Projects being considered in the Murray Darling Basin Plan

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking a question of the Minister for Water and the River Murray regarding the Murray-Darling Basin.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (14:22): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking
a question of the Minister for Water and the River Murray regarding the Murray-Darling Basin.
Leave granted.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK:
In evidence to the Budget and Finance Committee last week,
executives from his department referred to a list of projects being considered by the department to
meet the 450-gigalitre efficiency measure. Is the minister in a position to outline a list of the projects
and their current status in terms of commencement dates, proposed water efficiency savings, etc.?
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation,
Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) (14:23):
I thank the
honourable member for her most important question. This goes to the heart of the Murray-Darling
Basin Agreement for our state. I forgot to say that there is a little bit of confusion out in the community
in terms of what the Liberal Party's position is on the 450-gigalitre provision. I am very pleased to say
that, in all her public statements—at least, those I have heard—the Hon. Michelle Lensink gets it
right whereas her parliamentary colleagues in the other place certainly don't.
The 450 gigalitres is essentially the important part of the agreement that got South Australia
over the line. It was the component that of course the Eastern States didn't like too much but then
South Australia didn't very much like the 650-gig downwater component either. In the spirit of
compromise at the time, as I understand it, all the states in the Murray-Darling Basin jurisdiction
decided to hang together rather than hang separately. That situation has now changed somewhat
because the Eastern States see an opportunity for themselves essentially to try to rip the plan apart,
take the bit they like—the 650 downwater—without actually—
The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink:
They can't do it without changing the act.
The Hon. R.I. Lucas:
It's legislated.
Order! The minister has the call.
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER:
The Hon. Michelle Lensink says they can't do it without changing
the act. That is not true, of course, because it requires them to put up projects and this is the thing
the Liberal Party doesn't understand. At this point in time, the way the agreement works and how the
states have cooperated around the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement is that states put up their own
individual projects which get assessed by rather rigorous methods that were established by the
CSIRO and other independent, learned advisers. Those plans are assessed and then voted on by
the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and, of course, ultimately, MinCo gives its sign-off on that.
So, states put up their own projects. The Hon. Michelle Lensink acknowledged as much
when she asked me what projects South Australia are putting up. She needs to understand also that
South Australia doesn't put up projects for New South Wales or Victoria, as much as I would like to
write those projects for them because there have been none forthcoming whatsoever, and this is the
key point of difference.
South Australia is the only jurisdiction to date that has even gone out and done a pilot
program on the 450 gigalitres which need to be delivered by 2024. I understand there was a vague
commitment by New South Wales to participate in a pilot program that went nowhere. No pilot
program eventuated, I am advised. We have seen nothing of it. Certainly, not even Victoria even
pretended that they had an interest in delivering a pilot program. For them, it was a push back to the
never, never.
The important thing to understand is South Australia has gone out—I think through the NRM,
but I stand to be corrected on that—looking for private sector partners to develop the ideas that will
deliver water for the 450 gigalitres in a way that is socio-economic neutral or indeed beneficial, as
we have seen has been the case in terms of SARMS funding where we have developed new
industries around irrigation and the technology that's supplied to irrigators, and also the complicated
computer monitoring and the controlling which can be done from a central location. Those programs
are in fact returning water to the river, making agriculturalists and irrigators much more productive
and more efficient and, by the way, also establishing a new industry in terms of supplying that
technology, updating it regularly and providing the infrastructure to local communities.
That's the essence of it. It is something that we have been pushing for in terms of those pilot
projects. Nobody has done it, but the efficiency programs to deliver those 450 gigalitres are
something South Australia is very keen on. It's also well to remember that we have had in South
Australia very high levels of irrigator efficiency from our irrigators. They have been doing it for a
number of years, as I said.
On the pilot landholders, under the pilot as I understand it in South Australia, landholders
can receive funding to upgrade irrigation infrastructure or for other on-farm, water efficiency activities.
In return, irrigators transfer the water savings they are confident of achieving from the project to the
commonwealth. The pilot that we are engaged in will help to ensure that the efficiency program is
well designed to meet the interests of our irrigators and their communities, and compliance with a
listed requirement of socio-economic neutrality will be an important part of this, which I mentioned at
the outset.
I am advised we are also thinking about other opportunities, including urban water efficiency
projects that might meet the stringent requirements laid out in the agreement. Any other irrigation
efficiency programs would have to be developed by working closely with our irrigation stakeholders
just as we have done up to this date.
It's also important to understand that, because of the historical efficiency that irrigators have
engaged in over 50 years, the low-hanging fruit in South Australia is simply not as abundant as it will
be in New South Wales and Victoria in some places where they've still got open channel irrigation.
There are great efficiencies that can be achieved in those Eastern States if only they were to step
The other conundrum in all this is this money is designed to go to irrigators themselves to
make them more efficient. Why on earth would Barnaby Joyce and the federal Liberal government
be standing in the way of irrigators getting their hands on that money that was put aside precisely for
this purpose—to establish the 450 gigalitres and to do it in a way that is socio-economically neutral
or beneficial to communities? As I said, we have been able to show this through our SARMS projects
in various guises of increasing irrigation efficiency for our landowners and our agriculturalists up and
down the Murray.
We don't expect—and it is important that we all note this—that there will be a similar
apportionment of the 450 as there was in terms of other water in terms of downwater because, simply
put, South Australians have been very, very efficient irrigators for the best part of 50 years. The lowhanging fruit now primarily exists in New South Wales but also in Victoria, and that's what that money
is designed to do: to provide works and measures that will provide water back into the channel and
be delivered in a way that benefits the environment of the river and benefits the long-term
sustainability of the river for all our communities up and down the Murray, not to mention also those
communities that rely on the Murray for drinking water.