Murray Darling Basin Plan

08 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 the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is vital to water security and the equity of water entitlements for irrigators. To date, every single drop of water committed to environmental flows in South Australia by this government has come from—or is going to come from—food producers in one form or another and, despite assurances of support from the Premier, the amount of water available to irrigators will be reduced by up to a third, which means fewer jobs and less economic activity in river communities.

As part of South Australia's commitment to the plan, the state is expected to return 183 gigalitres for environmental flows. Of this, the South Australian River Murray Irrigation Industry Improvements Program will achieve 40 gigalitres, and the government has committed another 20 gigalitres but there is still 23 to achieve, without any outline as to where this is coming from. My questions for the minister are:

1.Can he please explain where this 23 gigalitres for the basin plan will come from?

2.Can he guarantee that the remaining gigalitres will not come from South Australia's food producers?

3.If further water is to be taken from food producers, what support will this government provide to assist food producers to adjust?
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER  (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation)  ( 14:24  ): I thank the honourable member for her most important question. The basin plan came into effect on 24 November 2012 and the state government is now working with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and other basin jurisdictions to progress implementation arrangements.

To underpin implementation of the basin plan, the South Australian government has entered into an intergovernmental agreement with other basin states or jurisdictions which outlines how we will work together. The intergovernmental agreement includes commitments to work collaboratively to plan for the use and management of environmental water, and to establish joint government arrangements to support the effective operation of adjustments to the sustainable diversion limit, as well as commitments for commonwealth government funding.

This includes arrangements for investing in projects that address physical or operational river constraints and sustainable diversion limit adjustment projects which can offset water recovery requirements under the basin plan. Under the agreement, the commonwealth government has committed to make over $13 million in funding available to the South Australian government in recognition of the additional costs associated with the basin plan and to support the development of business cases for sustainable diversion limit adjustment projects.

To guide the state's implementation of the basin plan and related programs, the government has released the South Australian Murray-Darling Basin Plan implementation strategy 2013-19. This implementation strategy outlines the key actions that are being pursued to ensure the basin plan is fully integrated with the South Australian ongoing water management arrangements. Work to execute that strategy is progressing, I am told.

We have been progressing arrangements for the $444 million suite of environmental and industry diversification projects that were secured by the government during negotiations to develop the basin plan. They were secured by the government, I should say, hand in hand with the irrigation community, the river communities, and across all the state with the notable exception of the Liberal opposition, who were very slow—very slow indeed—to come to the support of the River Murray communities.

The government is also investing effort in reviewing and adapting the state's existing Murray-Darling Basin water management arrangements—

Members interjecting: 

The PRESIDENT: Order! We can't hear the honourable minister's answer.
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: The government is also investing effort in reviewing and adapting the state's existing Murray-Darling Basin water management arrangements, including water resource planning and allocation, water quality and salinity management, environmental water management and water trading.

A central part of successful implementation of the basin plan will be the introduction of new sustainable diversion limits in each of the state's three water resource plan areas by 1 July 2019. The introduction of new sustainable diversion limits will require 183.8 gigalitres of water recovery from the South Australian River Murray system. South Australia has already recovered over half of the water required; the remaining water recovery will be achieved with input from relevant industry organisations through willing participation.

Through projects such as the industry-driven South Australian River Murray Sustainability Program, environmental works and measures in other projects, we are confident that our water recovery target will be met. The South Australian River Murray Sustainability Program is a great example of government and industry working together to benefit our environment, our communities and our industries. The program will support regional development and industry redevelopment projects to recover water for the environment.

Members interjecting: 

The PRESIDENT: Can honourable members please allow the minister to give his answer in silence. If you want to have a discussion, that's what the corridors are for.
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Thank you, Mr President, for your protection. It appears that the members opposite have no interest in Murray River communities, Murray River basin planning or how the water is actually being planned for return to the river into the future.

The state government will continue to work with the commonwealth and South Australian irrigators and relevant industry organisations to develop additional projects as required, including through the water recovery advisory forum. Some highlights of recent activity in regard to regional investment and environmental water include the South Australian River Murray Sustainability Irrigation Industry Improvement Program. There was a strong response to the expression of interest process, I am told, for round 1, with more than 200 expressions of interest received and assessed, and 80 per cent of applicants were invited to submit a full application.

Over the last couple of years, 1,686 gigalitres of environmental water have been delivered to South Australia to improve the health of the South Australian River Murray and the Coorong, the Lower Lakes and the Murray Mouth. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority recently publicly stated that without the increased environmental flows delivered by the basin plan, dredging would likely to have been required during 2013-14 to keep the Murray Mouth open. It is only through this government's working through Murray communities that we have been able to deliver this basin plan, despite the best efforts of the Liberal opposition to oppose it at every stage—
The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: You were slow to sign up to the agreement.
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Well, the government will sign up to an agreement when it is in the interests of the state, not when it is in the interests of your mates interstate—New South Wales and Victoria. The government signs up to an agreement when it is in the interests of South Australians: you sign up to agreements because you get told to do so by Tony Abbott.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK  ( 14:30  ): When will the government release the details of how the final 23 gigalitres is to be obtained?
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  ): In the fullness of time, sir.