Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012; Consideration in Detail
I present a supplementary memorandum to the bill and move government amendment (5), as circulated:
(5) Schedule 1, item 2, page 6 (after line 11), at the end of subsection 86AD(2), add:
Note 1: As a result of subsection (4) of this section, water access rights may be purchased only if the purchase is related to an adjustment of a long term average sustainable diversion limit under section 23A. That section requires the Basin Plan to prescribe criteria in relation to such adjustments. The effect of the criteria prescribed by the Basin Plan is that water access rights may be purchased only in conjunction with improving irrigation water use efficiency on farms or an alternative arrangement proposed by a Basin State.
Note 2: Under this Part, the Commonwealth will not conduct open tender rounds that are available to all water access entitlement holders in a water resource plan area to purchase water access rights.
This is an amendment which has been sought and referred to in the inquiries which have been conducted by the Windsor committee. In particular, it clarifies the intentions of the Commonwealth and makes clear that open round tenders are not considered part of the way in which water would be recovered to achieve the additional 450 gigalitres. It is a clarification which has been sought to be made formally in the bill, and the government is happy to do that.
Question agreed to
by leave—I move government amendments (1) to (4) and (6) to (7), as circulated, together:
(1) Schedule 1, page 3 (before line 5), before item 1, insert:
1A Subsection 4(1)
Lock 1 means Weir and Lock No 1 Blanchetown referred to in Schedule A to the Agreement.
1B Subsection 4(1)
1C Subsection 4(1)
Murray Mouth Barrages means the Murray Mouth Barrages referred to in Schedule A to the Agreement.
(2) Schedule 1, item 2, page 3 (line 23) to page 4 (line 7), omit subsection 86AA(2), substitute:
(2) Without limiting subsection (1), environmental outcomes can be enhanced in the following ways:
(a) further reducing salinity levels in the Coorong and Lower Lakes so that improved water quality contributes to the health of insects, fish and plants that form important parts of the food chain, with the aim of achieving the following outcomes:
(i) the maximum average daily salinity in the Coorong South Lagoon is less than 100 grams per litre;
(ii) the maximum average daily salinity in the Coorong North Lagoon is less than 50 grams per litre;
(iii) the average daily salinity in Lake Alexandrina is less than 1000 microsiemens per centimetre for 95% of years and 1500 microsiemens per centimetre all of the time;
(b) keeping water levels in the Lower Lakes above:
(i) 0.4 metres Australian Height Datum for 95% of the time; and
(ii) 0.0 metres Australian Height Datum at all times;
to provide additional flows to the Coorong, and to prevent acidification, acid drainage and riverbank collapse below Lock 1;
(c) ensuring the mouth of the River Murray is open without the need for dredging in at least 95% of years, with flows every year through the Murray Mouth Barrages;
(d) discharging 2 million tonnes of salt per year from the Murray Darling Basin as a long term average;
(e) further increasing flows to the Coorong through the Murray Mouth Barrages, and supporting fish migration;
(f) in conjunction with removing or easing constraints referred to in subparagraph (h)(ii), providing opportunities for environmental watering of an additional 35,000 hectares of floodplains in the River Murray System, to do the following:
(i) improve the health of forests and the habitats of fish and birds;
(ii) improve connections between the floodplains and rivers in the River Murray System;
(iii) replenish groundwater;
(g) increasing the flows of rivers and streams, and providing water to low and middle level floodplains and habitats that are adjacent to rivers and streams, in the River Murray System:
(i) to enhance environmental outcomes within those floodplains, habitats, rivers and streams; and
(ii) to improve connections between those floodplains and habitats, and those rivers and streams;
(h) in any other way that is consistent with:
(i) the Authority's modelling of the effect of increasing the volume of the Basin water resources that is available for environmental use by 3200 gigalitres; and
(ii) easing or removing constraints on the capacity to deliver environmental water to the environmental assets of the Murray Darling Basin.
(3) Schedule 1, item 2, page 4 (line 13), omit "up to".
(4) Schedule 1, item 2, page 5 (lines 29 to 31), omit paragraph 86AD(2)(a)(iv), substitute:
(iv) better utilising existing dams and storages to deliver environmental water to the environmental assets of the Murray Darling Basin;
(6) Schedule 1, item 2, page 8 (lines 1 to 6), omit section 86AH.
(7) Schedule 1, item 2, page 9 (after line 27), at the end of Part 2AA, add:
86AJ Reviews of this Part
(1) The Minister must cause 2 independent reviews to be conducted into whether the amount standing to the credit of, and to be credited to, the Water for the Environment Special Account is sufficient to increase, by 30 June 2024, the volume of the Basin water resources that is available for environmental use by 450 gigalitres, and to ease or remove constraints identified by the Authority on the capacity to deliver environmental water to the environmental assets of the Murray Darling Basin.
(2) A review must be conducted by a panel of at least 3 persons nominated by the Minister, after consulting each Basin State.
(3) In conducting a review under subsection (1), a panel must also consider the following:
(a) the progress that has been, and is anticipated to be, made towards increasing the volume of the Basin water resources that is available for environmental use;
(b) whether the design of projects in relation to which payments have been made under section 86AD is likely to be effective in increasing the volume of the Basin water resources that is available for environmental use by 450 gigalitres;
(c) any other matter specified in writing by the Minister that is relevant to achieving the object of this Part.
(4) A panel must give the Minister a written report of a review.
(5) The report of the first review must be provided to the Minister by 30 September 2019.
(6) The report of the second review must be provided to the Minister by 30 September 2021.
(7) The Minister must cause a copy of a report of a review to be tabled in each House of the Parliament within 15 sitting days of that House after the day the report is given to the Minister.
(8) The Minister must table the Government's response to the report by the following time:
(a) for the first review—the time the Treasurer presents the budget to the Parliament for the 2020 2021 financial year;
(b) for the second review—the time the Treasurer presents the budget to the Parliament for the 2022 2023 financial year.
These amendments remove the reference to 'up to 450 gigalitres' and make it '450 gigalitres' but put in place a process which gives a clear line of sight to the parliament and to the public as to whether or not enough money has been set aside to achieve the 450 gigalitres, and it would then be a budgetary decision for the government of the day to determine whether or not additional money was to be put in.
We are very confident that the money set aside is more than enough to be able to provide for the additional 450 gigalitres through farm infrastructure works. The original wording of 'up to' was put in place on advice that it was difficult to guarantee, where we were dealing with a voluntary system. While it is true that it would be an unusual circumstance if farmers were offered an opportunity where the government paid for brand-new equipment and they then said, 'No, we don't want that,' nonetheless it is a possible scenario and it has meant we have had to work through a wording where the bill would accurately reflect the commitment of the government.
The commitment of the government is to provide the funds required for the additional 450 gigalitres of water and to remove the relevant capacity constraints. We believe the bill does this but, given that there has been some doubt in communities because of the inclusion of the words 'up to', this amendment addresses that and also makes clear the environmental outcomes which are sought as the additional water is required. This will also provide a level of guidance to the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder in the environmental outcomes that are being sought with the additional 450 gigalitres.