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Monday, 26 November 2012
Page: 13148

Murray-Darling Basin

Ms RISHWORTH (Kingston) (14:41): My question is to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Will the minister advise the House on the government's plan to restore the Murray-Darling Basin to health? What are the next steps before the parliament on this plan?

Mr BURKE (WatsonMinister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities) (14:41): I thank the member for Kingston for the question. She has been a passionate advocate for restoring the Murray-Darling Basin to health. Australia now has a Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The plan is legally binding and the establishment of the plan follows a long line of processes which have occurred over the years while government has changed back and forth.

The process that we are in at the moment goes all the way back to 1991, when there was an outbreak of blue-green algae. At that point, instead of the Murray-Darling simply being a negotiation between the states, the river itself negotiated back and it negotiated hard, sending a message loud and clear that if we did not manage the rivers properly none of us would be able to use the water. The Keating government followed up in 1994 with a COAG agreement that set the framework which water reform follows today. Under the Howard government we had the National Water Initiative in 2004 and, in 2007, the establishment of the Water Act, overseen by the then Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, the member for Wentworth.

When the Rudd government came in we then had under Minister Wong the establishment of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and large amounts of water starting to be accumulated and reserved for the purposes of environmental water, to restore the system to health. We now under the Gillard government have a situation where Australia has as force of law a binding Murray-Darling Basin Plan. In arriving at this plan, the parliament has been well served by the work of the Windsor committee, which has brought different members of the parliament together and asked for methods by which this reform could be achieved in a way that is sensitive to communities. Wherever we could reach the environmental objectives that the reform demanded in ways that were sensitive to communities—through minimising buyback, through maximising environmental works and measures and infrastructure investment—we have done so.

But make no mistake: while we have compromised on the way of getting there, there has been no compromise on the ambition of the reform itself. This reform does restore the Murray-Darling Basin to health. This reform does mean that we will not see again the drying up of the system at the South Australian end the way we have in the past, that we will not see the drying up of Hatter Lakes or the Narran Lakes, and that we will not see those sorts of blue-green algae outbreaks on the 1,000-kilometre scale which characterised the early 1990s.

I want to refer to the fact that from five o'clock today the Murray-Darling Basin Plan will have been tabled in this parliament and will be available for disallowance. I understand there has been a statement from the Greens saying that they intend to move disallowance. I just want to make clear to the parliament that if we can only resolve to continue to fight and not reach a solution we are no better than the generations that have failed before us. (Time expired)