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Tuesday, 5 July 2011
Page: 7593

Murray-Darling Basin

Mr GEORGANAS (Hindmarsh) (15:16): My question is to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, PopulĀ­ation and Communities. Will the minister update the House on the progress of reform in the Murray-Darling Basin and outline the importance of a consistent approach to water reform? Are there any challenges or other options to this approach?

Mr BURKE (WatsonMinister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) (15:17): I want to thank the member for Hindmarsh who has—as all of the South Australian members do, certainly on this side of the House—a very keen interest in the outcomes of Murray-Darling Basin reform. The Windsor inquiry gave us an opportunity for consensus and an opportunity for people to be very much working together on some of the ways that we can minimise the impact on communities. In particular, I quote from that inquiry:

… there is a general consensus that Menindee Lakes cannot be overlooked and require significant attention for the benefit of the Basin and its communities.

For those members not familiar with Menindee Lakes, this has been the greatest opportunity for environmental works to potentially provide anything up to 200 gigalitres through more efficient use of the environmental water there. Therefore, many members, myself included, were concerned when the New South Wales government last week announced that they were withdrawing from the memorandum of understanding on Menindee Lakes and that the project would not go ahead.

I had thought, following the Windsor inquiry, that there would be a joint approach across this House on being concerned about the New South Wales withdrawal from Menindee Lakes. For that reason I was pleased when Simon Birmingham, who some members will know is a senator, made the comment that this was a 'blow to the basin reform process and will make achieving the basin plan even harder'. No doubt it does put more pressure on issues like buyback when things like Menindee do not go ahead. We are waiting for New South Wales to come back with what they want to put in its place. But that did not put forward a universal position from the coalition. Indeed the coalition have continued to do post the Windsor inquiry what they were doing beforehand—that is, sending one message out to the South Australian media and the further up the basin you go, the messages, whether they come from Senator Joyce or from others, become quite different. The member for Farrer—I do not know what it is about Twitter, but that seven-second delay you get in radio does not happen between the brain and the thumb when they are dealing with Twitter—in complete violation of what Senator Birmingham was saying, said this: 'New South Wales pulls out the Menindee water deal … excellent news.' When you get a state government pulling out of a potential 200 gigalitre saving for Murray-Darling reform, you do not view that as excellent news. It is not good enough to be sending one message to irrigation communities and the opposite message in South Australia.

The Windsor inquiry was meant to provide an opportunity where we ended up with a unanimous report. We ended up with the Liberal members, the National members, the Labor members and the Independents having the same point of view. If only across the coalition we could get a consistent message on Murray-Darling reform. They can continue for the moment with different media units getting away with some local papers in irrigation communities running one line while downstream they are putting forward a different message. The Leader of the Opposition has some experience in providing opposite commitments on issues, but eventually you have to show your ballot paper. Eventually it will catch up with the Leader of the Opposition when the Murray-Darling Basin plan comes in front of this parliament. He will either have to vote yes to reform or back the positions that those upstream have been calling on him to take.