Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission

 The Hon. T.J. WHETSTONE (Chaffey—Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development): I rise today to support this motion, and I cannot emphasise how important this motion is not only to this state but to the machinations of the Murray-Darling Basin. Let's take a little step back in history.

From many of us, we have heard today about the state of play. We have had the royal commission and we have the basin plan, which has been delivered in part. If we look back to 2012, when the basin plan was legislated, it was legislated to achieve the sustainable diversion limits (SDL) of 2,750, with a review in 2019. Sir, we are in 2019. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority will have that review on 31 June. Of course, there was then the negotiation of the 450 gigalitres of upwater that sat alongside the 2,750, bringing the total to 3,250.

In South Australia, we are in the unique situation of being at the bottom of the system, at the bottom of the Murray-Darling Basin. What that means is that we are supporting a number of environments that no other state is. We support the delta of the basin, which is the shallow flood plains of the Murray-Darling Basin. We do not have the mountain ranges or the large catchments that the other states have. What we do have is a large set of wetlands reliant on river flows and good environmental flows that come into our state for the health of our forests, wetlands, native plants and native trees that have been there since time began.

We also have to understand that we are the guardians of the Murray Mouth. The Murray Mouth is obviously something that is very important to the river. Over time, there has been a lot of conjecture about the Murray Mouth being opened, the Murray Mouth being closed, human intervention and having to dredge it.

In any given year in South Australia we have an allocation of 1,850 gigalitres of entitlement that comes across the border. We also have unregulated flows that come into the state. They are environmental flows, convenience water, there to sustain the 540 gigalitres, or thereabouts, of consumptive water that comes in for the communities, the irrigators, our exporters and our farmers. Just as importantly, they are part of a working river and a working river is sustained by the environment.

There is no-one in existence who works better with our river system and wants it to be healthy than the irrigators and their communities. They are the eyes and ears of the River Murray. In all the basin state jurisdictions, there are a number of organisations that are the custodians. There are the conservation groups, the local action planning groups, the friends of the river groups, who are all part of the guardianship process.

In South Australia, we have a government determined to make sure that we have a basin plan delivered in full and on time to make sure that we have a healthy, working river and to make sure that we have a river for our future that we can be proud of. Be aware, the world is watching. A royal commission has come out in the last couple of weeks and, taking a step back in time, a basin plan was also developed.

I remember, as the chairman of the South Australian Murray Irrigators, flying to Canberra, meeting with the then minister for environment, Malcolm Turnbull, and the prime minister, John Howard. I took over a set of sums that showed that there was more water for consumptive entitlement in that year than there was in storage. Alarm bells were ringing loud and clear. That is why the then prime minister used $10 billion from the proceeds of the sale of Telstra to put on the table a reform package to save the Murray-Darling Basin.

Along the way, there has been much conjecture. Many, many river communities have burned the books, burned the plan, had sleepless nights, been through drought and been through the reform package, but by and large they have been a part of that process. They have been a part of that process because they know they have to be the custodians and be a part of the solution. It is not just about governments coming in and wanting to compulsorily acquire water. That is not the answer.

In the royal commission, Mr Walker categorically said that the best way for taxpayers to support the basin is to acquire water or buy the water back. We have seen what the buybacks have done to the river communities. We have seen what they have done to many of the environmental assets that we have, particularly in South Australia: right across the basin there are dead properties everywhere. We are now seeing a form of recovery, and it is driven by efficiency gains. Those efficiency gains have, by and large, been the saviour of our basin communities. The basin communities are not only the people, the irrigators and the communities who are giving up the water: they are the advice to government.

Initially, Senator Wong came to South Australia, and it was her first regional trip dealing with her new portfolio within water and the environment. I asked her to come up to the Riverland and have a look at some of the efficiencies that our irrigators had achieved, some of the world-class showpieces where she could see firsthand what South Australia was doing, leading by example, so that she could benchmark what she should be trying to achieve for the Murray-Daring Basin.

On that trip, I saw that she had come a little unaware of just how it all worked, but she learnt very quickly. Thank goodness, she was replaced by Tony Burke, who I think is one of the great politicians who understands the basin. He came to the Riverland a number of times, and I met with him many times to discuss ways that we could bring the community with us. It was about just that: understanding that, if we were going to have a successful basin plan, it was to be something put down in the history books as reform that was history making—history making within the world's river systems—and that is exactly what he did.

I know that still today he holds that initiative very dear to his heart. Every day, every waking moment he, like many other water ministers, is very concerned about the basin plan continuing to survive and continuing to move forward, but we continue to have this political interference. We saw the royal commissioner's review: his opinion, his commentary was more political interference. A previous state government came in and used the river as nothing more than a political tool—nothing more.

We saw logos on trucks. I know that the premier promised truck drivers that he would get the state more water if they allowed him to put his logos on their trucks. Many people were wearing T-shirts with logos saying, 'We will fight for the river.' However, what he forgot to tell people was, 'We will not be delivering any water for the river because we are out there for political gain and we are out there for political gain only.' What the previous government forgot to mention was that South Australia has a number of issues, constraints by and large, and those constraints are structures or natural landforms that get in the way of river flow. We have six locks in South Australia, which all support some of the great environmental assets that we have: the Ramsar sites on our river corridor.

