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Wednesday, 15 October 2008
Page: 9157

Dr SOUTHCOTT (11:44 AM) —I am pleased to be speaking on the Water Amendment Bill 2008, which will lead to better governance of the Murray-Darling system. One of the tragedies is that we could have had a functioning national authority in operation by March this year. It was only last year that we were debating the Water Bill, which became the Water Act 2007. The problem was that we were unable to get the full sign-up and Mr Rudd and COAG promised that there will be no functioning basin authority until 2009 and no Basin Plan until 2011.

The notion of a revolution in the management of water was announced on 25 January 2007. It was announced by the then Prime Minister and also by the current Leader of the Opposition, who was then the environment minister. This was a very farsighted plan, a $10 billion plan to address water efficiency and the overallocation of water in rural Australia. When we look at the previous 106 years before that since 1901, this has been one of the problems with the state management of the Murray-Darling Basin. We have never been able to get agreement on what should be a fair allocation and a fair distribution of the water resources within the Murray-Darling Basin. The $10 billion plan did address infrastructure and investment in irrigation infrastructure and it also addressed once and for all water overallocation in the Murray-Darling Basin.

As observers would remember, it has been the intransigence of Victoria which held this plan back. As a South Australian, it is just incomprehensible to me why our own Premier, Mike Rann, will not take up this fight with the Victorian Premier, then Steve Bracks, now John Brumby. It has just been incomprehensible why he will not stand up for the residents of South Australia against the overuse and overallocation in Victoria.

I represent a metropolitan electorate in Adelaide, and one of the prime concerns of residents is the security of Adelaide’s water supply. Adelaide has a heavy reliance on the Murray, depending on the year. It can draw between 30 and 80 per cent of its water supply from the River Murray. It has been very obvious for some time that Adelaide needs more solutions for their water supply. That is why I have supported a desalination plant and last year circulated a petition calling on the state government to begin work on a desalination plant, and I am pleased that they have begun work on that. This notion of a desalination plant was originally proposed by then state Liberal opposition leader, Ian Evans. Many other countries around the world such as Singapore and Dubai have desalination plants, and Perth is beginning work on its second desalination plant. I think that a desalination plant is critical for Adelaide to have some security for their water supply into the future. Another of the problems that Adelaide has is a very low reservoir capacity. There have been no new reservoirs built in Adelaide since the 1950s. These are the issues that the state government has delayed for far too long.

I want to address some of the specific parts of the bill. In 2003 it was recommended that 1,500 gigalitres be returned to the environment. Unfortunately that water has not been found and we are now in the situation that we have never been in before where there are essentially no reserves in the Murray-Darling system. You do see that a lot of the environments are severely stressed. One of the areas which is particularly stressed is the Lower Lakes and the Coorong region. The Coorong is a Ramsar listed wetland and it is very important. Ecologists have observed a decline in the numbers of birds in the Coorong since the early 1980s. The Coorong and the Lower Lakes are severely stressed and there have been reports that they may only have in the order of months before they pass the point of no return.

That is one of the reasons why the opposition has proposed an amendment for an emergency assistance package for the people of the Lower Lakes and the Coorong region who have been affected by the ongoing drought. The opposition proposal is for $50 million in emergency assistance to the people of the Murray Lower Lakes and the Coorong, which will help local residents, farmers and tourist operators to deal with the ongoing record low levels of water in the region. It will also provide urgent and real assistance to help the community to deal with this unfolding environmental crisis in South Australia. It will help with practical measures such as carting water for domestic and stock use, building a boat lift for boats, providing rent relief for small businesses, and retraining and skills development. It will also support a rescue plan for the Murray turtles and provide assistance to schoolchildren who are trying to save them. I think that everyone who has been to Milang in recent times has seen the problems that the turtles have in dealing with that saline environment.

In finishing up, one of the shames of this is that it is now 21 months since the vision of national water management was first unveiled. Unfortunately, the Labor Party have had plenty to say but have actually delayed real reform on this. My colleague the shadow minister for the environment, the member for Flinders, has outlined the opposition’s position on this and we have also proposed this amendment, which will critically deal with support for people in the Coorong and the Lower Lakes.