Murray-Darling Basin Authority

20 May 2014 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before directing a question to the Minister for Water and the River Murray regarding South Australia's contribution to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: In the 2012 Mid-Year Budget Review the South Australian Labor government announced its intention to halve its contribution to river maintenance and other programs from $28 million to $14 million a year. The government has continually stated that this move was in response to New South Wales, which has more than halved its own contribution to the authority. The New South Wales government has stated that its reduction in contribution to the MDBA is due to a lack of transparency under the former commonwealth Labor government.

In March this year, the New South Wales minister said the state would reconsider the allocated amount, and I understand the minister in this place is on record saying that, if New South Wales funds its share of the authority, South Australia will do the same. My question is: can the minister provide a guarantee that, if New South Wales does return its full contribution to the MDBA, this government will follow suit?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation) (14:30): I thank the honourable member for her most important question. Let me just say at the outset that I find it odd that the Liberal Party in this place would come to the rescue of the Liberal Party in New South Wales once again, pretending to justify their substantial cuts to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority made unilaterally that reduced their funding to $8.9 million when they should be paying three times as much.

They should be paying a lot more and here they are saying they have a reason why, because they blame the former Labor government. Let us be quite clear: New South Wales cut the funding to the MDBA because of budget reasons. They made a budget saving. They did not care about South Australia and, clearly, neither does the Liberal Party opposite. They do not care about South Australia either. They have never stood up for the river or for South Australians. They do not stand up to the Liberals. What were they doing when the federal budget came down in recent days?

Where are we now—day 6? What was the overwhelming chorus we heard from the Liberal opposition leader, Mr Marshall? 'Great budget, Mr Abbott.' That is what he said: 'Great budget, Mr Abbott.' He did not give a damn about the cuts to South Australians, and why would the Liberals opposite do that either? They are in here today defending the New South Wales Liberal government cuts to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. Give me a break! When are they going to stand up for this state?

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (14:34): Further supplementary: is the minister saying that he will restore the full $28 million if New South Wales restores its funding?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation) (14:34): Let me go through in more detail for the honourable member how the Murray system works. In light of New South Wales' unilateral reduction in funding to about, I think, $8.9 million, basin states and the authority have committed to further discussions of potential efficiencies.

Unlike other water management utilities across Australia, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority has not been subject to an efficiency review since 2006. Ministerial agreements since that time have ensured that jurisdictional contributions have increased automatically in line with the consumer price index. Therefore it is likely that efficiencies could be identified in the way that assets are managed, for example. A review—

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: What has this got to do with the question?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Well, this is it: they don't understand how the river system works. They have no clue. They should sit down and listen to the answers that they've asked for and they might come away with a better understanding of how we get dumped on by New South Wales all the time. But no, they come in here once again defending their ideological colleagues in New South Wales, even though, at the very same time, they shift the burden onto the South Australian taxpayers. Stay quiet and listen is my advice.

A review of the existing cost-sharing arrangements for the Murray-Darling Basin joint activities is currently being undertaken. A review will be provided to ministers at the ministerial council meeting on 9 May and covers the activities which basin states jointly fund and are administered by the authority. It is being undertaken in the context of the newly-made basin plan. A review of the costs and efficiency of the River Murray operations is also underway to assist in identifying future cost savings for the governments. The review is expected to be completed in early 2015 in time to inform preparation for the 2015-16 MDBA budget.

In the meantime, South Australia is continuing to work with jurisdictions to discuss funding contributions to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to identify the most efficient and equitable approach to managing the Murray-Darling Basin in 2014. This is more than just politics, and I wish the Liberals opposite would understand this. It always has been, for our state government, more than politics. This is about protecting the Murray-Darling Basin, our water and our river communities. This is about the long-term sustainability of the entire basin. So, we will pay our fair share to protect South Australia.

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order! Let the honourable minister Hunter finish in silence.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Thank you, Mr President, for your protection. We will pay our share to protect South Australia, but we need New South Wales to do the same. The states and the authority must work together to ensure the efficient management of our vital basin infrastructure and ensure that every jurisdiction pulls their weight. Our state takes about 8.5 per cent of extractions of water from the southern connected basin; New South Wales takes 47.2 per cent.

The Hon. G.E. Gago: How much is that?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: 47.2 per cent. But in July 2012, New South Wales announced a 60 per cent reduction in their contribution that is to be followed by a capped contribution of $8.9 million in 2013-14 and 2014-15. Their previous contribution, at their 'fair share', was $31.2 million.