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Thursday, 19 June 2008
Page: 2889

Senator Allison asked the Minister for Climate Change and Water, upon notice, on 17 March 2008:

Given: (a) the disturbing trend of state governments taking water from agriculture and the environment and diverting it into wasteful urban areas, in preference to adopting lower cost urban water efficiency and demand management activities, occurring at a net loss to the economy through loss of productive farming capacity and consequently increased costs of agricultural products; (b) the study submitted by the Institute for Sustainable Futures to the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee’s inquiry into options for additional water supplies for south east Queensland, Review of water supply-demand options for South East Queensland, which found that water savings from demand management activities could deliver an additional 230 billion litres of water each year at a cost of $1.15 per kilolitre, which is less than the estimated cost (between $3.38 and $4.65 per kilolitre) of the proposed Traveston Crossing Dam, which will only deliver 70 billion litres; and (c) that a kilolitre of water used in agriculture has more potential for value adding than a kilolitre of water used inefficiently in the urban environment and that aggressive water efficiency and harvesting for urban use is cheaper and less environmentally damaging than supply options, such as the Traveston Dam in south east Queensland and the desalination project at Wonthaggi, Victoria:

(1)   What benchmarks and assessment of water have been undertaken.

(2) (a)   What assessment of water-saving potential has been undertaken; and (b) What is the current market, technological and theoretical water efficiency for Australian cities.

(3)   How would such analysis inform water efficiency targets.

(4)   What water efficiency targets are being considered.

(5)   How will the analysis and the targets inform a national water policy.

(6)   How would targets be implemented and achieved.

(7)   What priority has the Government to ensure a best practice approach to delivering aggressive water efficiencies and secure sustainable long-term water supplies for urban areas.

(8)   Have the recommendations of the report of the Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts References Committee, The value of water - inquiry into Australia’s management of urban water, tabled on 5 December 2002, been considered for adoption.

(9)   With reference to the Australian Labor Party’s election statement that there is to be an allocation for urban water efficiency, what is the implementation plan and the timeline for this.

(10)   (a) What partnerships with state government, local government and manufacturers of water efficient appliances are being set up; and (b) what is the program for minimum water performance standards for appliances.

(11)   Has the department undertaken any analysis of demand-side potential in the south east Queensland area.

(12)   Can the department verify the Queensland Government’s research which suggests that a modular desalination plant would cost only an additional 3 per cent of the $1.6 billion that the dam would cost, while protecting threatened species habitat and preserving 10 per cent of Australia’s dairy industry.

(13)   What is the involvement of the department with the Queensland Government’s process to assess the environmental impact of the Traveston Dam.

(14)   What assessment is being undertaken by the department to identify species and habitat affected by the proposed dam.

(15)   What priority is being given to progressing urban water efficiency actions in south east Queensland and thereby avoiding of negative economic and environmental impacts that will be caused by the construction of the Traveston Dam.

(16)   Given that the Traveston Dam was deemed a controlled action under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 in November 2006 and that the Commonwealth has the power under the Act to stop the Traveston Dam if evidence clearly shows that there will be a significant impact on a matter of national environmental significance, will the Government undertake an independent assessment of the environmental impact of the proposed dam or will it solely rely on the recommendation of the Queensland Government.

(17)   Have the recommendations contained in the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee report, Options for additional water supplies for South East Queensland, been considered for adoption.

(18)   Was the department aware that site work associated with the construction of the dam was commenced prior to approval.

(19)   With reference to the media release of the Queensland Government Minister for Natural Resource and Water (Mr Wallace), dated 21 February 2008, which stated that the Commonwealth Government audit had found that Paradise Dam was compliant with the Act and given that the audit report found that the downstream fishway was only functional with dam capacity above 57 per cent, is the department aware that, due to water allocation commitments, the average water level will be below this level.

(20)   Is the department aware of any information to suggest that housing developers with an association to the Queensland Labor Party are purchasing land from landholders whose holdings have been resumed for, or affected by, the dam.

Senator Wong (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:

(1)   and (2): There are numerous water reports available to the public, urban water efficiency included, and I would encourage interested parties to examine them. Reports are also available on the National Water Commission’s website

(3)   to (7) ‘Water for the Future’ outlines a range of policies to achieve water efficiencies. Using water wisely is one of the four key priorities under Water for the Future. It provides a single national framework that integrates rural and urban water issues and secures the long term water supply of all Australians. The COAG Working Group on Climate Change and Water is developing a comprehensive new work program on water reform which includes addressing key challenges in urban water. This will be considered by COAG in October 2008.

(8)   The Australian Government’s response to this report is available on the Senate website.

(9)   ‘Water for the Future’ provides details of a number of the Government’s urban water policies and programs. It includes $1.5 billion in new urban water investments.

(10)   The Australian Government works closely with a range of state governments, local governments and manufacturers in administering the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Scheme (WELS) which provides for national, mandatory labelling of products to indicate their water efficiency. In response to a request by the Environment and Heritage Council Ministers, the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts is examining the potential to introduce minimum water efficiency standards for WELS-regulated products.

(11)   and (12) No.

(13)   to (18) The assessment of the Traveston Dam proposal under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) is being is conducted pursuant to the requirements of the bilateral agreement between the Australian Government and the state of Queensland. At the conclusion of the assessment process, Queensland will provide its assessment report to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, the Hon Peter Garrett AM MP. Minister Garrett is responsible for the EPBC Act. The department has provided input and advice to the Queensland Government and the proponent in relation to the draft terms of reference and the draft environmental impact statement, as relevant to matters of national environmental significance. The department has also commissioned independent expert reviews of the information relating to the potential hydrological and faunal impacts of the proposal. This information will be considered in addition to the assessment report of the Queensland Coordinator-General. The department was notified that a range of geotechnical and other works were to be undertaken. These works were not considered part of the action as referred for the purposes of assessment and approval by the department under the EPBC Act. An Australian Government response to the Senate Committee Report Options for additional water supplies for South East Queensland is expected to be lodged in the near future.

(19)   The department is aware that, under current drought conditions, average water levels in the dam are likely to be lower than the operational water level needed for the downstream fish transfer device to work. This matter is being actively discussed with Burnett Water Pty Ltd.

(20)   The Department has no information or knowledge on this matter.