Senate debates

Tuesday, 20 November 2012


Water Amendment (Long-term Average Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment) Bill 2012; In Committee

8:57 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

by leave—I move amendments (1) and (2) on sheet 7317 standing in my name:

(1) Schedule 1, page 4 (after line 4), after item 7, insert:

7A After subsection 22(2)

(2A) In setting a long-term average sustainable diversion limit in relation to a water resource plan area for the purposes of item 6 of the table in subsection (1), the Authority must consider the water efficiency of relevant infrastructure in the water resource plan area before 2007.

(2) Schedule 1, item 10, page 6 (after line 8), after paragraph 23A(2)(b), insert:

(ba) a requirement for the Authority not to propose an adjustment under paragraph (1)(a) in relation to a particular water resource plan area, or an adjustment under paragraph (1)(b) as a result of that adjustment, without considering the water efficiency of relevant infrastructure in the water resource plan area before 2007; and

I have just spoken in relation to this matter so I will just specify what these amendments are about. The first amendment amends the Water Act 2007 to insert a new requirement into section 22. This new requirement provides that when setting sustainable diversion limits for water resource plan areas under the bill, the authority must consider the water efficiency of relevant infrastructure in that area before 2007. The intention of this amendment is to ensure that the relevant water efficiencies for each area in the basin are taken into account when the authority creates SDLs.

There are areas of the basin that have spent many years increasing their own water efficiency before the grants in recent years—that $5.8 billion fund—so that irrigators could make the most out of their decreasing water entitlements. As a result, these areas are already so water-efficient that there is quite literally not a drop to spare. They are not able to take advantage of the current government infrastructure funds as they are already too efficient under the current guidelines and criteria. This amendment reinforces the idea that the most practical and sustainable way to maximise returns to the basin is to focus on areas where efficiencies can be increased and, in turn, less water taken from the basin.

The amendment also looks at the efficiency of the area before 2007, which marked the start of significant government grants to improve efficiency in other areas. This cut-off date will ensure that the areas with a long history of efficiency are recognised, whether they are in South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria or Queensland.

The second amendment seeks to amend that part of the bill that relates to considering the water efficiency of relevant infrastructure in a particular water resource plan area when proposing an adjustment to an SDL. So the rationale behind this amendment is the same as the rationale for the original amendment, although this relates in a sense prospectively to an SDL. Again, the aim of this amendment is to ensure that SDL adjustments are made where there are efficiencies to be gained rather than in areas that are already operating at maximum efficiency.

This amendment also looks at the efficiency of the area before 2007 to, again, address the issue of government grants to improve efficiency that were announced at that time as part of the Howard government's plan for the Murray-Darling Basin. These efficiencies must be recognised so that adjustments to the SDLs can be made where those adjustments can be achieved so that areas already operating at peak efficiency are not penalised under the SDL system.

Currently, the premise of the Basin Plan seems to be that all areas are equally inefficient and that the entire system can be improved. This is clearly not correct, and continuing on this path will mean that many irrigators who have simply tried to do the right thing and survive with what water allocations they have will be penalised. The authority and its associated legislation must recognise the varying efficiencies in the basin and what this means for the real application of theories, such as the SDLs. If they do not, then that means that the plan will be skewed against those who have done the right thing in the past. When I asked the authority about this issue during Senate estimates, they glibly said, 'Every area says they are water efficient.' Well, this allows them to consider that in a way that is robust, independent and, in a sense, auditable. It is important that there be a system to consider this. These amendments require consideration of prior water efficiency methods, and I commend these amendments to my colleagues.


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