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Murray-Darling Basin reform

Rachel Siewert 4 Sep 2008

My question is to the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Wong. My question concerns progress on the intergovernmental agreement on the Murray-Darling Basin reform and the referral of powers by state and territories required to give effect to the agreement and to establish a basin plan.

Can the minister inform the Senate how many of the states and territories of the Murray-Darling Basin have passed this enabling legislation?

How many have even drafted and introduced such legislation in time to meet the 1 November 2008 deadline, as committed to in the IGA?

Will any states or territories be able to meet this deadline and will the promised reforms of the intergovernmental agreement be in place by 1 November 2008?


Senator WONG-Firstly, in relation to the IGA, as the Senate would be aware, first ministers signed an intergovernmental agreement on 3 July at the COAG meeting in relation to the Murray-Darling Basin to implement the reforms necessary to meet the current needs of the basin and to protect and enhance its social, environmental and economic values in the long term. I think it is worth reminding the Senate of some of the important things that the IGA puts in place. For the first time it brings together under one body the management of the Murray-Darling Basin through the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, and I have already appointed a South Australian, Mr Rob Freeman, to head that up. Of course, the authority will, for the first time, create a basin-wide plan and a basin-wide cap, with the Commonwealth minister having sign-off.

This is a complex reform. It is a reform that, senators will recall, the former government and the former minister promised and were never able to deliver. We are working through the detail of the implementation of the IGA with the states. In the intergovernmental agreement, it was agreed that the states, the territories and the Commonwealth would use their best endeavours to enable new legislative arrangements to commence on 1 November. We continue to work through the detail of that with the state governments. Senator, I know your party and other senators in the chamber have made some comments in relation to the legislative arrangements governing the Murray-Darling Basin, and they have asked what the constitutional powers and so forth are.

I want to make his point: I invite the Greens and the crossbenches to consider the advice that was provided to the Senate committee and the clearly difficult situation that exists in the basin. I remind the Senate that the primary issue we are confronting in the Murray-Darling Basin, particularly in the southern Murray, is record low inflows. The head of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission, Wendy Craig, said that we continue to set records we do not wish we were setting. None of the issues around constitutional power and legislative authority deal with or address the primary problem, which is this: we simply do not have enough water at the moment to do everything we need to.

Senator Bob Brown-I rise on a point of order. The minister is inviting the crossbench to look at a report, but I would, through you, invite her to look at the question, which is about how many relevant governments have signed up to the agreement.

The PRESIDENT-I draw the attention of the minister to the question.

Senator WONG-All relevant jurisdictions signed up to the intergovernmental agreement. That was what was announced at COAG on 3 July. What is being worked through is the ways in which we have to give legislative effect to that. That involves, I am advised-and this is outlined in the IGA schedule A-a revised Murray-Darling Basin agreement, which will need to be included as a schedule to the Water Act, and amendments to the Water Act, which include provisions enabling referral of state powers, basin-state referral bills and a referral intergovernmental agreement. So we are working through those. We will continue to use our best endeavours to meet the 1 November date that first ministers indicated. Obviously, we continue to work through that. There has been a number of meetings at officer level in relation to this issue, and we will continue to engage through that process.

Supplementary Question

Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I can assume from that answer that no states have drafted any legislation to introduce these reforms. In light of the lack of, or the hold-up in, whole-of-basin reforms, could the minister inform the Senate as to how many irrigation districts, areas-whichever name the various states use-are approaching the four per cent threshold cap on permanent trade out of their irrigation area, and could she name these, please? 

Supplementary Answer

Senator WONG-I do not have the detailed information of which catchments are approaching the four per cent in front of me. I will say that your comment-

Senator Abetz-They should be front of mind.

Senator WONG-It is interesting I get interjections from the opposition. This is a party that never wanted to buy water now complaining about a four per cent cap, which you actually support. Which is your position, Senator Abetz-through you, Mr President?

I just want to make one comment in response to the supplementary question. In relation to state legislation, obviously that is an issue for the states in terms of where they are up to in their drafting. What we are doing is working with them through the process to deliver an agreement those on the other side were never able to deliver, because they were a party that did not believe in working with the states to deliver a whole-of-basin reform. (Time expired)

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