Michelle Lensink

Murray-Darling Basin Regional Economic Diversification Program

My question is to the Minister for Water and River Murray regarding the Murray-Darling Basin Regional Economic Diversification Program.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK ( 14:31 :41 ):Why is the government refusing to accept $25 million in federal funding for the Murray-Darling Basin Regional Economic Diversification Program, even though there is no financial risk to the government?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 14:32 :01 ): I thank the honourable member for her most important question; however, it has been asked in this place before. Let me put back on the record that, in fact, we are very happy to work with the federal government about the funding package. However, the parameters that have been put in place to qualify for that money have actually been designed around irrigators in New South Wales and in Victoria who haven't had the success in applying water efficiency measures that we have had in South Australia.

Our irrigators have been doing the right thing since the 1950s, putting in place efficient water infrastructure, and now we see that this bucket of money, that is being administered by another minister, I should add, is in fact difficult to apply for our irrigators, because we have done a lot of the heavy lifting already, and the parameters around which this funding will be available really do favour, I have to say, the Eastern States.

I have talked recently to parliamentary secretary Baldwin to minister Greg Hunt about this measure and how much assistance he could provide us by trying to loosen those parameters in terms of the funding guidelines and I am yet to see, of course, any response to that.

Can I just say generally, I pine for the days when we used to have strong federal commonwealth ministers who would actually stand up for South Australia. I pine for the days when we had strong representation—from either side of politics; I am not being partisan here. I pine for the days when we had four strong commonwealth ministers from South Australia in cabinet—not in the outer cabinet, but in cabinet—standing up for our state.

Who have we got from South Australia in the commonwealth parliament now? Do we have a Nick Minchin? No, we don't. Do we have an Amanda Vanstone? Do we have a Robert Hill? Do we have an Alexander Downer? No, we don't. All we have is the member for fixing things up, the member who says, 'I've cleared it away, I've fixed it, I'm a fixer.' That is all we have in cabinet standing up for our state, someone who says, 'I've fixed it by funding it in a different way.' Well, we would certainly like to see the federal government fix this irrigation funding bucket by fixing it in a different way, by making the parameters for the guidelines of funding for this amount of money easier for our South Australian irrigators to access.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK ( 14:34 :17 ): Supplementary question: will the minister table the advice in this chamber that says that the parameters for the program need to be changed?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 14:34 :26 ): I have to say again that if we had the assistance that we need from this federal government and our South Australian ministers, we wouldn't have to come to the situation where they tell us, 'I want this to be a surprise for you.' I do not want to have a minister come to us and say, 'I have cleared away the problem; I have fixed it' without actually addressing the issues that apply to South Australian irrigators. They might have cleared away the problem for New South Wales irrigators, but they certainly have no interest in standing up for the interests of South Australian irrigators.

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