Some of the projects that we have had the opportunity to look at, to understand and to bring to the table are ones that the previous government ignored. I note that the last water minister in the previous government continued to deny the scoping study and some of the initiatives that we needed for our environmental assets.

We have been so focused on numbers within the basin plan that we have actually forgotten what the bigger picture is. That bigger picture is outcomes, environmental outcomes. As communities within the Riverland, within the river and within the irrigation sector, we are giving up that water to make sure that we have a healthy environment, but we also have to understand that governments have a responsibility to make sure that those environmental assets that we have are second to none and that we put environmental outcomes into the Lower Lakes, the Coorong and all our wetlands.

If we work our way into South Australia, by and large some of the great environmental assets that we have are in South Australia. We will start at Lock 6, the Chowilla wetland. The Chowilla wetland is what I regard as the ancient forest of the Murray-Darling Basin. We have some trees, 500 or 600 years old, that are still surviving because of environmental flow.

If we go to Lock 5, we have the Pike River project and the Margaret Dowling projects. These are environmental projects that are gold plating the infrastructure that was previously there. I might add that the majority of the infrastructure that was previously there was put there by irrigators. It was put there by government departments in conjunction with those irrigators and those communities, because the irrigators know how the flows work. They know when the flows are coming and how the structures will best serve the environment.

The Katarapko project that is currently underway at Lock 4 is another great environmental work and measure to make sure that we deal with the environmental flows, as is the Banrock wetland at Lock 3. Every river system has points in it now with structures. They are the locks, but every structure has a bypass. The Chowilla wetland is the bypass to Lock 6. The Pike River and the Margaret Dowling projects are bypasses to Lock 5. At Lock 4, there is the Katarapko project. These are all bypasses that go around the locks to make sure that we sustain a healthy environment.

What we are doing now, through the basin plan, is making sure that those environmental structures are in place for another 100 years. The basin has seen, to its detriment over the last 100 years, overallocation, government mismanagement and environmental mismanagement, but we are now putting a plan in place so that we can tend to the needs of the environment.

Again, I do not want to harp on the 3,200 figure, but I do want to harp on the works and measures that this state has been denied through a previous government walking away from its responsibility because of no political gain or political capital in putting connections from the Lower Lakes into the Coorong. We want to make sure that we wet and dry some of our wetlands, that some of those environmental projects are for the benefit of the health of the river and that we have a healthy working river.

I make note of the great projects that have been achieved over the course of time. The   3IP project that came into South Australia with $265 million was a great initiative—a really great initiative. That was about efficiency gains, not about buying the water back. We saw what buyback did to the Riverland communities. It had a Swiss cheese effect right around our communities, and we saw dead blocks everywhere.

The minister was up in the Riverland recently and I showed him the comparison between on one side of the road a buyback property and on the other side of the road a green thriving state-of-the-art property that had taken up the initiative to give back some of their water allocation in return for taxpayers' money to make sure that their business was sustainable for the future. It is about making sure that they are not only water efficient but that they grow a product that the world is looking for. What we saw was the comparison of buyback versus efficiency gain.

Two hundred and eighty-one projects or efficiency programs have been achieved in South Australia. I am parochial: most of those projects have been achieved in the Riverland. A majority of the water given back as part of our contribution to the basin plan has come out of Riverland irrigators' allocations but, by and large, South Australia has worked collaboratively. I know that the lower end of the river has given up large amounts of water, particularly through the dairy sector. They have done that for efficiency gains.

They have done that to make sure that those irrigators and those properties are there for the future. Once you have sold the water back, there is no future unless efficiency gains give an irrigator the opportunity to come back in and rebuild that property, making sure that it is sustainable while also working with the health of the river. Those 281 projects have allowed the communities and the irrigators to adjust to growing more with less water. They have also allowed the basin plan to be successful. It has allowed the programs that have been put in place to achieve environmental water.

We know that about 2,150 gigalitres of water have been achieved for the environment. Again, all this water that communities and irrigators are giving up is specifically for the health of the river, specifically for the environment, so that we work in a healthy environment but also on a river that is a working river. That is very important to note.

I will just touch on the commissioner's report, which is very, very concerning. When the minister came up to the Riverland on the Friday after the report was released, what we saw—and this is the comparison—on that Friday was minister Speirs visiting the Riverland and visiting irrigators. He visited the Irrigation Trust, he visited the environmental groups, and he listened and learnt more.

However, further down the river, at Waikerie, we saw the Leader of the Opposition down there with Labor Party members. None of them were irrigators, not one of them gave up water—not one of them—but he was there having a photo opportunity with his Labor mates while minister Speirs was upriver speaking with the irrigators, with the Irrigation Trust leaders, with the community, better understanding why buybacks were not the answer. He was there understanding why water efficiency programs were the saviour of the Riverland communities.

