Murray-Darling Basin Plan

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before directing questions to the Minister for Water and the River Murray about sustainable diversion limits for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: A year ago tomorrow I asked the minister about the matter of the 183 gigalitres for environmental flows that South Australia is required to return. At that particular point there were 23 gigalitres still to be obtained. I also asked the minister if he could guarantee whether the remaining gigalitres would not come from South Australia's food producers. My questions for the minister are:

1.Can he provide an update on this situation?

2.I will ask him again: can he guarantee that the remaining gigalitres will not come from South Australia's food producers?

3.What contribution has South Australia, as the largest water-holder, made to the total SDL?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER(Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change)(14:22:09): I thank the honourable member for her most important questions. With the introduction of new sustainable diversion limits—as the honourable member said, of 183.8 gigalitres of water recovery from the South Australian River Murray system—over half of that has already been recovered.

The commonwealth Water Recovery Strategy largely reflects current actions under way by the commonwealth and basin states to recover water or offset water recovery requirements through sustainable diversion limit adjustment projects. The commonwealth strategy has capped water purchases apparently at 1,500 gigalitres, but projects—

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

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: It certainly does, the Hon. Ms Lensink. Again, you need to pay a little bit more attention to what is said in this place, because what the commonwealth is doing is walking away from any commitment it might have had previously under another government to actually returning—

The Hon. J.S.L. Dawkins: Here comes the text message!

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Yes, it was, actually. It was a text message where I congratulated someone for her appointment. That being said, the Hon. Mr Dawkins, I think it is a fantastic thing when we are appointing women to deputy CE positions, but I will save that question for another day, perhaps.

The commonwealth is walking itself away, not so silently, from its commitments to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, by putting a cap on buybacks of water licences of 1,500. What that means—it is a little arcane for those who are not steeped in these issues, and I invite the honourable member to pay attention—what it means is this: in terms of bridging the gap, what the commonwealth is doing is saying, 'Instead of buying back water, which is the cheapest and most efficient and most transparent way of returning water to the river, we are going to put a cap on buybacks'—they say—'at 1,500 gigalitres. What that means is that to get to the 2,750 as promised you cannot spend any money to buy back licences to get you up to 2,750 so you will have to pull in engineering solutions to return water to the Murray.'

The little problem with that is that South Australia was guaranteed another 450 gigalitres of water on top of the 2,750 which encompasses engineering solutions. There is only so much real estate on the River Murray where you can put in engineering solutions which will get water back into the system: there are only so many. What this federal government is doing, through a sneaky, outrageous plan of putting caps on buyback of water licences, is trying to get away from the promise to South Australians and South Australian irrigators of putting 3,200 gigalitres into the river. That's what they are doing, and the cheer squad of the Liberal Party in opposition over here is willing them on at every point—at every point.

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: No, we're calling you out for being a hypocrite.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Here we go, Mr President.

The PRESIDENT: Order! Let the minister finish his answer.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: We see the Liberal Party in Canberra, ably assisted by the Liberal Party in South Australia, trying to put irrigators in South Australia out of business once more by denying them their full entitlement rights of 3,200 gigalitres of water coming down the system. That's what the plan guarantees; that's what we demand the federal government deliver, and all these people want to do is let them walk away from it.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK(14:25:20): I am not sure that answer bore a lot of resemblance to the question, but is the minister saying that there has been no action on the 23 gigalitres that I asked him about 12 months ago?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER(Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change)(14:25:32): Not at all, as the honourable member probably knows. These sustainable diversion limits will be agreed by the states and the commonwealth in 2015-16, or June 2016, but the problem is, as I try to tell her, that the federal government is trying to undermine that process by capping the amount of water that is put back into the system, by capping the amount of water that they will buy back.

If they bring down, to bridge the gap to 2,750, engineering solutions which are designed to bridge the gap from the 450, then the 450 will not be delivered. The 450 which has been legislated, budgeted for, sitting there in consolidated revenue, waiting to be delivered for engineering projects and on-farm efficiencies, won't be delivered because they are drawing it down to bridge the gap to 2,750. Then they will come to us and say, 'I'm sorry, there's no more that we can do to get you that 450. South Australia won't have the 3,200 gigalitres as promised returned to the river.'

There is one fail-safe in all of this, in that in agreeing SDLs next year every state must agree to the whole package, and if South Australia does not get what was promised in the Murray-Darling Basin agreement, South Australia will not be agreeing to those packages.