Upper South East Dryland Salinity and Flood Management (Postponement of Expiry) Amendment Bill

29 Nov 2012 archivespeech

This Speech is in relation to the Upper South East Dryland Salinity and Flood Management (Postponement of Expiry) Amendment Bill introduced by the Government. This bill is an extension of the Upper South East Dryland and Salinity Flood Management Scheme. In this speech the Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK and other members put forward their opinions on the bill. The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK states she does not see the need for this extension to the original bill.

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 28 November 2012.)

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (16:02): I rise to make some remarks on this rather small bill, which is really just an extension of the Upper South East Dryland and Salinity Flood Management Scheme. It is a scheme that has been in the making for some time, and the digging of the drains and some of the ongoing costs have been funded jointly by the commonwealth state government and local landholders, and I understand that that funding was first obtained in the 1990s. The scheme has progressed at some sort of glacial pace. We are pleased that the drains were finally completed in June 2011 and so the scheme is transitioning from construction to the operational phase.

It is not envisaged that ongoing management will be performed under this act. However, I think that the second reading explanation that accompanied the tabling of the bill gives some fairly fuzzy and hazy rationale for why the scheme is being extended. It refers to a companion bill—the South East Drainage System Operation and Management Bill 2012, which has been tabled in the House of Assembly and will be debated next year. That bill is to provide the ongoing management now that the drainage system has been completed. The second reading speech says that, however, until this SEDSOM bill progresses (to use its acronym), it is imperative that the expiration date of the Upper South East Dryland and Salinity Flood Management Act is extended.

In addition, it provides another couple of reasons and says that the Upper South East Dryland Salinity and Flood Management Act 2002 (which 'this bill' means) 'could serve'—and I like that word 'could'—'as a vehicle for potential infrastructure works,' and further it says that it 'could also be used to acquire the interests in land through statutory easement and undertake works on private land'. I do not think those are conclusive enough reasons for the continuation of a further extension.

I would like to refer honourable members to the second reading contribution from the member for MacKillop, Mr Mitch Williams, who, in his contribution in the House of Assembly on 15 November, made quite a comprehensive coverage of the scheme. I am not going to go into the same level of detail.

What he talked about was the history of clearance in that particular area; development of dryland salinity as a result; the establishment of the Upper South East Dryland Salinity and Flood Management Scheme; the digging of the drains and how that was funded; and some of the contentious happenings that took place over that period of time. He talked about when the act was first debated in December 2002 and similar to today, it was the last day of sitting that it was debated, which may or may not be a coincidence, and I quote from his speech. He says:

The bill did eventually go through. I have gone back and picked up the Hansard and reviewed the contributions made by the minister in introducing the bill back in 2002. It was introduced on 4 December and we completed the debate on 5 December, the bill having already gone through the upper house, which in itself is unusual, but the minister was anxious to get it through. One of the interesting things about the original legislation was that it had a sunset clause in it of four years—

I just remind the house we are talking about December 2002, so that is some 10 years ago—

and the minister was adamant that with this measure, he would be able to complete the project very quickly and certainly within the four-year life of the legislation. He said—

This is Minister Hill—

one of the things the bill did was give the government the ability to compulsorily acquire land.

That is one of the things that, at that time, the member for MacKillop objected to and thought that those powers were too coercive. Referring back to a speech he gave in 2002, he said:

I do not think the minister needs the powers. I doubt whether given these powers the minister will progress the scheme very quickly.

He goes on in his contribution of two weeks ago in the House of Assembly to say:

How prophetic were those words...because the scheme was not completed by 19 December 2006. In fact, the scheme was not completed until 2011, and twice previously the government has come to the parliament and asked for an extension. In 2006 the parliament extended the legislation for a further three years and then in 2009 it was extended for a further three years. It is due to expire on 19 December this year and the government is now asking for a further extension, this time for another four years.

He said then that the powers were draconian and unnecessary and that this is a bad piece of legislation; he is of the same view, and I agree with him. These powers do enable the government to have fairly extraordinary powers over landholders in the South-East, and we do not think that those powers should be provided lightly. Given the passage of time and the number of times the government has come back to this place and that it has not actually placed comprehensive reasons on the table as to why the extension should be granted, they are very, very woolly rationales, indeed.

One of the other issues which we would be supportive of, if it was the sole reason—well not actually if it was the sole reason but we think could be done through other means—is to provide flows of water from the South East Drainage Scheme into the Coorong. It may well be that the government is seeking to return water through the Murray-Darling Basin system through this scheme. That would be a commendable thing, but it should not be done at the expense of the people of the South-East. If that is something that the government is keen to progress, then it should bring a separate piece of legislation to that effect.

