Murray-Darling Basin Plan

06 Jun 2013 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before directing a question to the Minister for Water and the River Murray on the subject of the River Murray agreement.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Today, it was announced by the commonwealth and Victorian governments that Victoria has been the first state to sign up to the Murray-Darling Basin agreement. I quote from the Hon. Tony Burke's media release, which says as follows:

The Intergovernmental Agreement ensures that the states and the Commonwealth agree on the funding arrangement for the projects and the processes which make it happen.

Once the IGA is concluded with all states, there is nothing left but implementation.

I understand that Victoria will have access to some $60 million in additional funding over a total of eight years as part of the agreement. My questions for the minister are:

1.If the Weatherill government is so committed to saving the Murray, why wasn't it the first state to sign up?

2.If the Weatherill government is so committed to saving the Murray, why are South Australia and South Australian irrigators still waiting some seven months after the basin plan was finalised?

3.Is there disagreement with the commonwealth regarding funding, as potentially highlighted through minister Burke's media release?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation) (14:37): I thank the honourable member for her most important question. I am particularly thankful if I can read into that question that, finally, the Liberals are advocating for the River Murray—three years too late but, at last.

The PRESIDENT: Order, minister!

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: At last they've caught on to the whole vibe of the political debate in terms of water in this country for the last decade or so.

The Hon. D.W. Ridgway interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Ridgway has had his go.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Yes, this is also the Liberal Party that builds one-way roads to the south and half a desal plant—that's the sort of policy approach. When you do get a policy approach from the Liberals of course—and we're still waiting to see what that might be—that's the sort of policy approach you see from this Liberal Party: one-way roads, half desal plants. They settle for the Cortina option when it comes to negotiating with the Eastern States on water delivery through the River Murray. But I am very pleased indeed that the honourable member raises this issue because at least it shows the Liberals have finally caught on to the importance of the River Murray.

The PRESIDENT: Now, minister, I'm starting to forget what the question was about. What was it?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: I have already, but I will give the answer I was going to give anyway.


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

The PRESIDENT: Order! I'm not listening to you.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: The final Murray-Darling Basin Plan represented a significant victory for all South Australians, as the honourable member knows, although she and her party were absent from the fight. The Premier and the former minister for water and the River Murray led a very successful campaign which brought together government, irrigators, Riverland communities and, in fact, united the whole state and led to significant changes to the draft plan.

Our demands were based on the best available science, as they should be, which showed that 2,750 gigalitres was insufficient to restore the river to health and that 3,200 gigalitres was required to ensure the health of the entire basin. Those opposite begged us not to push for a better deal. They begged us to accept the second-rate or third-rate option that was foisted on us by the Eastern States. They were willing to accept a plan which would have failed to ensure the health of the river, failed to ensure water for our irrigators. They squibbed it. They still cannot get the concept that we argued the position on the best available science. When the best available science gave us a figure, that is what we backed. Again, like yesterday, they do not understand how science works in this place. These guys have got no clue about science. They just go for the cheap political option and supporting their mates in the Eastern States will never deliver for South Australians.

As a result of Jay Weatherill's negotiations on behalf of the state, $1.77 billion in commonwealth funding has been committed to recover the additional 450 gigalitres of water and to address constraints in the system. Approximately $200 million of this funding will be spent on addressing those constraints, I am advised. The additional 450 gigalitres will be recovered in a way which ensures that there is no negative socioeconomic impact on communities and will include recovery of water through on-farm water efficiency measures and other measures proposed by the states.

It was always South Australia's intention to be a willing and early signatory to the plan. We went out there and we said it. Our signing is contingent on finalising existing funding commitments which were made as part of the negotiations associated with the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, and they are agreements that we insisted on for the good of our state. We will never back down on this side for South Australia, unlike those opposite. We will stand up for our state, for the River Murray and the River Murray communities. The state government has continued to work through these details with the federal government with final agreement to be reached in the very near future.