They are the answer for the success of the basin plan. The 450 gigalitres that minister Speirs has sat around the table with is something those opposite could never achieve. We had a foul- mouthed minister, with expletives at other ministers, walking away from the negotiating table because he was fighting for South Australia, fighting to achieve nothing, fighting so that he could fight, for the sake of standing up for South Australia but achieving nothing, absolutely nothing.

We have seen environmental works, missed opportunities. Minister Speirs was able to get

$70 million, something the previous government never achieved. All they wanted to do was fight, all they wanted to do was have a perception, all they wanted to do was have this political stoush that achieved nothing, not a thing. For the $265 million that came to South Australia, who gave up the water? The irrigators and their communities gave up the water. They gave up the water because they know they need a healthy river, they know they are the future of South Australian river communities, they know they are part of an export program, and they know they are doing the right thing.

The 450 gigalitres would never have been achieved under a previous regime. We now have the basin states at the table, and they are saying, 'We are looking to South Australia as an example. How do we achieve the 450?' The four 3IP programs, or the rounds of the 3IP programs, have been a great success, and we now look to the COFFIE programs. We now look at future ways of delivering environmental water, making sure we have economic outcomes, making sure we have a healthy working river for South Australia to be proud of.

For long periods of time we have stood up and said that we are the most efficient irrigators in the world, but we cannot just sit back and rest on our laurels. We have to prove to the world that we continue to strive for those gains and we actually have to commend the people who are doing the hard work. The people who are doing the hard work are the people who are negotiating at the table, negotiating with the other basin states, the irrigators, to continue to look for more efficiencies, making sure they are part of the solution.

I remember the political interference from day one. Since 2007, when I first met a politician for the betterment of the river, there has been political interference day and night. The river communities are tired. They are tired of the political interference. They are doing the heavy lifting and the politicians are getting in the way of that process.

Minister Speirs has demonstrated his ability to negotiate, the Premier has demonstrated his ability to be a good leader, and this side of the chamber, this government, the Marshall Liberal government, will fight for South Australia. We will deliver the 3,220 gigalitres of water for a healthy working river.


The Hon. T.J. WHETSTONE (ChaffeyMinister for Primary Industries and Regional Development) (15:16): I thank the member for MacKillop for his very important question. Yes, the state government are delivering for regional South Australia and I can tell you that the 10-year commitment that we put as an election commitment—$150 million over 10 years—is being delivered. The Regional Growth Fund has been closed. The competitive round has been run and it has been assessed.

I was recently up at Mount Gambier, close to the member for MacKillop's home, and we were able to make a very, very important announcement and that is that we put $10 million towards the Mount Gambier regional community and recreation hub. I think it's an outstanding achievement. It was a collaborative effort, both by the federal government and the local government, and with the state government's commitment to regional South Australia.

The investment is not only for the South-East and Mount Gambier. It will be a recreation hub for the South-East of the state. It will go towards investing in a $39 million project. I think it's an outstanding commitment on behalf of the state government, the federal government and, by and large, the council there. I met with the deputy mayor and she is absolutely elated. It has been       30 years that they have been lobbying for this project—30 long years—and we have now delivered for them. We have given them certainty and they can now move forward with it. I know the local member was absolutely delighted to be there with the deputy mayor for the announcement because he, too, has fought long and hard for this project.

What I will say is that this is going to create a vibrancy in the South-East that they have long wanted, particularly with the sale of the forward rotations of the forest. That was a serious blow to their confidence and their economic viability. This is a project that is great for the community and great for confidence within the area. It will allow them to host national sporting events. It will allow them to host conferences and the like down at Mount Gambier. It is an area that we as a government would like to build as a regional city. We don't have a regional city in South Australia. The regions have been forgotten for such a long time, particularly for the last 16 years. We are going to change the focus and govern for all of South Australia. What I will say is that—

Members interjecting:

The SPEAKER: Order!

The Hon. T.J. WHETSTONE: —as part of the Regional Growth Fund, it is also about supporting population growth in the regions. For too long we have seen an exodus out of our regions. They are moving out of the regions because of centralisation—a government's small-minded thinking. People moved to Adelaide for services and to look for jobs. This is an opportunity now for the regions to grow. It's about an opportunity for the regions to prosper. There are two other Regional Growth Fund commitments, including the North West Indigenous Pastoral Project, which allows Indigenous groups to undertake property management planning for infrastructure and enable land in the north-west to be brought back into production. This is about increasing our herd numbers—our capacity to increase the red meat sector—so that we can grow our exports and create more jobs. It's unlocking potential here in South Australia.

This is as well as the Coolanie Water Scheme project. That is a project that was put forward by the Franklin Harbour area council on Eyre Peninsula. It's a project that will deliver 22 farms with water for their livestock. It's a project that will give them a capacity to again unlock potential here in South Australia. It's about unlocking that potential, particularly for the red meat sector—one of the largest sectors in the state—and the state's economy—$5.4 billion. It will now have the opportunity to expand and prosper. And remember, hashtag #RegionsMatter.