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Wednesday, 19 August 2009
Page: 5405

Senator XENOPHON (2:49 PM) —My question, of which I have given some notice, is to the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Wong. What powers does the Commonwealth have to intervene to protect the reactivation of dormant water licences of at least 10 billion litres annually in Queensland from the Cooper Creek, given the potentially devastating environmental impact on the Ramsar listed Coongie Lakes and surrounding areas in South Australia?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —Thank you to Senator Xenophon for this question. The Commonwealth’s involvement in this issue is primarily as a party to the Lake Eyre Basin Intergovernmental Agreement, which, as the senator would be aware, provides for the sustainable management of Lake Eyre. The forum is chaired by the Parliamentary Secretary for Water, Dr Kelly, and it is this forum which will be oversighting the management of the Lake Eyre Basin for some nine years. This IGA, which was signed in 2000, is given effect under legislation in each jurisdiction. I can advise the senator that at a recent meeting of the ministerial forum this year the Queensland government advised that the existing Cooper Creek water resource plan was scheduled to expire on 1 September 2010. As required under Queensland water law, the Queensland government has previously announced its intention to prepare a new draft water resource plan for Cooper Creek for public consideration later this year. The advice provided to the ministerial forum was that a draft of this resource plan will be released for public comment later this year. I am also advised that socioeconomic, hydrologic and ecological assessments are being used to inform the development of the draft plan.

It is the case that there are some sleeper licences, where no extraction has commenced, and what are known as dozer licences, where pumps are in place but are not yet used, which are able to be activated now under the existing resource plan provided strict licence and land-use conditions are met. The senator is correct that it is possible that activation of these licences together with the potential to enable trade and water entitlements in Cooper Creek could have an adverse impact on the river flows and flood plain inundation to the detriment of areas, including the Coongie Lakes Ramsar site. I again say that the Queensland government has informed— (Time expired)

Senator XENOPHON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister elaborate on what she has just said? Further, what communication has the Commonwealth had with the Queensland government about the potential reactivation of these water licences and the potential environment impacts?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —Queensland has confirmed to the ministerial forum that the new plan will be ‘fully compliant with all state, national and international agreements, including the Lake Eyre Basin Intergovernmental Agreement’. That IGA has, as its primary purpose, the development and implementation of policies and strategies that avoid, or eliminate as far as is reasonably practicable, adverse cross-border impacts in the basin. I have asked my parliamentary secretary to ensure that, from the Commonwealth’s perspective, the provisions of the IGA continue to be utilised to protect the ecological characteristics of key assets within the basin, including the internationally significant Coongie Lakes, which as you know is a Ramsar site.

Senator XENOPHON —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Does the minister concede that the reactivation of these licences could have a very significant impact on the Coongie Lakes and go against the spirit—or make a mockery of the spirit—of cooperation announced by the states last year at the COAG meeting on 3 July?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —The announcement to which the senator refers was in relation to the Murray-Darling Basin. This matter concerns the Lake Eyre Basin. There are many who would argue that the Lake Eyre Basin initiative has actually been a very good example of inter-state cooperation on river and natural resource management. I stress again that no decisions have yet been taken. As I mentioned earlier, Queensland has indicated an intention to fulfil its water planning obligations in a way that is consistent with the Lake Eyre Basin Intergovernmental Agreement. I would add that that remains the Commonwealth’s expectation.

Senator Heffernan —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I just want to point out to the minister that under the Queensland Water Act—

The PRESIDENT —Order! That is not a point of order. The time for debating these issues is at the end of question time. I am sure people will welcome your contribution at that time.