House debates

Thursday, 12 November 2020

Bills

Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021; Consideration in Detail

10:42 am

Photo of Keith PittKeith Pitt (Hinkler, National Party, Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia) Share this | Hansard source

It's great to be here for consideration in detail of one part of my portfolio, which is obviously the component around water. This element is clearly focused predominantly around the Murray-Darling Basin, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and, of course, the basin plan. It's great to have the member for Nicholls here, who is a passionate advocate for efficient water use in his area of Victoria, around Shepparton, one of those great producing areas for agriculture. This is where you find the Two Fruits and all of those canned and fresh products that come out of there around Shep. Long may it continue.

As we've seen in recent months, it's been a tough time, not only for the nation but particularly for those involved in irrigated agriculture. There has been a drought for a considerable period throughout large parts of the basin. We've seen significant challenges in those smaller communities. What I've said very clearly since I have taken up the portfolio is that we are putting those regional communities back at the heart of the basin plan. We intend to ensure that they continue to have opportunities for growth, opportunities for development, opportunities to produce jobs. We know that many of them have been significantly affected by the basin plan over a period of time, and we want to ensure that they have further opportunities for economic growth.

One of the ways that we're doing that, as announced in September as part of the budget for this year, is the Murray-Darling Communities Investment Package. This is a significant investment in the Murray-Darling Basin. This is on top of what has been committed over a long period of time in a bipartisan way by governments of both stripes. Some $13 billion has been committed, and around $9 billion has already been invested as part of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. But this is about ensuring that we put those regional communities back at the heart of what we are doing, and that we strike the right balance between the needs of irrigators, the needs of the environment, the needs of business and the needs of community.

The Murray-Darling Communities Investment Package includes funding to invest in community resilience and river health. That includes $37.6 million over two years to work with the South Australian government to deliver projects that will sustain Riverland environments. These are about practical and actual outcomes. These are about environmental outcomes that actually make a difference on the ground. I'm very pleased to be working with Minister Speirs in South Australia, and our other South Australian counterparts at a federal level, to deliver actual outcomes for the environment. There is $37.6 million. There is $20 million over two years in the community-driven grants for on-ground projects that will improve the health of rivers and wetlands.

One of the challenges, and it's a significant challenge, is to continue to inform communities, and not just communities involved in the basin but right across Australia, because all Australians are interested in the health of the river system throughout the Murray-Darling Basin and what we have been doing over a long period of time to ensure we get that balance right, and this will certainly make a significant difference. There is $3.1 million over two years for the Indigenous River Rangers program to increase First Nations people's access to water for economic and social purposes and embed their participation in delivery of the Basin Plan. Once again, this is about ensuring that all members of the community are involved in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan's delivery. We will move to enforcement once we have all of our water resource plans accredited across what has obviously been a difficult and challenging period in terms of getting those things done.

The package will also include funding to build trust, transparency and accountability—what the feedback has been through the Keelty report, the Sefton report and others. I have had a wheelbarrow full of reports in the last few months, all of which we are obviously acting on. Very clearly, the community have said they need to be sure that what they are looking at is transparent information that can be trusted. Once again, the member for Nicholls has been instrumental in ensuring that this has been delivered. He's been a very outspoken advocate for his community and has ensured that they are well-informed and the information we are providing can be trusted. That includes $38.7 million over four years for compliance activities, including the establishment of a new statutory and independent inspector-general of water compliance. My counterpart, the shadow minister, who's in the Federation Chamber at the moment, is very interested in what's happening with this. I want to publicly thank Mr Keelty for his work. His contract expired at the end of September. I thank him for his report. We are acting on all five recommendations. Mr Keelty did not offer to continue and an offer was not provided. We are currently working our way through the process of ensuring that we can replace the interim inspector-general with what will be a beefed-up role, as I stated, in September. We are investing significantly in the communities who rely on irrigation and whose local economies rely on the health of the river. We are ensuring it's being provided in a balanced way, right across the spectrum, whether that is for the environment, for business or for irrigators. I'm very pleased to have the support of colleagues, like the member for Nicholls and others, who have been very active.

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