Michelle Lensink

Murray-Darling Basin Plan

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before directing a question to the Minister for Water and the River Murray on the subject of the desalination plant and the River Murray.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: The return of environmental water is a commitment made by the state government in exchange for the $328 million to build the Adelaide Desalination Plant, and the rhetoric behind that was that the state would reduce its reliance on the River Murray. It is my understanding that under the Adelaide Desalination Plant Implementation Plan South Australia is responsible for the management of this water. Under this plan the state minister is required to notify the commonwealth minister of the government's actions rather than make an offer. However, on 30 October, minister Hunter stated in this place:

The offer of environmental water from SA Water up to the commonwealth was made, as I understand it, well over 12 months ago and that offer has not, as far as I  am  aware, been taken up by the commonwealth. The offer still stands, of course. 

My questions to the minister are:

1.Has the minister since communicated with the commonwealth on this issue regarding its intentions of where the environmental water will come from?

2.Are there targets in relation to dates and annual volumes?

3.Can the minister ensure that South Australia's food producers will not once again be sacrificed to meet these targets? 
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER  (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation)  ( 14:26  ): I thank the honourable member for her most important questions in terms of the River Murray and also the state's contribution to those outcomes. As is well known in this place, through the leadership of our Premier Jay Weatherill, this state stood up to the federal governments of both political persuasions to make sure that we got the best outcomes we could as a state to provide for the health of our river into the future.

The basin plan came into effect on 24 November 2012 as a result—a large part of the result—of our activity and our agitation in this area. The state government is now working with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and other basin jurisdictions to progress those implementation arrangements. To underpin the implementation of the basin plan, the South Australian government has entered into an intergovernmental agreement with other basin jurisdictions which outlines how we will work together.

The intergovernmental agreement includes commitments to work collaboratively to plan for the use and management of environmental water, to establish joint governance arrangements to support the effective operation of adjustments to the sustainable diversion limit (SDL) as well as commitments for commonwealth government funding. This includes arrangements for investing in projects that address physical or operational river constraints and sustainable diversion limits adjustment projects which can offset the water recovery requirements under the basin plan. It is important to understand that all states—all parties really—have to agree to those SDL adjustment processes.

If SDL adjustments are proposed by one jurisdiction but not supported by another, then they cannot go forward. That is a big driving force in making sure we get the outcomes that have been guaranteed under the plan. For example, if New South Wales puts forward a program that South Australia does not believe has adequate water flowing from it, then we will not be supporting that program. New South Wales, of course, knows that and so presumably would not be putting forward such a program that we would not ordinarily support. It is a very powerful instrument.

Under the agreement, the commonwealth government has committed to make over $13 million in funding available over eight years to the South Australian government. This is in recognition of the additional costs associated with the basin plan and to support the development of business cases for SDL adjustment projects.

To guide the state's implementation of the basin plan and the related programs, the government has released the South Australian Murray-Darling Basin Plan Implementation Strategy. This implementation strategy outlines the key actions being pursued to ensure the basin plan is fully integrated into South Australia's ongoing water management arrangements.

Work to execute the strategy is progressing well, I am advised. We have been progressing arrangements for the $440 million suite of environmental and industry diversification projects that were secured by Premier Weatherill and the state government during negotiations to develop the plan. The government is also investing effort in reviewing and adapting the state's existing Murray-Darling Basin water management arrangements, including water resource planning and allocation, water quality and salinity management, environmental water management and water trading. A central plank of that successful implementation will be the introduction of a new sustainable diversion limit in each of the state's three water resource plans by 2019.

The introduction of new sustainable diversion limits will require about 183 gigalitres of water recovery from the South Australian Murray system, and I am advised that over half of that has already been recovered. The commonwealth, of course, released its water recovery strategy on 2 June this year. The strategy largely reflects current actions underway by the commonwealth and other jurisdictions to recover water, or offset water recovery requirements, for sustainable diversion limits.

The commonwealth strategy confirms that there is a cap on water purchases at 1,500 gigalitres, but indicates that the projected total water purchase may only need to be 1,300 gigalitres. I have said in this place before, the commonwealth's projections take into account estimated water savings of 543 gigalitres from contracted infrastructure projects—and that is all well and good—and assumes that offsets from the SDL adjustment measures could be 650 gigalitres. But what if they are not? It remains to be seen what happens in practice. For example, the actual level of water recovery offsets will only be known following the operation of the SDL adjustment process in 2016, and 2016 is awfully close to 2019, when the plan is supposed to be implemented.

The commonwealth intends to update the strategy annually to reflect latest information, and we encourage them to do that—that is good policy—with a major review to follow in 2016. The state government will also continue to participate in good faith in the water recovery and the SDL adjustment process. The state government will also continue to explore a range of projects for water recovery or offsets, and we will ensure we are well prepared in the event that not all the outcomes predicted in the commonwealth strategy are realised; for example, the final SDL adjustment falls short of the projected maximum of 650 gigalitres.