In summary, we do not see a need for this extension. The drainage scheme is completed. a management bill is to be debated shortly, and we think this is just a sloppy way of giving the government a little bit more time to have coercive powers over the landholders in the South-East. We do not think that these powers should be extended yet again, when initially this was suppose to be completed in 2006, and we will oppose the bill and seek a division if the President does not call against, although we will support the second reading.

Bill read a second time.

In committee.

Clause 1.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: I have a couple of fairly short questions which arise from the second reading from the government minister which was tabled on 27 November. The third paragraph states:

However, until this progresses—

which is the resolution of the new SEDSOM Bill, which will take over the two existing acts—

it is imperative that the expiration date of the Upper South East Dryland Salinity and Flood Management Act 2002 is extended in order to enable the ongoing management of the drainage system.

Could the minister please expand on what is so imperative for the extension of this act?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: My understanding is that in 2006 the extension of this act was foreshadowed and the need for new legislation was discussed then. I understand that legislation has been introduced into the other place and is still yet to be considered. The imperative which was mentioned and which the Hon. Ms Lensink asked about is that we need to have this legislation passed for the purposes, in particular, of ensuring that the system is not interfered with in between now and the time that the new legislation is going to be introduced and, hopefully, passed.

I understand also that by not agreeing to postpone the expiry of the Upper South East Dryland Salinity and Flood Management Act for an additional four years, members will effectively compromise the operation and maintenance of the South-East drainage system until the South East Drainage System Operation and Management Bill has been passed and significantly diminish their commitment to a healthy and sustainable South-East drainage and wetland system and the Coorong South Lagoon.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: The following paragraph, which I referred to in my second reading contribution, uses the word 'could', and in this context it is talking about the existing act this bill seeks to amend and states 'could serve as a vehicle for potential future infrastructure works such as the South-East Flows Restoration Project'. Can the minister explain why those terms are used as being fairly non-definitive rather than actually spelling out exactly what the need for this extension is?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: My advice is that the word 'could' is used because we are still to develop a business case for South-East flows and, as yet, we have not completed that business case or had consideration by a funding partner.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: Was it the commonwealth that was considered as the funding partner?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: My advice is yes.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: The final paragraph states, 'If this project,' and I think that is referring to a REFLOWS project, 'is determined to go ahead as a result of consultation, the Upper South East Dryland Salinity and Flood Management Act could be used to acquire the interests'. Could the minister outline what form of consultation was anticipated by the use of those words?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: The intention was that, if we were to deliver this South East Flows Restoration Project, there would be consultation with the broader community, individual landholders on the alignment and special interest stakeholder groups. The intention has always been to develop and deliver this program in a collaborative fashion.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: As a hypothetical question, minister, if the community said no, what would be the government's response to that?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: I imagine that, in that hypothetical case, we would have to work harder to win the support of the community.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: My final question is: that paragraph also refers to works to be undertaken on private land. Can the minister outline what sort of works were being anticipated?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: My advice is that that work on private land would essentially involve the widening of existing drains, new fences and new occupational crossings. I just have a further few remarks, if I might, in relation to some comments made by the Hon. Mr Brokenshire in his contribution to clarify a matter or two, and also in regard to some of the comments made in the other place about compensation provisions under the Upper South East Dryland Salinity and Flood Management Act.

I am advised that the act does provides for three classes of compensation, contrary to what some people have been saying in this debate. In relation to the South East Flows Restoration Project, it is the government's intention that landholders or persons with an interest in the land will be offered compensation under the Upper South East act in accordance with the principles and processes of the Land Acquisition Act.

I am also advised the government has agreed to a reduced project area. This will restrict some functions of the minister, including the area in which the minister can carry out works to the area required to deliver stage 1 of the South East Flows Restoration Project, should it be approved.

The Hon. R.L. BROKENSHIRE: Based on the answer from the minister, I ask the minister: what is the total budget that the government has for compensation? How much has it paid? What does it work on per hectare? If you are going to come in and tell us that—which is contrary to what we have been told—then put some facts on the table. How much money have you budgeted? How much have you actually put out there and what does that equate to per hectare? What model do you have for this compensation?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: My advice is that that is dependent on the business case, which is still under development, and it would, of course, be dependent on the uptake.

The Hon. R.L. Brokenshire: Not a good answer, minister.

The CHAIR: I am happy with it.

Clause passed.

Remaining clauses (2 to 6) and title passed.

Bill reported without amendment.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Communities and Social Inclusion, Minister for Social Housing, Minister for Disabilities, Minister for Youth, Minister for Volunteers) (16:40): I move:

That this bill be now read a third time.

Third reading negatived.