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Tuesday, 22 November 2016
Page: 4028

Ms SHARKIE (Mayo) (17:08): What short memories some parliamentarians have! A decade ago we were in the midst of the millennium drought, the Murray-Darling Basin was in crisis and the Lower Lakes and the heritage-listed Ramsar wetlands in my electorate of Mayo were facing an environmental and economic disaster. Back then, the states were able to put aside their self-interest and to draft reforms to protect a river system for all users, upstream and down. Now that the water is flowing, there are murmurs about back-pedalling on these historic reforms. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority is considering amending the plan in order to cut 70 billion litres from the original target. The authority wants to do this by cutting the water recovery target in the north of the basin. Apparently this strikes a sensible balance between economics and the environment, and will save 200 jobs.

We in the Nick Xenophon Team are about sensible balance, so let me tell you something about the southern end of the basin, where we have not yet fully recovered from the effects of the drought of the century. Local business leaders tell me that economic activity, particularly tourism, is only about 60 per cent of what it was before the drought. The Goolwa marina has 16 full-time equivalent staff now. They used to employ 36. Three hundred boats left the marina at the height of the drought and only 80 have returned. That is just one enterprise. This story is echoed by many businesses across the region.

Only last month a group of business leaders sought a meeting with me because they feared northern irrigators would start clawing back water. We need equity across the basin, but any changes are seen by my southern constituents to be another nail in the coffin for the Coorong and the Lower Murray, for farming, for the environment and for local businesses. Significant media attention around the proposed amendment of less water flowing to the Murray mouth is enough to put doubt in the minds of investors and visitors.

If you want to talk about equity, let us keep in mind that most of the money promised for the recovery of the basin for infrastructure has gone north. The Goolwa barrages were built in the 1940s and there is no plan to replace this old infrastructure. The Nick Xenophon team want balance. We want all basin communities to survive in the future. We do not want South Australia to be sold down the river. I am more than happy to sit down with my parliamentary colleagues and have a mature conversation about the Basin Plan—as long as the government keeps its word that it will be based on science.

Public hysteria generated by this debate is extremely damaging to my community. Jobs down south are just as important as jobs up north. I want to finish by saying that the Lower Lakes and Murray mouth are looking beautiful and are open for business. I am going to be fighting for those areas to remain so.