Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee report Murray Darling Basin Plan

Before I start my remarks, I put on the record the appreciation of the people of the communities that I came from. I came into the process of the debate on this Murray-Darling Basin plan very late. As a person who lives on the river and as a water licence holder, we watched the whole development of the plan unfold over the last few years with complete and utter horror. It was not until I got here and realised that a committee such as the one that has produced this plan was actually in place to deal with all of the issues that the people in my community had been raising as matters that had not been addressed in the process of the plan.

So, I thank very much the members of the committee and the secretariat for taking up the work on behalf of those people who are living out there in rural and regional Australia, particularly those who live along the Murray-Darling system. Without the support that we were provided with from this committee I think we would be in a hell of a lot worse state than we are at the moment. Obviously, we support the plan. As Senator Nash said, it is far from perfect but it is a long way better than nothing. I just want to put on the record today a couple of things that I think are matters we need to watch over the coming months.

One of the things that was announced in October last year by Minister Burke and then by the South Australian Premier, Jay Weatherill, was an allocation of $265 million towards water recovery and industry regeneration programs in South Australia. This was in recognition, as Senator Edwards pointed out, of South Australia's very good and responsible track record with responsible water use over the last 40 years. The business case was supposed to be finalised before Christmas; before the end of 2012. I understand that a draft business case has only just been to presented to the department.

The other thing that is of great concern to the people in the communities in South Australia who were very grateful that they had been recognised by the allocation of this $265 million is: does the business case that has been provided to the government and developed with the South Australian government actually reflect the intent of how that money was supposed to be spent? The other thing I would also draw attention to is that Minister Burke announced $265 million: $180 million from the Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure program and $85 million from a fund to be established for 'research, regional development and industry redevelopment' in South Australia. I went onto the Water Industry Alliance website a few minutes before I came in here and it says that $240 million has been allocated to this project, so I would like to know where the $25 million has gone. I would also like to know how much of this funding, this $240 million that now appears to be left, is to be consumed by government departments, authorities and agencies in the administration of the Water Industry Alliance project.

The other question that still remains to be answered is: where are the plans? Where are the environmental watering plans? When are we going to see them? Without them, how do we actually know what works and measures and what changes to constraints we are going to need to be able to deliver the environmental outcomes that have been projected in the plan? Where is the impact of modelling? Where is the impact of 80,000 gigalitres a day across the border at South Australia? What is that going to do to caravan parks? What is that going to do to pastoral land that is low lying? I do not think anybody has actually bothered to really have a good, close look at it. We seem to be constantly putting the cart in front of the horse, and I do not think anybody has really looked at the potential for compensation.

One thing that we need to continually put on the record is that we must not have any more buybacks. We have spent enough of taxpayers' money on removing water out of productive use and reducing the basin's capacity to grow food. I would argue that any more cutbacks or buybacks will only have further detrimental effect on these regional communities. In the Riverland of South Australia we have lost 6,000 hectares of land that is out of production already. Projections suggest that anywhere up to a third of South Australia's irrigation water could be lost by 2024, and the flow-on impacts are absolutely massive. We should have addressed the efficiency gains through infrastructure first before we went to buyback. We did not do that, but let's call it quits now.

I would also like to draw the attention of the house to comments made by the Premier of South Australia in relation to this water industry funding: 'The funding, along with the Prime Minister's commitment to return water to the river, will provide much-needed water to our six million professional fishermen.' How can the Premier and Minister Burke be making a statement like that at the very same time that they have scrapped the Native Fish Strategy? It just does not seem to make much sense. On one hand, they are out there crowing about the fact that they have allocated all this money and they are going to achieve this for our fishermen; on the other hand, they have completely scrapped any possibility of developing a native fish strategy for the continuation and the preservation of our very important native fish.

As many people live in the Murray-Darling Basin as live in Western Sydney. Is the Prime Minister intending to visit the communities of the basin over the coming months to try and gain their hearts and their votes? I wish her all the best

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