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Wednesday, 30 May 2012
Page: 6386

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (18:48): The Murray-Darling Basin Authority's revised draft Basin Plan to states was greeted with dismay and disbelief by communities in the Riverina, Minister, as I am sure you could imagine. The MDBA received nearly 12,000 submissions during its 20-week consultation period, and tens of thousands attended consultation sessions across all parts of the Basin, including 12,000 people who attended the meeting at Griffith on 15 December, which you attended yourself, Minister.

The revised plan is mostly unchanged from the draft plan released on 28 November 2011. The sustainable diversion limits remain unchanged, resulting in water use reduction of 2,750 gigalitres of entitlement compared to 2009 levels. Are you concerned about the 2,750 gigalitres figure for surface water to be taken from productive use—that is, growing food by farmers—and given to the environment remains? Is it too high? Is it too low?

Can you work with state governments to get an outcome from this process which moves us beyond 120 years of contention among the states? The plan is underpinned by state cooperation. We all know that without the support of the states this plan becomes more difficult to implement, because the plan calls for the states both to run the system and to develop the detailed environmental watering plans. Every state, as you mentioned in parliament only yesterday, has so far refused to support the revised plan. To get the support of the states, it is clear that the government is going to need to better address the concerns of each state. What do you propose to do to achieve that?

The government has failed to outline commitments to invest in water recovery options, which will reduce the impact on jobs, communities and food production. Craig Knowles, the chairman of the MDBA, says that more water needs to be recovered through investments in water infrastructure compared to water buybacks, but there is nothing so far, Minister, from you or your government that reflects these statements. The government has spent $1.8 billion on water buybacks but just $413 million on investments which will deliver water into the basin. For every one litre of water which has been saved through infrastructure, five litres have been taken out of communities through buybacks. I would like to ask: why did the government defer $941 million of Murray-Darling Basin infrastructure funding until 2015-16 yet keep the money for largely unwanted buybacks in the Treasurer's 8 May budget? The plan remains complete. The government has not done its work on environmental works and measures, and I would like to know why. The government says that environmental watering must become more efficient, just as farmers have asked to become more water efficient. I would like to know what the government's response is to that. The coalition remains, as always, available for sensible dialogue with the government about the plan. I believe you have met with our shadow water minister, Barnaby Joyce. I would like you to just to perhaps briefly outline what came of that meeting, if that is possible.

Also, does the government have an estimate of the additional cost of recovering up to 2,750 gigalitres, compared with what will be necessary through buyback with the current budgetary allocations? If the states develop environmental watering plans which determine different environmental watering needs from what is in the current plan, will the government change the plan? Has the government decided to seek a minimum amount of water recovery through means other than water buybacks? If so, how much? You could take some of these on notice too, because I know there are a lot of questions.

I would like an update on the Nimmie-Caira landholders' proposal in the Lower Murrumbidgee, where historical extractions are in the order of 310,000 megalitres. I would like to know where that is up to. I spoke with Michael Spinks, at Maude, just an hour ago. He says that they have had a meeting with the state office of water. I know there have been funds provided by the federal government for a feasibility and business plan with that.

Just on something completely different, can the minister and department advise me what the government has decided in relation to restriction of land use in littoral lowland rainforests? I ask for and on behalf of the member for Cowper. Can the minister advise what actions he has taken in relation to relinquishing power under the EPBC Act in relation to flying foxes?