Chowilla Foodplain

25 Jul 2013 questionsarchive

A question put forward to the Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation) regarding the Chowilla regulator.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (14:24): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before directing a question to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation about the Chowilla regulator.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: The Chowilla Floodplain is nationally recognised as one of six significant ecological assets or a priority icon site, and the construction of an environmental regulator at Chowilla was considered the best option to meet the objectives of the Living Murray's First Step which will influence the flow of water down the river.

York Civil was contracted for the project with construction beginning in January 2010; however, high flows resulted in significant delays, pushing the completion of the project out to 2014. As stated by the Hon. Jing Lee earlier this year, the project costs have blown out from an initial project estimate of $40.13 million to a total project cost of $54.43 million. My questions are:

1.Can the minister confirm whether York Civil has lodged any request or submission for additional funds to complete the regulator and, if so, will he provide an updated estimate of the total cost?

2.Will the minister provide details as to whether these funds will come from his department or from another source and, if so, which source?

3.When does the government believe that the regulator will be completed?

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. Some of the answers have already been put on the record but let me go through the issue again.

The Chowilla Floodplain is, of course, a National Parks and Wildlife Game Reserve located north-east of Renmark. Its significance is recognised by its status as a Living Murray Icon Site and the fact that it is part of the Riverland Ramsar wetland of international importance. The reserve is also the subject of a lease agreement with Robertson Chowilla Pty Ltd, which allows the company to graze selected areas of the game reserve and the adjoining regional reserve.

To address the long-term decline in the health of the flood plain and wetlands, a large environmental regulator and associated infrastructure is being constructed on the Chowilla Floodplain. The project forms part of the Living Murray Initiative. The positive environmental outcomes of the regulator are consistent with the management plan for the reserve. The Department for Environment, Water and Natural Resources approved the construction of the regulator on the basis that it was consistent with the reserve's management plan and the outcomes wanted for that area.

I understand that the construction of the regulator commenced in early 2010. The return of high flows to the River Murray during that year resulted in significant delays to the project. I canvassed that issue previously when I was answering another question on this issue. Construction is expected to be completed in early to mid-2014. I believe I have given that answer previously as well.

I am advised that Robertson Chowilla Pty Ltd has been consulted throughout the development of the Chowilla regulator concept and investment proposal and that the company has been supportive of the proposal and other related activities. The department is currently in negotiation with Robertson's and their legal representatives on matters relating to the lease and the operation of the regulator—I have mentioned that previously in this place before—and those discussions will continue.

I am advised that the costs of construction have increased but we have covered that previously as well. As I said, some excessive water flows which were not planned for have held up the construction phase. The water in itself is a good thing but, of course, it means that engineering and heavy equipment cannot get onto the flood plain to do the work that is required. I am advised that is the reason why it has been delayed and the reason why some of the costs have increased.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (14:28): I have supplementary question. Does the minister believe that the final project cost will be in the order of $54.43 million? Apart from the Robertson's issue, which is not what I asked about, has the engineering firm York Civil lodged a request for additional funds and if so, how much and when will they be provided?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation) (14:29): I do not have any information before me at the moment which tells me that York Civil have lodged an increase for funds. However, I will go back to my department and interrogate people assiduously about that question and seek to bring back a response for the honourable member.