A question to the Minister for Water and the River Murray, the Hon IK HUNTER MLC, regarding the Murray River.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (14:44): My question is to the Minister for Water and the River Murray. Can the minister explain just how South Australia is reducing its take from the River Murray as a result of the desalination plant?
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation) (14:44): I thank the honourable member for her most generous question—a very important question. It allows me to put on the record some comments and concerns about ill-informed statements made in the media in recent times by federal Liberal senators and then very quickly hopped into by a couple of members of this parliament, of course, without adequate information before them, but that is why, I guess, they asked the question. I am about to enlighten them, and let's hope it works.
Senator Ruston has apparently made some fairly outrageous claims about the use of the desalination plant, I am advised, and the claims were then very quickly echoed by a Liberal member in the Legislative Council the Hon. Michelle Lensink and the Liberal member for Chaffey, Mr Tim Whetstone, in a media release. Their calls to use the desalination plant—and I think they used the word 'activate' in their press release—to protect irrigators are clear evidence that the Liberals are actually gearing up for a policy to charge South Australians more for water.
We are of course already using the desal plant. It has so far produced over 56 billion litres of drinking water that we are drinking here in Adelaide every day. The water on your desks is probably partially desal water. In terms of future use, this government has always said that we will use the cheapest source of water available, if that water is available. That is the prudent course. The desalination plant is intended to be an insurance policy for our state and a method of securing our drinking water during inevitable future dry periods.
Honourable members opposite seem to have absolutely no collective memory of the drought we have just been through. They have no understanding of the pressures that put the community under—the irrigator communities, and our Adelaide metropolitan water consumers. They don't recall what it was like and how close we came to having to provide bottled water to communities. They have no clue, and yet here they are now wanting to run the desal plant at full tote and charge people for it.
What those opposite seem to want to do is to use the desal plant even when other cheaper sources of water are available at cost to South Australians, unless what they are proposing is that they run the desal plant and use that water for metropolitan Adelaide, and they will want to charge irrigators even more. That is also an alternative policy; they haven't elucidated that yet. They are keeping South Australia in the dark about what, in fact, they are going to do. But for future dry periods, this government is already developing an allocation framework for low water resource availability for the River Murray.
A revised River Murray allocation plan will need to take into account all the various circumstances that may occur into the future. As part of developing this framework, consideration will need to be given to the availability of alternative water sources, like desal and water from the Mount Lofty Ranges catchment. I understand that a paper on the proposed allocation framework is being prepared for consultation with key stakeholders, including the River Murray Advisory Committee and the broader community. It is important that we don't rush this very important process—not when it impacts on the whole state.
Those opposite haven't told us when and how they will use the desalination plant. They haven't explained to South Australians how their policies will hit the hip pocket of water consumers in this state. They haven't told us if they are going to remove statewide pricing on water, forcing country customers to pay more for their water, which is greatly subsidised by all other water users, or perhaps they are going to raise water prices for everyone just to use more expensive water sources. Perhaps they are going to privatise the desal plant, and then we will be in a situation where private companies will need a guarantee from government about their take.
Private companies, to buy the desal plant, will want a guarantee from this mob over here if they ever get into government about what take they are going to be given under contract, and then, and only then—because they probably won't take this to an election, and they probably won't fess up to the South Australian community that they have a secret plan to privatise the desal plant. What that will mean is that they will have to enter into a contract to guarantee the level of take. That will deliberately and cold-bloodedly drive up the price of water. It will drive up the cost of water for all South Australians.
This government is more than aware of the importance of our irrigation communities to South Australia and the impact they experienced at the last drought. It was only this government that stood up for the irrigator communities in South Australia. It was only Jay Weatherill standing up for the irrigators of this state that delivered the results for them. That mob over there, this joke that calls itself an opposition, would not stand up to their eastern state Liberal colleagues. They would not stand up for South Australia. They would not stand up at all for a better deal. It was this government and this Premier who drove that very hard fight, uniting the communities of South Australia, and made sure—