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Tuesday, 8 November 2016
Page: 2099

Senator LEYONHJELM (New South Wales) (12:46): I support the Water Legislation Amendment (Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment) Bill 2016 before the Senate today. It concerns a sustainable diversion limit applicable in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and it extends the deadline for any decision to adjust this limit. The SDL, sustainable diversion limit, is the maximum amount of water that can be taken for consumptive use. The extension will allow further time to gather information that should lead to a greater upward adjustment in the limit—in other words, more water for consumptive use. This would mean: more for farmers to grow food and to support productivity throughout the basin; more time for the current floods to recede so that we can appreciate the natural restorative effects of flooding rains that we were told were never likely to return; and more time to see if we can get the implementation of the Basin Plan right.

We do not have any more time to wait for the government's response to the Senate Select Committee on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which I chaired, and from which the committee's report was tabled on 17 March 2016. That report made 31 recommendations, which, if implemented, would significantly reduce the negative impact the plan is having on communities in the basin, from Queensland to the mouth of the Murray in South Australia.

It was reported last month that a Murray-Darling Basin Authority report on the northern basin showed employment in northern irrigation communities has been smashed by the removal of water from farming. The report also found that the targets legislated under the Basin Plan would have quite large socio-economic impacts in the Condamine and Balonne valleys if they were pursued. This is what the local communities have been saying for years, but they have not been listened to. Communities in the southern basin wonder why there was no study of the socioeconomic impacts in their area, particularly given they have borne the brunt of water recovery. Their expectation is that the economic impact will be even more severe than in northern communities.

Last week, the media reported on the frustration of the chairman of the Southern Riverina Irrigators, Graeme Pyle, who called on the government to take the blinkers off and act on the select committee inquiry's recommendations. Mr Pyle said:

Under the Basin Plan, there have been ongoing reductions in availability and affordability of productive water, so it is reasonable to assume the results of any social and economic study will not be pretty. They will show the plan for what it is … an economic disaster without evidence of environmental gains.

This goes to the crux of some of the key recommendations in the inquiry report: no more water buybacks; a full assessment of the social and economic impacts of the plan; and a cost-benefit analysis of the various options to adapt the management of the Lower Lakes and the Coorong. Hundreds of farming communities across four states are feeling the pain of the Basin Plan implementation. We are now seeing analysis confirming what those communities have been saying. It is time for the government to accept the recommendations of the select committee, which have been endorsed by many basin communities, so that further implementation of the plan has the support of the communities most affected.