Mr WHETSTONE (Chaffey) (14:49): My question is again to the Minister for Climate, Environment and Water. Has the Deputy Premier received advice from her department in relation to water efficiency projects and, if so, what is it? With your leave, sir, and that of the house, I will explain.
Mr WHETSTONE: On 13 April 2023, the Deputy Premier announced a $5.7 million efficiency project, saying, 'It's great to see this innovative efficiency measures project progressing to the construction phase and contributing to the delivery of the SA basin target.' Her department's website says that water efficiency measures 'benefit irrigation, communities and the environment' and 'better prepares irrigators and their communities to manage the impacts of a changing climate'.
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) (14:50): I am grateful for the explanation; that really helped. I think what the member is concerned about is this question of whether, because the commissioner has advised that voluntary buybacks are the best approach for getting the majority of the 450 gigalitres and because I am supportive of that view, somehow it is impossible for water efficiency to ever be useful.
As I indicated in my previous answer, water efficiency does have a role to play: it has played a role of 4.5 gigalitres to date, and there are another 10 or 15 gigalitres in the pipeline (forgive the expression; it's not deliberate) of projects. But again, that gets us nowhere near the 450 gigalitres. So the question is not 'Is water efficiency a bad idea?'—how could it ever be a bad idea?—but whether putting all the emphasis on water efficiency projects to deliver the 450 is working—and it demonstrably hasn't worked to date. One could say that if one waited long enough at the rate that we are going, if you could last for the rest of the century, you might get to 450 gigalitres, but the Murray-Darling Basin doesn't have that time.
What we are talking about is not some sort of indulgence or some political pointscoring; what we are talking about is a healthy, working Murray-Darling Basin. South Australia has traditionally, on both sides of parliament, been the loudest to talk about the Murray-Darling because we are at the bottom, because we see the impact of the drying before anyone else. So, for us, we are arguing for the entitlement that was the reason that South Australia signed up to the plan but, in fact, on behalf of the health of the entire Murray-Darling Basin we should—and I think in this state we do—all want a sustainable basin.
That requires a certain amount of water to be available to the environment when it is needed for the environment: not as an indulgence, not as a luxury, but as a necessary ingredient to have a sustainable basin. The question is: how do you get that amount of water? The amount that's allocated under the plan is the bare minimum that any reasonable scientist would say is necessary to guard against the risks of the drying and warming basin.
Bear in mind, when that plan was set, climate change was not taken into account. Bear in mind that the CSIRO started with a much higher volume of water that they regarded as being necessary. What occurred through a series of negotiations, driven by the Eastern States, was that the plan went from over 5,000 gigalitres—and, in fact, some scientists saying that it should be 7,900 gigalitres returned to the environment—down to 3,200, with 605 being taken off for projects that weren't actually water but were regarded as equivalent to water, and then 450 being put at risk by being only able to be delivered through water efficiency.
So there we are: we are down to a 2,100 gigalitre plan. That's not okay. That shouldn't be okay for anyone in the Murray-Darling Basin, let alone anyone in South Australia who signed up to this plan. All South Australia is asking for is that the plan that was signed up to be delivered. We are not trying to redraw the plan. We are not trying to say that the plan should be a different figure, although the review will doubtless suggest that that amount is insufficient. What we are asking for is a plan that we signed up to to be delivered, and because the National Party has had its foot on the throat of the water portfolio for the best part of 10 years that has not happened.