I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Environment and Conservation a question about natural resource management.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I have been advised that the Murray Darling NRM Board has sought an increase of its 2008-09 levy rates of over 60 per cent. The minister has, indeed, approved that. Can the minister give the reasons for such a massive increase, and can she advise whether there are any other boards which have applied for increases in their levy rates for 2008-09 of greater than 5 per cent?
The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Environment and Conservation, Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Minister Assisting the Minister for Health) (15:08): I thank the honourable member for her question. Indeed, the work that our NRM board does in terms of natural resource management and planning is critical. As we know, the NRM board is an amalgam of a number of past boards that we consolidated into one natural resource management board to improve its efficiencies. It has a significant environmental function in terms of natural resource management. It is involved in water catchment management, soil and pest management, management of the prescription process of water allocation planning around that, and many other vital functions for the ongoing sustainability of our environment.
The NRM board is funded through a levy structure, which has been historical. Again, we have combined those levies into one levy structure to simplify it. The setting of those levies is established through a statutory process that requires a period of consultation with that local community. The NRM boards are made up of members of the local community.
They are people of the community, from the community, who indeed work for the community. The levy structures or levels are set by that board in accordance with the statutory requirements which include, among other things, a statutory consultation period with the local public. The aim of the Adelaide Mount Lofty board, is to equalise the levy structure throughout the council regions. An anomaly occurred when the old levy structures applied in that different council regions had been applying different levy structures. Some did not have a water levy, some did or did not have a soil levy, so there was a wide range of past practices and it was very hotchpotch. The boards have implemented a strategy in an incremental way to bring all those council areas into harmony so that they are all paying consistent rates.
I do not have with me at the moment the actual detail of that particular board's levy structure. I know that it sets out the principle of equalisation across council regions and it seeks to enforce that. If one looks at what that board has done and compares it with the trends of other boards across other years, one sees that the Adelaide Mount Lofty Ranges board has, indeed, been very responsible in its levy management and the establishment of its particular rates. In terms of the process, the levies are required to be considered by the Natural Resource Committee. As that committee has not yet completed its function, the decision for the setting of levies for the next financial year has not been finalised.
We obviously need to allow that democratic process to be completed. It has full involvement, including parliamentary involvement (which includes members of the opposition on that very same committee): that is how even-handed, open and democratic we are. The committee ensures that the setting of the NRM levies or that part of the process would go to the boards for consideration under certain conditions—and it will do so. We need to let that process be completed before any final decisions of levy structures are signed off.