Tuesday, 19 June 2007
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources. Can the minister update the House on progress with the implementation of the National Plan for Water Security? Will the minister also inform the House of the position of stock and domestic water use under the plan?
I thank the honourable member for his question and recognise his and his constituents’ very keen interest in and knowledge of water resources. The National Plan for Water Security is the most significant reform to water management in our nation’s history. It is designed to ensure that our irrigated agriculture uses water most efficiently, that we make every drop count—a particularly important objective as we move into hotter and drier times in southern Australia. It is also designed to ensure that the management of the Murray-Darling Basin reflects the hydrological reality of one large, connected system of surface and groundwater resources and, in doing that, seeks to change the way in which the basin has been managed, or perhaps mismanaged, for more than a century.
We have been working very closely with four states and the Australian Capital Territory—five other jurisdictions—to bring the national plan to completion. It is fair to say that the state of Victoria has had a different view from the very outset as to what the plan should involve. But we have recently had very constructive discussions with the Victorian government. Only last week I had a very lengthy, detailed and constructive discussion, which went over four hours and through every page of the legislation, with my Victorian counterpart. Today, officials from all jurisdictions are meeting again and going through the detail. I am confident that we can reach an agreement that will enable us to bring this great vision to completion—a vision which would not be possible without the commitment of the Howard government to undertaking innovative measures, long-term measures, to deal with longstanding problems and without the financial security that more than a decade of strong economic management and the repayment of Labor’s debt have enabled it to afford.
I also thank the honourable member for asking me about stock and domestic water. Mr Speaker, as you in particular would know, landholders have a basic right to draw on water from contiguous surface and groundwater for the purpose of watering their stock and providing water for their domestic purposes. Stock and domestic purposes do not include irrigated agriculture. Nor do they include intensive animal husbandry such as feedlots. Stock and domestic water is not limited by volume; it is limited by the purpose for which it can be used. It is not charged for, like irrigation water is, because it is seen as a right inherent to the ownership of the land itself. The Commonwealth recognises and respects those rights. They are protected in the legislation of the basin states—in fact, in all states—and there is no intention to qualify or limit them in any way at all.
Concern has been expressed in some quarters about the metering of stock and domestic bores. Let me confirm that there is no intention to require metering of stock and domestic bores except in special circumstances where a particular groundwater system is under stress or where there are local disputes about water sharing. Those circumstances are canvassed in the National Water Initiative. Better metering and monitoring of water, of course, is a vital element in the national plan and essential for sustainable and informed management of our water and, in particular, our groundwater resources. In the rare cases where metering of stock and domestic bores is warranted, the cost should not be borne by the landholder other than with his or her agreement.