This is why it is so very important that we work to change the commonwealth's mind about water buyback. Water buyback is the cheapest, most efficient way of ensuring environmental water is in the Murray River for the benefit of the environmental processes that happen all up and down the river. The commonwealth has, as I said, capped their buyback. They have even tried to screw it down by another 200 gigalitres, all on supposition; the science has not been there. We have not seen that information and, as I intimated, we will not see it, probably, until 2016.

If the commonwealth hitches its wagon to engineering solutions—which is what they are saying to us they want to do, and which I said in this place I think yesterday, ends up being on average about seven times more expensive than the most efficient process, which is buying back water—and if those engineering solutions do not get us those SDL adjustments, then come 2019 the commonwealth is going to be short—short of the water that has been promised be implemented by the basin plan.

That can be fixed now by them reneging on their promise made in the lead-up to the last election about capping water buybacks. We all know why they did that; that was to pander to communities in New South Wales which have been overextracting from the river system for decades and decades and decades. It is not efficient, it is not effective, it is not good policy, and we would like to see the Liberal Party in this state join with us to campaign against the federal government's water buyback programs and actively encourage them to do what is efficient and in the interests of this state.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK  ( 14:32  ): I have a supplementary question. Has the South Australian government completed its SA Water contribution of 20 gigalitres by 2019?
 
 The Hon. I.K. HUNTER  (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation)  ( 14:33  ): As I said in this place previously, the Premier announced in June 2012 that SA Water was committed to offering 20 gigalitres for sale to the commonwealth for environmental purposes. Further water will also be returned under our commitments associated with the Adelaide desal plant (I have outlined those in this place before), as well as from the on-farm irrigation efficiency program coordinated by the South Australian Murray-Darling Natural Resource Management Board.

We are confident that any gap remaining in that offset will be found by a reduction in the water savings target resulting from environmental works that utilise water more efficiently; well costed and well designed; the science is there to show that under the SDL proposal. We will hold up our end of the bargain, because actually it is in our interests as a state to do so. If we do not hold up our end of the bargain, how then do we expect Victoria and New South Wales to commit themselves to the basin plan which we forced on them? It is in our interests—
 
 The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: You did not. 
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Oh, come on! They don't even want to give credit where it is due, Mr President. It was the Premier of this state who forced this basin plan into action. It was the Premier of this state—

 Members interjecting: 

The PRESIDENT: Please sit down. If you want to waste valuable time during question time, so be it, but the minister is on his feet answering a question from the Hon. Ms Lensink; he shall do so in silence. The honourable minister. 
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: They do not like being reminded of this history, sir. It was the Premier of this state (Premier Jay Weatherill) who stood up to a Labor government and conservative states, and got the ultimate program for our river's health and safety into the future. We forced the commonwealth to legislate to make sure that 450 gigalitres is in the legislation and funded, by uniting the communities of South Australia.

 Members interjecting: 

 The PRESIDENT: Order!
 
 The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Where were the Liberal opposition in this? Gone missing.
 
 The Hon. G.E. Gago: Selling us down the river. 
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Selling us down the river, as my leader says. They wanted us to buy the clapped out old Mazda model that they plopped on the table. They said, 'Grab it; that's the best deal you're going to get', but that is not what the Premier of this state did. He actually took up the fight with good science and he got a better outcome, and we will be pressing the commonwealth to deliver on that outcome.

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Ms Lensink has a supplementary. I ask all members to respect the right of Ms Lensink to ask this question but also to respect the right of the minister to answer it.
 
 The Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins: Including the minister next to him.

 The PRESIDENT: Including the minister.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK  ( 14:35  ): Does the minister seriously expect this place to believe that his government has more influence than the commonwealth parliament in the passage of the agreement? 
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER  (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation)  ( 14:36  ): I think the proof is in the eating of the pudding. In fact, it was this state that united the South Australian communities—typical Labor-voting communities with typical Liberal-voting communities. We put aside politics for the good of the state.
 
 The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: You did not. 
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: We took on our own side. You don't do it. When have you stood up against the federal Liberal government for the good of South Australia? You are disappearing into the background. You will never stand up for the interests of this state against the federal Liberal government. We stood up against the federal Labor government and we will stand up against this federal Liberal government, too.

 The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Ms Lensink has a supplementary.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK  ( 14:36  ): How does the minister categorise, if not politically, former premier Mike Rann taking the former Howard government to the High Court over this issue? 
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER  (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation)  ( 14:36  ): Absolutely. Again, it is an indication of how the Labor leadership of the government in this state stands up for South Australia at every opportunity. That is what we are here for. We are not elected here to sit on our backsides and have a good holiday in the upper house for eight years. That is not what we are elected to do. We are elected to fight for our state and our constituents, and the Labor Party in government will always do that. The Liberals go missing. God help us had they been elected at the last election. Where would they be in standing up for South Australia over Holden's, for instance, or the submarine project? Where are they on submarines? Nowhere to be seen.

The PRESIDENT: Further supplementary.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK  ( 14:37  ): Does the minister believe, every time he stands up in this place full of hubris, that upstream states do not read Hansard and think that he is a complete fool? 
 
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER  (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation)  ( 14:37  ): The important people in the other states who I deal with know just the opposite.

 

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