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Impact of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan on regional Australia
House of Representatives committee
Wednesday, 30 March 2011
Impact of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan on regional Australia

Mr FORREST —My name is John Forrest. I am the local federal member for this side of the river. I am very delighted to welcome Tony Windsor’s Standing Committee on Regional Australia, who are here looking at an important subject. I would like to commend you, Mr Chairman, on your earnest desire to come to Swan Hill. We, the communities from Kerang and Swan Hill, were a bit put out when the authority ignored our two strong communities. It went to Mildura and ignored us, but it did come again. In the early stages, even before that, you said to me that you would commit yourself to come to this important part of Victoria, a horticultural development area where water is a huge issue.

My pleasant task is to introduce the committee. It is chaired by Tony Windsor, the member for New England. On his right is Sussan Ley, my near neighbour on the New South Wales side, the member for Farrer. Tony Zappia is the South Australian member for Makin—a good man. I have been on other committees with Tony. The secretary of the committee is Siobhan—a Welsh name. I am the only one, she says, who can pronounce it properly. Sharman Stone is the member for Murray, on my eastern side, my other neighbour. Kirsten Livermore is the member for Capricornia, up Rockhampton way in Queensland. Michael McCormack is the newly elected member for Riverina, which is centred round Wagga, New South Wales.

Tony, thank you so much for coming. Thank you for making a second attempt. On the last date that was set we were a little preoccupied here, although the Mayor of Gannawarra, Councillor Fehring, said, ‘I’ll come by coracle; I’ll get there.’ At the time Kerang was completely surrounded by water. But thank you for the commitment to come and hear what we have to say about this very important issue.

CHAIR (Mr Windsor) —Thank you very much, John. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for taking the time to come along this morning. This is a formal process. I think we have seven groups that are going to give evidence to the committee and we have received submissions from them all. So the point of today is really to provide a brief outline of their key points in relation to the concerns that they may have, and we are hoping that we may hear some solutions, as well as address some of the concerns that are out there. The key point of today is to allow the committee to raise some questions in relation to those submissions. It is not to make the point about who is right or wrong—it is to try to develop a concise picture of what is happening in various communities.

The committee has travelled right up and down the basin and, like all of us, no-one knows the full system, but we are starting to get a fairly reasonable grasp of some of the differences between Queensland and the Murray mouth and the various issues along the Murray system, the Darling system and the 26 other systems that are involved in what is loosely called the ‘Murray-Darling Basin’.

The role of our committee essentially is to look at the socioeconomic impacts that have occurred or would occur if, in fact, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority plan guide was actually implemented. As you would well know, it is a sort of moving feast, so it has been a very interesting committee to be on because it is a live issue, rather than reflecting on something historically. We are living through what is happening now.

Also, we are fully aware of the reception that the authority got in terms of the concerns of communities in different parts of the basin. Part of what we are trying to do is identify what would happen to various communities if, in fact, some of the entitlements were reduced in relation to getting more water back into the various river systems. Also, I congratulate the members of the committee on the way in which they have worked together—they have been a very good group to work with. This is potentially our last outing, I think, and then we will get into the substantive writing of the document. I have forgotten what I was leading to then when I thanked them—you should never thank people!

We believe that there are some outcomes, some win-win situations, out there. We are hoping in our final document to be able to address those. That does not mean that we have control of the agenda, but I think if we do aim for balance and draw on the various communities and catchments to achieve that balance, and end up with a consensus in terms of our views—and hopefully that can occur—we could have quite a significant influence on what the parliament actually does in terms of an outcome. So there is a bit of a challenge for us as well as for the community. Thank you for taking the time.

There are a few formalities that we have to go through, so just bear with me. These are legal proceedings of the parliament, so there are some protocols.

I declare open this public hearing of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Regional Australia as part of its inquiry into the impact of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in regional Australia. This inquiry was referred by the Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government, the Hon. Simon Crean MP. The committee has received over 600 submissions, which are available on the committee’s website. The committee will call witnesses to the table as per the program and time allowing, and will then proceed to what we call ‘submitter reports’—if members of the audience would like to make a few pertinent comments towards the end of the day. We do have a time restriction on that. It has worked quite well. Normally, it does not happen within committee processes, but there will be a time limit because we have an aeroplane that we have to catch back out later this afternoon. We would like to give people an opportunity, if they wish to comment, to do so.

Before introducing the witnesses, I will refer members of the media who may be present at this hearing to the need to fairly and accurately report the proceedings of the committee. I have no doubt that it was unnecessary to have read that out in Swan Hill.

[11.41 am]