Murray-Darling Basin Plan

03 August 2017
scroll to continue

 

I have moved an amendment to the Premier’s motion because I believe that it is absolutely vital that South Australia puts forward a strong, united statement about the River Murray. The amendment I have outlined amends the Premier’s motion to align it with the motion that was passed yesterday by the Legislative Council.

That motion was supported by members of the government, the opposition, the Greens, Australian Conservatives, the Dignity Party and Mr Darley. It had cross-party support. We have already seen too many political games in relation to the River Murray. It is time we had a united, cross-party, bipartisan position, and aligned motions from the Legislative Council and the House of Assembly will send a strong message to Canberra and to the Prime Minister.

As the shadow minister with responsibility for the River Murray, I have been incredibly clear from the moment the ABC’s Four Corners program aired that the state Liberal Party will work with bipartisanship, alongside the government and any other political party or interest group interested in and committed to securing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan on time and in full.

Given our unequivocal statements on this matter, we were disappointed when the government chose not to include the state Liberal team in its cross-party press conference on Monday. I have heard many excuses on this point from both the Premier and minister Hunter, but the fact of the matter is that the government chose—as it has done too many times—to put politics above practical and pragmatic delivery for our River Murray.

Today, I am reiterating the state Liberal Party’s commitment and explicitly stating that this side of politics will not engage in political games at the expense of the River Murray. We have backed the government’s call for an inquiry. We did so yesterday in the urgency motion put to the Legislative Council and we are doing so again today. The South Australian Liberal Party has a proud history of backing the River Murray.

Our MPs have represented the river’s course for many years and those local MPs are unfailing voices for the river’s health and sustainability. The members for Chaffey, Hammond, Schubert, Stuart, MacKillop and Finniss have variously represented the river's course for many years, advocating for its environment, its economics and the many rural communities that rely on a healthy, vibrant river for their future. Our MPs stood with communities during horrors wrought by the Millennium Drought, and they know firsthand the importance of sustaining our river. Some of the river’s greatest champions sit in the state Liberal Party room.

The Murray-Darling system is 3,375 kilometres in length. It traverses some of the most productive landscapes in our country. It provides habitat to hundreds of species of birdlife, fish, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. It sustains agriculture, horticulture and viticulture, it provides a lifestyle and tourism destination and it is a huge economic artery giving life to thousands of businesses, creating tens of thousands of jobs in high-value industries, particularly in rural and regional Australia. The Murray-Darling basin contains 40 per cent of all Australia’s farms and 65 per cent of all farms that irrigate. It is a fundamental plank of our nation’s economy worth billions annually to our nation’s bottom line.

In South Australia, the River Murray underpins one of the great food bowls and export regions of our state, the Riverland, while towns from Renmark to Goolwa attract thousands of tourists who enjoy the recreational and social pursuits that life along the river provides. Australia's environment and economy needs the river to survive and thrive, and South Australia in particular, finding itself at the end of the river's long and meandering course, relies on a river that is still healthy and viable when it crosses our border.

We saw during the Millennium Drought just how vulnerable our river communities can be when the river's health starts to falter. Environmental, social and economic problems will quickly take hold, leaving scars that can take a generation to recover from. Yet, as is often the case in a time of crisis, the tragedy of the Millennium Drought inspired resilience and drove innovation the length of the river, especially in South Australia.

South Australian farmers and irrigators have always proudly led the nation in water efficiency practices, and drought drove us to redouble our efforts on this front. Further innovations were achieved, water usage was driven down and today the Riverland is an international leader in cutting-edge practices that deliver efficient and productive water use. We should be immensely proud of this.

Again, we should be proud of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, a compromise plan no doubt, a plan which has detractors and critics and which we all know is far from perfect, but this is a plan forged in the wake of doing the wrong thing for a century and it is a large and significant step in the right direction. We should also be proud that as a state we have been a driving force behind the plan and that our adherence to the plan and our commitment to fulfilling it is also nation leading.

While we should be proud, we should also be angry—very angry—when we see our hard work and our best practice adherence to the plan trampled over, ignored and taken for granted by other jurisdictions. When we see this behaviour, we should be able to stand up and let people know how we feel, as a government, as an opposition and as a state, working together to fight for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and for our river, the river that this plan aims to sustain.

Let's make no mistake: the allegations aired on Four Corners were damning. The theft of water from the river that was supposed to be given up for environmental gains is nothing short of abhorrent, and any rational person watching that program would be of the view that appropriate and detailed investigations must be undertaken by the appropriate authorities with the appropriate powers and the appropriate remedies to be able to hand down.

To date, the allegations are the subject of four separate inquiries and investigations: the NSW independent review led by Ken Matthews AO, former CEO of the National Water Commission, announced on 26 July; the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s review of compliance with state-based regulations governing water use announced by the Prime Minister on 30 July; the Australian National Audit Office’s review into the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources' efforts in monitoring water usage in NSW; and not least the referral to the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption. If the state government believes that a judicial inquiry should be added to this lengthy list, we support that call.

It is also worth stating that I believe that we have reached, perhaps unexpectedly, a critical juncture in the life of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. We stand at a precipice with regard to the viability of the plan going forward and, if goodwill is not maintained, relationships not restored and the plan not put back on an even keel, the whole thing—years of hard work, billions of dollars of investment and the attainment of genuine environmental and economic sustainability—will collapse. The impact of this will be devastating for the river and felt in the most pronounced way at the end of the system, here in South Australia.

The allegations on Four Corners should not be used to derail the Murray-Darling Basin Plan either for political or economic reasons, whether here in South Australia or by interstate interests. Make no mistake that there are irrigators in other jurisdictions who would like to see the plan fail. The very irrigators who are the subject of allegations raised in Four Corners are not champions of the plan. Its collapse serves their interests and we must not give them the pleasure of achieving this.

I join my parliamentary colleagues from both sides of this chamber in calling for the federal government to do all that is required to thoroughly investigate the allegations aired on Four Corners and also to put equal if not greater amounts of energy into securing the cross-jurisdictional relationships that must be in place to secure the viability of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. I also call on all jurisdictions in the Murray-Darling Basin to cooperate fully with any and all investigations and reviews that are undertaken, and for these to be completed as quickly and transparently as possible.

We must save the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. We must restore the goodwill that this plan has been founded on. We must confirm that environmental flows are doing just that: flowing for the benefit of our environment. Above all, we must engage with our colleagues across our political parties, and across the nation, to ensure that this happens. I commend the amended motion to the house.