Mr WHETSTONE (Chaffey) (14:40): My question is to the Deputy Premier and Minister for Climate, Environment and Water. Does the Deputy Premier stand by her comments regarding water efficiency targets? With your leave, and that of the house, I will explain, sir.
Mr WHETSTONE: On 27 April, the River Murray commissioner said, 'Governments must buy water back rather than waste time and money on efficiencies,' to which the Deputy Premier replied, 'Evidence clearly supports Beasley's claims that efficiency targets are not working.' Today, the Deputy Premier said, 'The inaction from upstream states needs to stop and has all but guaranteed voluntary buybacks as the only viable way we will recover the water we need' to achieve the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
The Hon. S.E. CLOSE (Port Adelaide—Deputy Premier, Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Minister for Defence and Space Industries, Minister for Climate, Environment and Water) (14:41): What we are talking about is the way in which the 450 gigalitres that is in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan—which was the requirement by South Australia to be in the plan for South Australia to sign up to it—can be delivered. Unlike the rest of the environmental water, at present it is in the plan that the 450 gigalitres will be recovered through efficiency projects.
Unfortunately, 4.5 gigalitres have been recovered using that mechanism for a variety of reasons: one is of course that the National Party was given control of the Murray-Darling Basin and the water portfolio generally during those nine long years of the various versions that ended up being the Morrison government, and they have an implacable dislike of giving any water to the environment, particularly the 450 gigalitres.
So we had a series of challenges in water efficiency programs that might in any way deliver anything like the 450 gigalitres. First of all, there was this endless discussion about the socio-economic impact of water efficiency and the demand from the other states that was finally acceded to by the South Australian government at the time to have far more complex criteria that would attach to any water efficiency projects that would be supported. In fact, even though they were agreed to, that promptly resulted in very, very little additional water being allocated through water efficiency.
That then almost became moot because the government decided that water efficiency projects on farms, where water is used, would no longer be supported by that government. There would be no on-farm efficiency projects and there would only be off-farm efficiency projects. The long list of off-farm efficiency projects that were put forward by that federal government included things like fixing up some bridges to assist with transport, which is no doubt a good thing to do in itself but is unlikely to deliver water efficiency to assist with the 450 gigalitres.
South Australia has no objection in principle to the idea of water being used more efficiently and nor, I imagine, does the commissioner, Richard Beasley. What Richard Beasley is referring to is this idea that the water efficiency program that was aimed at being able to deliver 450 gigalitres of water to the environment would in fact result in those 450 gigalitres and that has been demonstrated to be true by the fact that we have 4.5 gigalitres and a further 10 or 15 gigalitres in projects that are yet to be delivered. That gets us nowhere near the scale of the 450 required.
It has been obvious for some time that, if we are to deliver this 450 gigalitres, we are going to have to use other methods as well, including voluntary buybacks. The vast majority of the water that has been delivered under the plan to date has been done through voluntary buybacks, through people, willing to sell, selling to the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder.
The problem with delivering that for the 450 gigalitres is, firstly, that it has been said that it will only be done by water efficiency and, secondly, the Barnaby Joyce cap on buying water voluntarily. There is about 200 gigalitres left in that cap, but that cap has meant that it is simply legislatively impossible at this stage for voluntary buybacks to be used.
The commissioner has a very firm view that that is the most efficient way to deliver the water—not that it is impossible to deliver it in any other way, although to date it has proven to be so—but that if we are going to use finances in the most efficient mechanism to get the water, to have a sustainable plan, it will need to use voluntary buybacks.