Michelle Lensink

Natural Resources Management (Water Resources And Other Matters) Amendment Bill

This speech is to indicate the Liberal Party's support for the Natural Resources Management (Water Resources And Other Matters) Amendment Bill.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I rise to indicate opposition support for this bill. I express my appreciation to the minister’s office and her department for the briefings provided to us, sometimes at short notice. The staff have been very cooperative. As I understand it, this bill broadly brings the South Australian regime of water licences into line with interstate regimes so that, where obliged, we can commence trading under the National Water Initiative. Currently, our legislation is not compatible with interstate trading, so this bill makes those provisions consistent.

Because they are already outlined in the minister’s second reading explanation, I will not go through all the details in relation to water access entitlement, water allocation, water resource works approval, site use approval and delivery capacity entitlement. However, I understand that, for certain reasons, some of those measures are tradeable and some are not. The bill will also establish a new water registry system. The current system, known as WILMA, will be transferred into a new water registry system. This bill is consistent with changes we have made to the natural resource management system we brought into this state in that it will work closely with water allocation plans.

My understanding also is that the current systems will change as each of those new water allocation plans for each region are made legitimate by the minister’s signing off. I put this as a question on notice to the minister just because I think it should be on the Hansard record, but one assurance is that licence fees will not be affected by this bill, that is, a licence holder whose licence is converted to the new system will not be liable for any additional costs as a result of the implementation of this bill.

I would like the minister to clarify this, but I have also been advised that the transfer process is likely to be simplified, and that concern has been expressed by a number of members of the Liberal Party parliamentary team. One is often suspicious that measures are designed to increase levies and to increase the red tape for people who are going about their daily business, and they deserve not to have any additional impediments imposed upon them.

I consulted with a large number of organisations, including: the South Australian Farmers Federation, a number of the irrigation groups, specific industry groups, and an organisation by the name of Water Find, which is involved in water trading in this state. Not many concerns were raised, but I will just outline some. The South Australian Farmers Federation stated that it welcomes and supports this particular bill but it has a concern in relation to the length of time—this is, indeed, consistent with what other stakeholders have told me—that it takes for applications for transfers or new applications to be processed.

It has been put to me that, in terms of South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales, South Australia has the worst waiting times for approvals of transfers and new applications for water licences. I would also like to ask the minister what the average length of time is for simple applications, as opposed to more complex applications, and what categories the simple types will include and what types will fall within more complex applications that generally deserve more time.

There is significant concern, not just with SAFF but with other organisations, that the department is not adequately resourced to ensure that these applications are processed in a timely way, and it is to the disadvantage of the system within the state. This may well be just an anecdotal example, but someone whom I spoke to very recently said that what takes three working days in New SouthWales can take up to four weeks in South Australia. I think that is a significant concern and we would like to know, at least in the short term, how many officers are currently allocated to those tasks and whether any additional officers will be allocated.

Another concern is how the changes to the system will be rolled out to the community, licence holders, interest groups and so forth. This legislation is quite technical and complex and I must confess that, while I have no legal training, I do often like to think that I can get my head around these things, but this is quite a complicated change, and for laypeople who are not used to reading legislation or briefing papers and so forth it would be doubly so. So, I would like to know from the government what sort of information they intend rolling out to ensure that people understand the new rules.

Other stakeholders have expressed to me a few different issues that they would like to have addressed. One is a right of appeal for various water decisions; that there should be an appeal process. I foreshadow that I have drafted amendments— and they have been filed—for registered security holders. Another area in which concerns have been expressed to me involves issues in relation to governance and the transparency of the approval process. It has been suggested to me that there should be a public register of trades and their value. These may well be things that the government is working towards considering further down the track as well as envisaging what sort of progress there will be in relation to the direct licensing of water entitlements.

I think that particular issue cannot necessarily be addressed in this bill. I understand that this is bill is to bring about a substitution of different components of water licensing, so we cannot take on too many issues, particularly given the timing of this bill and the need for it to be passed by 1 July. I have put those questions on the record and I foreshadow that I have some amendments to the bill. SAFF takes the view that seven days in relation to notifications by the minister of reductions in water allocations is not sufficient. It seeks an amendment to 14 days and I have filed an amendment to that effect. With those comments and questions, I indicate that the Liberal Party broadly supports this bill and commends it to the council.

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