the member for Wakefield for his question. Australia has never been closer to the reform of the Murray-Darling Basin than we are today. I want to commend not only the member for Wakefield but indeed all those South Australian members on this side of the House for the arguments that they have run relentlessly in pushing for the restoration of the health of the Murray-Darling Basin. I also want to acknowledge the contribution of the member for New England in ensuring that, in going down this path, we work with communities. In that way, we have made sure that we have the minimum standards required to restore the Murray-Darling to health. But, wherever we have been able to meet those environmental standards in ways that work with communities, we have taken those options.

Shortly—in the next few weeks, once the Senate have dealt with the legislation that went through this House last night—I expect to be able to sign off on a Murray-Darling Basin plan. That plan will have a benchmark of 2,750 gigalitres, with the environmental consequences attached to that. I do not believe and the science does not say that those environmental consequences on their own are enough to restore the basin to health. The reason the authority could only go that far is capacity constraints in the system. That is why the Prime Minister gave a guarantee at an event with the Premier of South Australia last week that the government will provide the money to remove those capacity constraints and get the additional 450 gigalitres that the Murray-Darling Basin so desperately needs.

That not only provides an environmental benefit for South Australia but also provides environmental benefits across the basin, whether you are at the Macquarie Marshes, Menindee Lakes or at the Hatter Lakes. The Ramsar wetlands up and down the Murray-Darling Basin all stand to benefit from a return to health here.

Given the history of some of those opposite, people such as the member for Wentworth, who have played a role in getting us to this point over the years, I was astonished to have the member for Sturt describe Murray-Darling reform as being part of a 'blizzard of distractions'—he gave a 'blizzard of distractions' as a description of Murray-Darling reform. We have an opportunity in this House to actually do what generations before us have always failed at. I know the member for Sturt, apparently just today, described the South Australian Premier's role as making him a weakling. That is always a mean thing to say, but to be called a weakling by the member for Sturt would I think hurt in a very big way.

Let me leave you in no doubt that it is the case that anyone who stands on the side of restoring the system to health is on the right side of this debate. They are on the side that for generations the basin has been waiting for and that the House will deal with soon. (Time expired)