I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Water and the River Murray a question regarding the South East Flows Restoration Project.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: During interviews on the ABC recently, minister Hunter named the South East Flows Restoration Project as one of the engineering projects awaiting approval, which will provide water to the remaining 23 billion litres still to be found as part of the state's contribution to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
The project is investigating the feasibility of diverting fresh water from the South-East to the Coorong to improve ecosystem health. Throughout the process, there have been a number of community concerns raised. The opposition has been made aware that the initial scope of the project that was originally put forward for consultation has been substantially altered. My questions for the minister are:
1.When was the last time the state government consulted landholders and the local community regarding this project?
2.When did the minister last visit the South-East to examine the project?
3.Given the substantial changes to the scope of the project, have these been discussed with the community?
4.Can the minister outline the local benefits of the project and how it will contribute to restoration of water to the Murray-Darling Basin?
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation) ( 14:21 :07 ): I thank the honourable member for her most important question. Historically, water flowed from the South-East of South Australia to the Coorong before the construction of regional drainage which has heavily modified the natural flow paths. Currently, approximately 100 gigalitres per year flow to the sea from the South East Drainage Network, which has had detrimental ecological consequences to the marine environment at the four primary outfall locations.
The South East Flows Restoration Project, part of the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth Recovery Project, aims to reinstate natural flow paths to deliver increased volumes of water to the Coorong. In 2011 and 2012, $2.2 million was provided to determine the feasibility of the project including developing a business case for Australian government funding. The business case was completed and submitted to the Australian government for consideration against relevant due diligence criteria to secure funding for the implementation of that project.
The South East Flows Restoration Project proposes a combination of widened existing drains and a short section of newly-constructed drain to divert water from the Blackford Drain which currently flows into the sea towards the Coorong's South Lagoon. This will effectively restore one of the South-East's natural historical watercourse flow paths and on average, I am advised, deliver 26.5 gigalitres per year to the Coorong's South Lagoon.
The needs of the South-East's wetlands have been considered in determining the likely volumes of water available for the Coorong's South Lagoon. The integrated management of the South East Drainage Network including this new project aims to maintain and, where possible, improve wetland habitat in the South-East and improve water quality in the Coorong's South Lagoon. In late 2012, three community information sessions were held, I am advised, in the South-East, and feedback received at these meetings has helped shape the flow path alignment, capacity and project objectives. The government is committed to working with all stakeholders including the landowners, Aboriginal groups and all levels of government on this project. The final cost of construction will not be known until detailed design is completed.
In regard to my diary, I can say that I visited the South-East on numerous occasions last year. I think the last time must have been around about August or September, which arose in that famous newspaper article where a certain local mayor got up and attacked me in a fairly ignorant fashion about this issue, clearly not being apprised or not taking consideration, I believe, of the very many positive benefits from this program. Of course, he was highly motivated by suggestions of other issues, being the South East Drainage Board and commitments from local government and, indeed, landowners who benefit from the drains to contribute to the ongoing maintenance. There is a divided opinion in the South-East but not so much on South East Flows and I understand that the federal government is giving it considerable and favourable consideration right now.
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK ( 14:24 :05 ): Was the scope of the original project changed and have these changes been consulted on?
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation) ( 14:24 :12 ): I am not aware of the change in scope the honourable member alludes to. I will refresh my memory and, if I need to, I will come back with an answer.