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Wednesday, 15 October 2003
Page: 21486

Ms LEY (3:00 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Would the minister advise the House of progress with the Living Murray initiative—so important to my electorate of Farrer—including consultation with the communities who live along the river?

Mr TRUSS (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) —I thank the honourable member for Farrer, because she rightly says that this is a very important issue for her electorate. She, like other people living in that significant part of Australia's productive areas, will be interested to hear that at noon today the Murray-Darling Basin Commission released the interim scientific reference panel report on the environmental impacts of returning various levels of water to the River Murray. It is an important document in helping to inform the community as the debate about the Living Murray initiative reaches an advanced stage.

The report identifies the sorts of achievements that can occur with different levels of water flow and, naturally, points out that more can be achieved with the greater volumes of water that are provided for environmental purposes. But most particularly it makes the point that good management of the water that goes to the environment is just as important—probably more important—as the volume of water that is actually supplied. By skilfully using environmental waters, a relatively small amount can achieve quite significant outcomes for the system.

Mr TRUSS —This particular finding tears at the heart of the Labor Party's policy in relation to the Living Murray issue—

Mr TRUSS —which was again espoused a couple of days ago by the opposition spokesman.

The SPEAKER —The member for Wills is warned!

Mr TRUSS —The Labor Party policy is essentially to take 1,500 gigalitres off irrigators in country towns and just flush it down the river—who knows where, who knows when and who knows why?—with no outcomes and no plan involved at all. This scientific report makes it clear that that is not the way in which to effectively achieve good environmental outcomes in the Murray-Darling system.

What is clearly coming through in relation to the first step initiative under the Living Murray program is that, if we identify some key icon sites, very substantial achievements can be made to improve environmental health by allocating water in a carefully planned way. By using these icon sites to improve the health of the river, we can achieve worthwhile outcomes without having to destroy rural economies or tear at the heart of the availability of water for irrigators and others who are so dependent upon that system.

The scientific report, along with the social and economic work that is being done and the consultation with the community, is important in achieving a balanced outcome and a good result in relation to the Living Murray initiative. This government is committed to improving to the health of the Murray-Darling system, but we are also committed to the economic viability of the region concerned. We believe it is possible to achieve both of those objectives. We do not have to work on the basis that one objective can only be achieved at the expense of the other. By working with communities, we believe we can deliver good environmental outcomes and maintain strong levels of profitability in rural and regional Australia.