Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 10 May 2018
Page: 3640

Mr LITTLEPROUD (MaranoaMinister for Agriculture and Water Resources) (10:04): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Before I start, I put on the record my appreciation and acknowledgement of the member for Watson for the bipartisanship which he showed in giving certainty to the two million Australians who live up and down the Murray-Darling Basin. That was real leadership and it should be acknowledged and put on the record. I also acknowledge the bipartisanship of the Australian Labor Party.

One of the key objects of the Water Act 2007 was to promote the use and management of the Murray-Darling Basin's water resources in a way that balances environmental, economic and social outcomes.

In 2007 the Water Act established the Murray-Darling Basin Authority as an independent expertise-based statutory agency responsible for preparing an integrated plan for the sustainable use of the basin's water resources: the Murray-Darling Basin Plan itself.

The Basin Plan involves the commitment of no less than four state, one territory and the Commonwealth governments, all working together to achieve the sustainable use of water across environmental, economic and social needs. Australia is envied around the world for its cross-jurisdictional water management arrangements.

The Australian government remains committed to implementing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in full, on time.

However, basin states currently face serious uncertainty in achieving this milestone following the disallowance of the Basin Plan Amendment Instrument 2017 (No. 1) by the Senate in February of this year. This has also widely been referred to as the disallowance of the northern basin review amendment or the NBR instrument.

Turning now to this bill—the Water Amendment Bill 2018. The bill seeks to rectify the uncertainties that remain following the disallowance of the NBR instrument.

The bill will amend the Water Act to enable the NBR instrument to be remade and tabled again before parliament as soon as possible.

The bill will introduce a new directions power to the act. This power will enable the minister to direct the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to prepare an instrument that has the same effect as a previously disallowed Basin Plan amendment. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority may not propose amendments to the previously disallowed instrument if they have not gone through the extensive consultation process under the Water Act.

The Water Act already gives the minister the power to direct the authority in certain circumstances. The amendments to the Water Act contained in the bill do not grant the minister any extra powers in this sense.

The directions power will be subject to strict limitations, for instance the minister can only exercise the power within 12 months of disallowance.

The directions power will only be available for disallowed instruments that were prepared under subdivision F of division 1 of part 2 of the Water Act. This means, for example, that, if an amendment to adjust the SDLs (prepared, then adopted under sections 23A and 23B) is disallowed, it could not be remade using this new power.

Further, an instrument prepared by the authority under this new power must be the same in effect as a previously disallowed instrument. This also means that power is only available if the disallowed instrument has been through consultation requirements set out in the Water Act.

These limitations mean that the integrity of the consultation process that a disallowed instrument has been through is preserved.

Any amendment to the Basin Plan inevitably impacts a range of stakeholders. These limitations will ensure that the integrity of the public consultation process is maintained to best balance environmental, economic and social objectives.

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is a critical reform which will help ensure the future of basin communities, farmers and the environment.

The disallowance of the NBR amendments in February of this year has caused significant levels of uncertainty for communities within and outside of the basin. It is essential that we find a path forward.

This bill will amend the Water Act to enable the outcomes of the crucial NBR amendments to the Basin Plan, disallowed by the Senate in February, to be given effect in a prompt manner. The February disallowance of the NBR instrument means we are facing increased time pressure to move forward with implementation of the plan. An instrument that gives effect to the outcomes of the NBR instrument could be prepared by the authority and adopted by the minister by mid-2018. This will provide certainty to basin states and communities as they prepare sustainable diversion limit (SDL) compliant water resource plans by 30 June 2019.

The amendments contained in the disallowed NBR instrument were based on the best available science and data. They were recommended by the independent Murray-Darling Basin Authority following a series of reviews (the Northern Basin Review, reviews of sustainable diversion limits in three groundwater areas, and the 2014 independent review into the Water Act), each of which involved significant consultation with relevant community members, businesses and community organisations.

Throughout the process of preparing the disallowed NBR instrument, the authority consulted at length with the Basin Officials Committee, the Basin Community Committee, Basin states, members of the public, including Indigenous groups, individuals, businesses and community groups.

The authority was required to consider any of their views during the consultation process.

Paving the pathway to full implementation of the Basin Plan, the bill contributes to achieving a key part of the government's six-point implementation agenda for the plan to deliver on the Northern basin review, including to reduce impacts on communities and support states to deliver environmental works and measures.

The bill provides an efficient way forward for the outcomes of the NBR instrument to be given effect. This will provide certainty for Basin states and communities as they work towards preparing SDL-compliant water resource plans by 30 June 2019. It is critical that the bill is passed urgently to enable the authority to prepare a new Basin Plan amendment instrument in time for these plans to be in place by 30 June 2019.

The bill contributes to the pursuit of delivering important outcomes for Basin communities, ensuring a sustainable future for the Basin.

Debate adjourned.