I seek leave to make an explanation before directing a question to the Minister for Water and the River Murray on the subject of the Mallee Prescribed Wells.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: A number of landowners in the Mallee Prescribed Wells Area who are irrigators had part of their water allocations taken away from them by DEWNR several years ago on the understanding that that was to assist with environmental flows. They were not using part of their allocations because it was held in reserve as a droughtproofing measure. So they were quite surprised to recently receive a letter of offer from DEWNR to purchase the water that they had had taken away without compensation at highly elevated prices. My questions are:
1.Was the removal of these water allocations, in fact, a droughtproofing measure?
2.What conclusions can we reach from the government reoffering this water to them? In fact, does the government no longer hold concerns about overallocation of water in that region, or is it just trying to prop up, once again, DEWNR's budget?
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 14:22 ): I thank the honourable member for her most important question. The water allocation plan for the Mallee Prescribed Wells Area was reviewed and amended, I am advised, with extensive community consultation on the best available scientific advice from 2005 and was adopted in May 2012. The water allocation plan balances the needs of water users, provides certainty and security of access to water users through setting sustainable extraction limits and provides rules for water trading and the taking and use of water. Since the adoption of the plan in 2012, all area-based licences have been reissued as a volumetric allocation, the first time volumetric allocations have been issued in areas added to the prescribed wells area.
The South Australian Murray-Darling Basin NRM Board completed a review of the previous Mallee water allocation plan, as I said, in June 2005. Based on this review, the board recommended that the plan be amended in accordance with the Natural Resources Management Act. The Mallee Water Resources Committee, an advisory committee of the NRM board, made up of water and non-water users within the Mallee Prescribed Wells Area, assisted the board in developing the plan, meeting regularly between 2003 and the adoption of the plan in 2012.
The introduction of the volumetric licences in the Mallee Prescribed Wells Area has had a long history. The South Australian Murray-Darling Basin NRM Board commenced community engagement on this issue in 2006. I am advised that Mallee potato growers were actively involved in this process. The process to convert area-based allocations to volume commenced in 2012, in accordance with the Mallee plan, and was completed in December 2013. There was provision in the plan, I am advised, for temporary auxiliary allocations. Temporary allocations could only be accessed in management areas where water remained after the volumetric conversion process was completed. Temporary allocations were granted in the 2014 and 2015 water use year and expired on 30 June 2015.
A water trading market is operating within the Mallee to allow licence holders access to further allocations if they require it, I am advised. The water allocation plan for the Mallee Prescribed Wells Area will form a component of the South Australian Murray Regional Water Resource Plan to fulfil requirements of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Some minor amendments to the Mallee plan may be required to ensure compliance with the basin plan, I'm advised also, and these minor amendments will occur in accordance with section 89 of the Natural Resources Management Act.
The Hon. S.G. Wade: It's a shame his brief is not relevant to your question.
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Well, it is all very important information which the Hon. Mr Wade doesn't seem to have a scintilla of interest in, Mr President.
The Hon. S.G. Wade: I was listening; it just had nothing to do with the question.
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Well, it is a novel change for the Hon. Mr Wade to admit that he is actually listening to answers in this place instead of scribbling notes or doing things on his flat screen, which is what he is usually doing.
The Hon. S.G. Wade: I'm sorry; I scribble notes because I am listening.
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Well, I accept that you say that, Mr Wade, but when you exhibit through your questions in this place obvious disdain for the answers that are given and you pay no attention to them, I have to say, Mr President, it says to all of us up here that—
The PRESIDENT: Minister, you are probably better served by just answering the question.
The Hon. D.W. Ridgway: If you want to chuck him out, we're right behind you.
The PRESIDENT: No, we are just interested in your answer.
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: You are probably right, Mr President, but it is far more entertaining to dwell on the failings of those opposite. A pre-consultation draft of the Mallee Water Allocation Plan is anticipated to be prepared by June 2016. I have no knowledge of the letters that the Hon. Michelle Lensink refers to. It may well be that they relate to the water trading market that I alluded to. If you would like to give me copies of those pieces of correspondence, I will track them down and get a response for her.
The PRESIDENT: Supplementary, Hon. Ms Lensink.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK ( 14:26 ): Is the minister aware that he actually received a letter on this very matter dated 12 May from the member for Chaffey, and when does he intend to reply to it?
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 14:26 ): All in good time, sir.