Michelle Lensink

Murray-Darling Basin Funding

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 Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (16:47): If the minister is so concerned about funding for the Murray River, why has his government decided to halve funding to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority?

The PRESIDENT: You weren't listening to the answer.

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: Hypocrite!

The PRESIDENT: Order!

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation) (16:47): The honourable member casts epithets around this chamber, and I can cast them straight back. This is another example of the upstream states not pulling their weight and those opposite refusing to stand up for South Australia. They will not stand up for South Australia or the river communities. This decision to reduce funding from 2014-15 was not made lightly. I reiterate: it was for next year, 2014-15. We flagged well in advance that this would be our response to New South Wales cutting its allocation hugely. Our state—

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order!

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Exactly right, that's what the Liberals stand for.

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order!

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Mr President, my leader makes a very important point. The Liberals in this state want our farming communities to subsidise New South Wales—

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order!

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Thank you, Mr President. Our state only takes 7 per cent of the extractions of water from the River Murray, I am advised.

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

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Seven per cent of the extractions of the water from the River Murray comes from our state. We have been contributing 24 per cent of funding for the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. This is what the Liberals refuse to accept and understand. We extract from the river 7 per cent of the total extraction from the River Murray. However, we are contributing 24 per cent of the funding for the Murray-Darling Basin Authority—that was before New South Wales cut its contribution by 60 per cent in July 2012.

That reduction, I am told, will be followed by a further cut, with the contribution from New South Wales to be capped at $8.9 million in 2013-14 and 2014-15. So, with even more than 60 per cent, New South Wales (which takes the vast bulk of water out of the system) is saying, 'We don't care about funding it anymore.' And here we have the Liberals in South Australia defending that New South Wales outrage.

After these New South Wales cuts, New South Wales will be contributing only 13.8 per cent and South Australia's share will be 29.3 per cent. That is what they are saying—that we should continue to subsidise New South Wales at a cost to South Australia's taxpayers. That is what they are saying, be quite clear about that. Even after the South Australian reductions take effect, New South Wales will be contributing 11.3 per cent and South Australia's share will be 18.2 per cent—and, remember, we take 7 per cent of the extractions.

Our reduction in funding is to take place from the 2014 financial year and our contribution during 2013-14 will be maintained at $26.4 million. Prior to making this decision, the South Australian government expressed serious concerns in response to the New South Wales' decision to reduce funding. Unfortunately, New South Wales—

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink interjecting:

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: What else were we to do? Lay down and roll over? That is what they want us to do time and time again. Whenever we get challenged by the Liberal states and the Eastern States they say, 'Roll over, take your medicine, don't stand up for South Australia.' That is their policy position every single time on these issues, 'Let's just take our medicine with the begging bowl and take what is on offer from New South Wales or Victoria.' Mr President, the Labor government will never do that. We will not roll over; we will not do that. We will fight for South Australia at every stage.

We expressed serious concerns in response to the New South Wales' decision to reduce funding. Unfortunately, New South Wales has continued with its proposed action and has refused to consider increasing its contribution over the next three years. With New South Wales reducing its contribution, South Australia was, in effect, subsidising New South Wales at the expense of our other programs in our state for the environment, health and education.

New South Wales, like the Liberals opposite, is refusing to pull its weight. In fact, in a recent letter I received from the Chair of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, Mr Craig Knowles, it stated:

Following the unilateral decision by the New South Wales Government to reduce its funding contributions well below its historical obligations under the MDB Agreement—

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink interjecting:

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: The honourable member asked the supplementary question; presumably she would like to hear the answer—

Following the unilateral decision by the New South Wales Government to reduce its funding contributions well below its historical obligations under the MDB Agreement, the South Australian Government has also indicated its intention to reduce funds. Quite reasonably, South Australia and Victoria have made the point that they cannot continue to be in the position of subsidising activities in New South Wales, as is currently the case.

They are the words of the Chair of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, Mr Craig Knowles, yet they give him no weight. He says to us quite reasonably—

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order!

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: —South Australia and Victoria have made the point they cannot continue to be in a position of subsidising activities in New South Wales as is currently the case. The reduction in funding is for joint projects only. The implementation of a Murray-Darling Basin Plan is funded by the federal government and that is not affected by these announcements.

South Australia has fought hard to ensure that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan provides for a healthy river. We will work to ensure the effective management of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority because we stand up to the upstream states. We do not roll over like they do opposite here. We stand up to the federal government to demand more for South Australians, more for the River Murray, and more for our river communities. We fight for South Australians, unlike the Liberals.

The states and the authority must work together to ensure the efficient management of our vital basin infrastructure and ensure that every jurisdiction is pulling its weight. It is crucial and I offer the Liberals this in a bipartisan manner: join with us, because we need to ensure that this process works well because it is so vital to South Australia. We need every jurisdiction to pull its weight and that means bringing on board New South Wales and Victoria. We will continue to work with the MDBA, we will continue to work with our friends in Victoria, to try to bring New South Wales to the table.

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