Murray-Darling Basin plan


Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart) (12:29): I rise to speak to this motion as well. I take this motion extremely seriously for three main reasons and I will work through them. First of all, there is a significant stretch of the River Murray and communities in the electorate of Stuart, particularly in the area around Morgan, Blanchetown and Cadell. That area has been particularly hard-hit by the lack of water over the last many, many years. It is a tremendous part of the Riverland and has very proud communities.

I point out that Cadell, I think, has probably been hit hardest of just about any community that I can think of anywhere up and down the River Murray in South Australia. The reason for that is not because there is anything wrong with the community of Cadell; it is a very proud community with a lot going for itself, but it is near Morgan and Blanchetown, which have stronger tourism businesses, connections and infrastructure. They are more reliant on irrigation and primary production than many of the other towns, so they have suffered more because they have a bit less to fall back on.

The difficulties with the River Murray over the last decade, really, but certainly the last five years, have been particularly hard on that part of the Murray and on Cadell. Of course, they welcome the rains—primarily rains in Queensland, it is important to point out—that have come down our way. We have had a lot of good local rain that has helped all sorts of agriculture on either side of the river, but the extra water that is coming down the river at the moment has been welcomed by everybody, as we know.

Another area within the electorate of Stuart that has really done it tough is the area below Lock 1, downstream from Blanchetown. This is an area that not only suffered from the impacts of their ability to draw water for irrigation and the drought, but they also suffered enormously with regard to the drop in the level. Upstream of Lock 1, while there was reduced flow and reduced water running through the river, they did not lose their level, so tourism was still okay. They certainly went through hard times, probably more because of perception than anything else, and their aesthetic amenity was much better upstream where they did not lose their level but, goodness, below Lock 1, those people really, really suffered.

There was very little rain falling on their country on either side of the river. There were drastic cuts to what they could draw out of the river. Also, right in front of them, they really had the heartbreaking, very obvious hit-you-in-the-face issues of the water just subsiding and subsiding and subsiding. There was a very serious impact on the environment and biodiversity around that area as well, because when the water subsided the animals disappeared, the trees died, salt came through and all of those sorts of things.

From purely a Stuart perspective, I take these issues with the river very seriously, and of course have a particular interest in the minister's motion that the Natural Resources Committee inquire into the Murray-Darling Basin plan. My second main area of interest and reason for wanting to speak at the moment is that I think every single South Australian should have a very serious and a very sincere interest in what is going on with the Murray.

We have seen enormous changes and great difficulty with regard to the drastic cuts in irrigation, lack of water and, most importantly to my mind, the enormous impact on communities and the economy. The communities and the economies of the people who live on and near the river, up and down the full length of it in South Australia, have been really dreadfully impacted. Every South Australian takes an interest in that. I do not know exactly what the number is; the member for Chaffey may well know, but I am sure that 95 per cent, or something like that, of South Australians get their water from the River Murray. So what goes on with the river is, by definition, a statewide issue.

The other thing that is very important with regard to the River Murray, the drought and the lack of flows that we have seen coming from upstream over recent years, and now the tremendous rains that we have had in South Australia and in other places in the country which have led to the river levels rising and the flow increasing, and really boom times for the river, is the whole question as to what is reversible. For over 100 years we have been taking water out of this river, and we have caused difficulty for ourselves as a state and as communities. It is not as simple as to say, 'Well, if we change what we take out of it, if we stop taking it out, if we decrease what we take out, that it is automatically reversible and the environment just goes back to where it was 100 years ago.'

That is not the case. It is certainly not the case in my mind. In fact, we are seeing at the moment in that area, below Lock 1, that I mentioned before, that they were in a diabolical situation in the last few years; now they are in a very difficult situation because of the flooding. This is a vibrant, changing, up-and-down environment, and I think for us to think that we would just put a plan in place that will ameliorate all of that, fix that, get things back to the way we want it to be, even if we knew the way we wanted it to be anyway, is probably a little bit naive.

My second point is that every single South Australian should have a very intense interest in the health of this Murray and, of course, our section of the Murray in South Australia is a key component of the broader Murray-Darling Basin area.

My third reason for wanting to speak today and just say a few words on this is that I am a member of the Natural Resources Committee. There are other members here who may well choose to speak on the minister's motion. The things that I would like to say here from my own perspective as one member—not speaking on behalf of the whole committee, because other members can do that for themselves—is that I do very genuinely appreciate and join with some of the comments of the member for MacKillop that it is very unclear exactly what the minister is looking for this committee to do.

It may well become clearer, and the minister may well tell us in more detail down the track—that would be good—but to say that he would like us to inquire into the Murray-Darling Basin plan is a very broad, wide-open statement. The three key things, I suppose—and there are many—that I would highlight are: first, which draft of the plan exactly and when it is that he wants us to undertake the inquiry; second, what exactly the terms of reference would be, and it is very important to understand what the terms of reference would be; and, thirdly, what is he likely to do with our recommendations, whatever they may be? And I am not pre-empting what they would be at all.

I would like to have some confidence and I would like to have some commitment from the minister that, if he wants this committee to go through all this work, the recommendations would be listened to, followed and implemented to the best of his ability, because otherwise we would really be wasting our time.

Make no mistake, this would be an enormous job. Hundreds of people and millions of dollars have been spent already into looking into this issue, and that will get us up to a point where whichever draft of the plan the minister would like a committee to look into will be tabled, and then there will be another look at it. It just would not be worth anybody's time to go to all that extra cost, extra trouble and extra time, and the minister would have to find some extra resources for that committee to do it. It just would not be possible to do the work otherwise; but even if the resources were available it just would not make sense to use the resources and get the committee to do it if it was not to follow whatever the recommendations might be that would come out of that committee.

I will leave it at that, but I do have three very strong reasons to have a great interest in this. A significant part of the River Murray is in the electorate of Stuart. This is a statewide issue, and as a member of the Natural Resources Committee—and I do take my participation on that committee extremely seriously, and I know that other members of the committee do too—I think it is important to have the resources, and it is particularly important, minister, to know that whatever that committee recommends—and those recommendations would be coming at the tail end of an enormous amount of work by other people—if it was worth us doing the work, I would like to know that the recommendations would be followed.


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