Thursday, 12 November 2020
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021; Consideration in Detail
In my electorate of Nicholls, which is right within the Murray-Darling Basin, we are engaged in this once-in-a-generation reform to try and restore the health of our river systems. We need to restore that to a sustainable level, but we also need to keep a very sharp eye on the communities, the industries and the environment. Our water resources are subject to increasing pressures, and not just economically but also through population growth, natural disasters and, particularly, drought.
Over the last decade, the Australian government has been delivering key reforms under the Basin Plan to improve river health, water reliability and deliverability. Around 2,100 gigalitres of water has been recovered from irrigation users to better find this balance between consumptive use and environmental use. We understand that there's another 450 gigalitres that is currently tacked onto the end of the Basin Plan that has a socioeconomic neutrality test associated with its recovery. Therefore, if the recovery of any of that water were to have a negative impact on the socioeconomic status of that community, it cannot be delivered.
This is something that we all need to acknowledge, and it's something that the reports referred to by both the minister and the shadow minister, the Keelty report and the Sefton report, which have been delivered recently, have acknowledged. Those reports acknowledged that the 450 gigalitres cannot be delivered without substantial pain to the communities. So, to address this and to reduce the impacts of the Basin Plan, the government—heavily facilitated by The Nationals in the way that they lobby—has introduced a 1,500 gigalitre cap on buybacks. We all understand that buybacks are the most dangerous and damaging way that water can be recovered.
It was also this government that prioritised projects for water efficiency gains instead of buybacks, and this has led to a better socioeconomic impact on our communities. We're also fighting hard to promote the states with their 605-gigalitre reductions in water recovery and those 36 projects that will lead to fantastic environmental outcomes but not at the expense of recovered water. It is critical that we get the 605 gigalitres of sustainable diversion limit adjustment projects completed so that there doesn't need to be any more water recovered. I think it's very clear that we are working very hard. I acknowledge the work that the minister is doing. Keith Pitt really is turning his hand to the task, and it's a huge task ahead of him.
The $269 million for the Murray-Darling Communities Investment Package is something that is making the communities the heart of the whole conversation. Some of these initiatives have brought fantastic life back to some of the smaller towns that have been at the giving end of all of this water recovery. We've got a $34 million extension of the Murray-Darling Basin Economic Development Program. That is picking up projects right around the Murray-Darling Basin. It allows communities most affected by the water recovery to apply for grants and get these projects up and running. This is a community-led program. These projects aren't imposed on the communities by government; they're actually developed from the community and come up through the community to government to deliver the projects that each of the communities want.
We've also allocated $20 million for community driven grants for on-the-ground river health projects. Again, this has been a fantastic initiative so that those people looking after the health of the rivers are able to put those funds exactly where they need to be. We are also working on river health projects that are important to each particular area and each particular stretch of river, and that's certainly making a big difference to the health of the overall basin. This $20 million for the community to look after the rivers means so much to each of those areas. The rehabilitation of favourite wetlands, the stocking of murray cod, riparian vegetation plantations—all of this is becoming very important work that is being facilitated by the funds that the minister has been able to put on the table. I thank him for the work he's doing.