Lake Eyre Basin

26 Nov 2013 archivespeech

A speech regarding the Lake Eyre Basin that indicates the Liberal Party support.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (12:27): I rise to indicate Liberal Party support for this motion, which is consistent with previous positions that have been expressed on this matter by the advocates on our side of the chamber, particularly the current member and the former member for Stuart. The current member for Stuart (Mr Dan van Holst Pellekaan) earlier this year on radio station 639 made the following comments:

The position I take is very much on behalf of the people that I represent in the electorate of Stuart. I am completely opposed to any irrigation upstream in any of these rivers. You never have a situation where irrigation just works for one small operation and I think if you put one pump into any of these rivers so that irrigation can take place, you really will open the floodgates.

 The former member for Stuart (Hon. Graham Gunn) in 2009 moved the following motion in the House of Assembly:

That this house calls on the Queensland government not to permit further irrigation from the Cooper Creek or allow existing water licences to be activated and that this motion be sent to the Speaker of the Queensland Legislative Assembly by the Speaker of the House of Assembly.

The motion was passed with an amendment that this matter be referred to the Lake Eyre Basin Ministerial Forum for further consideration.

This motion, since the minister moved it—and I am sure he will make some comments in relation to the consultation items 2 and 4—may have moved on. I am not sure whether he thinks the form of consultation has been satisfactory but I do note that the Lake Eyre Basin Ministerial Forum met on 6 November. I think there still remain some concerns as a result of that.

I would also like to acknowledge at the outset my thanks to the member for Stuart for his input into providing background information; the minister's office; Queensland minister Cripps' office (which has provided us with its side of the story); local pastoralists; and the Wilderness Society which has telephoned me on a regular basis to determine what the status of this motion is. I thank them for their persistence and their input into this. They contacted me several months ago—I am sure they contacted the minister as well—and were sounding warning bells then. Hopefully the passing of this motion by this place will demonstrate that South Australia supports the protection of the western rivers in a multipartisan way.

I understand that there has been a Lake Eyre Basin process which has been established for some 13 years with an agreement between the commonwealth, Queensland, South Australian, and Northern Territory governments. Those jurisdictions have signed off on that and the agreement provides:

...for the sustainable management of the water and related natural resources associated with cross-border river systems in the Lake Eyre Basin to avoid downstream impacts on associated environmental, economic and social values.

There is also a Lake Eyre Basin Advisory Committee and a Scientific Advisory Panel and I understand that both of those committees have concerns with the Queensland government's proposal.

In 2005 the then Queensland Labor government established the Wild Rivers Act which prohibits irrigation from certain rivers including this particular river system which feeds into the Lake Eyre Basin. Anybody who is an avid reader of The Australian would have noted Mr Noel Pearson who has campaigned himself long and hard against the wild rivers legislation and its impact on Cape York.

During the 2012 Queensland election the LNP gave a commitment to repeal the wild rivers declarations for Cape York and work on appropriate environmental protections for the western rivers. The Queensland Minister for Natural Resources and Mines, the Hon. Andrew Cripps, formed a Western Rivers Advisory Panel 12 months ago to seek community input on the potential impact of small-scale irrigation in the Lake Eyre Basin. This committee handed down its final report in May 2013. Recommendation 7.0 states:

In regard to 'small scale irrigation', the WRAP recognises the diversity of views held by stakeholders and producers within the Basin, and that reaching a consensus view was not possible. However in recognition of fragility and unique natural assets of the Basin, the WRAP takes the view that:

There should be no further take over and above that which exists in current water plans for irrigation development in the Cooper Creek catchment and Lake Eyre Basin.

There should be no increase in the reserves of unallocated water for irrigation in the existing Water Resource Plans for the Basin.

Any future water trading regime in the Basin should consider robust modelling of the location and quantity of water that can potentially be taken by existing licences.

If water licences in the Basin were to be transferred upstream, the volumes of extraction must be reduced and the extraction thresholds must be increased.

The Queensland LNP government has indicated that it supports small-scale irrigation. However, there does not seem to be a clear definition on what size water licence would be classified as 'small'. Indeed, I note that small flows are important for breeding events, growth phases and to maintain waterholes, so I think that those events are actually quite significant.

It is also a completely inland system, so while it has been compared with the situation in the Murray-Darling Basin, which is where we have a freshwater system which is expelled to sea, clearly the flora and fauna that exist in that area have developed, taking into account that none of that water, in a natural sense, would be extracted.

There are considerable pastoral operations that are located within this river system, and there is a large amount of organic beef production, so it is obviously an issue that pastoralists in the area are very concerned about. I note that two LNP members of parliament, Bruce Scott and member Vaughan, are both on the public record opposing any changes to the current regime.

Often we have in the environment space, arguments about science, but I understand that there has been a lot of science that has been undertaken over the years, including by the University of Queensland, Griffiths University, Sydney University, as well as our local universities. One of the members of the scientific advisory panel, Dr Steve Morton, is the second in charge at the CSIRO. There are concerns that the waters may be used to be traded upstream and used for mining operations. Clearly, that is something that the pastoralists feel some conflict about.

Consultation is always a very important part of this process. I am sure that the Queensland government will argue that it has consulted adequately. I have been advised that the consultation has not been through the proper channels, although that might have changed since the meeting last November. The government's response was to establish its own western rivers advisory committee. As I have read onto the record, they are certainly concerned about what the proposal might entail. With those brief words, I indicate that the Liberal Party is supporting this motion, consistent with our previous position. I commend the motion to the house.

Motion carried.