House debates

Tuesday, 2 August 2022

Questions without Notice

Murray-Darling Basin

2:34 pm

Sam Birrell (Nicholls, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for the Environment and Water. Is the minister aware that 80 per cent of water under the original Murray-Darling Basin Plan has already been returned to the environment, and, given the minister's pledge to recover the extra 470 gigalitres of that plan, will the minister honour the agreement with the states requiring a neutral or positive socioeconomic impact on regional communities to recover the water? If not, how will the minister take the water from farmers?

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Minister for the Environment and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I think the member for Nicholls for his question. It's a great opportunity for me to speak a little bit about the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and the position of those opposite. What we have is a Murray-Darling Basin Plan that has been in place for almost a decade now. The reason that we introduced the plan was that we saw, as demand for water increased, the pressure on communities along the river system—on towns, cities, farmers, irrigators and the environment—was increasing. In fact, in 2019 we saw the driest year on record for the Murray-Darling Basin system. The fact that we had the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in place then saved the river system from catastrophe. It was still very, very tough, but it saved the river system from catastrophe. That's important. We're talking about a million square kilometres, with 2.3 million people relying on that river system.

The member opposite has asked about the 450 gigalitres of additional environmental water that was a condition for South Australia signing on to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. On this side, we fully support returning that 450 gigalitres of water to the system. I'm curious about whether those opposite support this. I know the honourable member doesn't support it; he's already tweeted saying that he doesn't support it.

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Speaker, I have a point of order on relevance. It goes to the heart of whether the minister will honour the agreement with states requiring neutrality or a positive socioeconomic impact for regional communities in relation to the 450 gigalitres. She has not got to the specifics of whether she will adhere and agree to that.

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Resume your seat. Thank you for the point of order. The minister is halfway through—

Order! The Leader of the Nationals was just asked to resume his seat. I'm calling the minister. She's halfway through her answer. She's being entirely relevant. I will ask her to return back to the question.

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Minister for the Environment and Water) Share this | | Hansard source

I was saying that we on this side are clear supporters of the 450 gigalitres of additional environmental water being returned to the river system. I answered a very good question from the member for Mayo about this the other day. Those opposite have some members, including the Leader of the Nationals, who don't support this. We've got the shadow minister for water saying she doesn't support the 450 gigalitres being returned to the river system. Senator McKenzie has said that she doesn't support it. But hang on a minute. The member for Sturt said in August last year that he fully supports it. He said: 'I support the plan. I stand up for the plan. I say we must work together to ensure we are securing and guaranteeing the future.' We had Senator Ruston in June last year saying she supported the plan. She said, 'We will not stop trying because we are committed to the delivery of the plan.' We had Senator Birmingham saying, 'We support it in full and on time.'

After question time, the members opposite might be interested in knowing I will be tabling the Water for the Environment Special Account report. I will be tabling that report that shows that they were never going to achieve the 450 gigalitres—never meant to, never wanted to and never would have.