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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9043

Mr WINDSOR (New England) (10:20): On behalf of the Standing Committee of Regional Australia, I present the committee's report, incorporating additional comments, entitled, Report into certain matters relating to the proposed Murray-Darling Basin Plan', together with the minutes, proceedings and evidence received by the committee.

I rise today to present the Standing Committee of Regional Australia's second report on its inquiry into certain matters relating to the proposed Murray-Darling Basin Plan. This report was presented out of session of 6 July 2012. The committee undertook this inquiry at the request of the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, the Hon. Tony Burke. The minister specifically asked the committee to direct its focus onto three areas: (1) the progress to date in water recovery towards bridging the gap by 2019; (2) the role that environmental works and measures can play in offsetting the sustainable diversion limit reductions; and (3) the groundwater sustainable diversion limits.

Being very aware that consultation on the draft plan was in its final stages, the committee agreed to undertake a narrow and focused inquiry, intending to highlight areas that needed to be addressed prior to the basin plan being introduced to the parliament. The report makes four recommendations in key areas that the committee believes must be addressed prior to the plan being introduced to the parliament. The committee found that there are some areas where the government can still improve the information being given to basin stakeholders. The first two recommendations of the report address issues where the committee believes that more information is required before the basin plan being introduced to the parliament.

Firstly, the committee has recommended that the Commonwealth government develop and release a water recovery strategy addressing how the remaining 1,270 gigalitres of water is due to be recovered. Stakeholders are concerned that the government is acting without an appropriate forward strategy for achieving this. Secondly, in its original report on this matter the committee recommended that when water is not needed for environmental assets the Commonwealth environmental water holder be able to trade it into the productive market. The committee has again recommended that this proposal be finalised so that the parliament can consider it along with the plan.

Another key area of debate is whether sustainable diversion limits may be offset by environmental works and measures. The committee has recommended that a mechanism be developed to adjust these sustainable diversion limits automatically in response to the efficiencies gained by environmental works and measures, rather than through parliament having to approve the sustainable diversion limit changes. This will allow flexibility and responsiveness to be built into the plan, rather than it being tied to the parliamentary calendar. I am pleased to note that the sustainable diversion limit adjustment mechanism is included in the latest draft plan, which was issued on 6 August 2012.

Finally, the committee has recommended that the government look more seriously at river and irrigation management and monitoring. The committee heard evidence in this and its previous inquiry that better river and irrigation management and monitoring can achieve water savings and prevent evaporative losses, yet governments at all levels have been slow to act. This is one of the key areas that must be addressed as part of this reform. Without acting to better manage the rivers only half of the reform process will have been completed. Whilst it has not made recommendations on the groundwater issues that were part of the inquiry, the committee notes its ongoing concern about the impact that coal seam gas mining may have on groundwater resources.

The report is a unanimous one, with some additional comments from the member for Murray clarifying her position on some matters. I commend the report to the House and thank those committee members, not only for this inquiry, which was a short, sharp inquiry, but for the quite exhausting inquiry we did earlier this year and last year. The committee has worked extraordinarily well together, in my view. If that demeanour can be carried through the parliament, where people across the political spectrum actually come together with a common aim and a common objective, we can see some achievement come out of this parliament. I thank the secretariat for their very diligent and hard work and all those people who have taken the time to be part of this process.

In accordance with standing order 39(f) the report was made a parliamentary paper.