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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 2038

Murray-Darling Basin

Mr WINDSOR (New England) (14:24): My question is to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities and relates to water buyback policy. Given recent questions raised about the government's initiative to seek expressions of interest for water in the southern connected system of the Murray-Darling Basin, as it applies to irrigation districts and strategic water purchases, can the minister comment on those concerns and, given those concerns, will the minister also consider attending a meeting of the Standing Committee on Regional Australia in company with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority Chair, Craig Knowles, to discuss progress on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan?

Mr BURKE (WatsonMinister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) (14:25): I thank the member for New England both for the question and for the work he led when the Windsor inquiry looked into Murray-Darling Basin reform. A key recommendation, supported at the media conferences that followed, held by members of parliament on each side of this House, was for the government to put a pause on all non-strategic buybacks. At that time we gave a guarantee that in the north of the system we would only be buying from river pumpers and in the south of the system the general tenders which had been taking place would not recommence until 2013. Those commitments stand.

There have been claims, in this parliament and outside the parliament, from three members of the inquiry that the recent expressions of interest that have been launched are in some way a breach of that commitment. I make it clear to everyone, including members of the Windsor inquiry, that the expressions of interest have been launched so that strategic buyback can take place. Rather than doing a basin-wide tender, rather than going through the other system, which members opposite had always opposed, where value for money was the only indicator, we now actually have a situation where we look to expressions of interest to see whether or not for the local community the purchase is strategic—and that is exactly what the inquiry unanimously called for. I am very happy to meet with members of the committee to talk about this; I am very happy to ask the Chair of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to meet with members of the committee as well.

This comes down to one really simple dividing line. When we got that unanimous report I actually thought that we had from the coalition members of the committee a willingness to engage in reform and that they would hold themselves to the words of that inquiry—their issue was whether or not the buybacks were strategic. What we have discovered today is that, regardless of the unanimity of the report, there are members opposite whose argument is not just whether it is strategic; they are just opposed to reform of the Murray-Darling Basin. The arguments that they have thrown up in the last few days are a slap in the face to every South Australian member opposite who thought they had a consensus position from the coalition; who thought they were actually on a constructive path forward.

The SPEAKER: The minister will return to the substance of the question.

Mr BURKE: That is why, Mr Speaker, what has been announced is exactly what the Windsor inquiry called for, is exactly in line with the commitment we made and is exactly what until this week had been a unanimous position from the coalition.