Senate debates

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Bills

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

9:41 am

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I move Australian Greens amendment (4) on sheet 7310:

(4) Schedule 1, item 10, page 6 (lines 29 to 33), omit subsection 23A(4), substitute:

   Limit on proposed adjustments

(4) One or more adjustments may be proposed by the Authority under paragraph (1)(a), and an adjustment may be proposed under paragraph (1)(b) as a result of those adjustments, only if the adjustment under paragraph (1)(b) would not have the effect of reducing the volume of water available for the environment.

(5) Schedule 1, item 10, page 9 (after line 30), after subsection 23B(6), insert:

(6A) The Minister must not adopt the amendment unless the Minister is satisfied that, if the amendment is made:

  (a) the long-term average sustainable diversion limit will continue to reflect an environmentally sustainable level of take; and

  (b) Australia's international obligations under the Ramsar Convention will be upheld; and

  (c) the long-term average sustainable diversion limit will maintain or improve the following environmental outcomes:

     (i) in relation to average daily salinity levels for Lake Alexandrina—less than 1500EC at all times and less than 1000EC for 95% of the time;

     (ii) in relation to average daily salinity levels for Coorong, South Lagoon—must not exceed 100 grams per litre in any 2 consecutive years and must remain less than 100 grams per litre for 96% of the time;

     (iii) in relation to barrage flows—greater than 2000 gigalitres per year on a 3 year rolling basis, with a minimum of 650 gigalitres per year for 95% of years, greater than 600 gigalitres in any 2 year period and greater than zero gigalitres in all years;

     (iv) in relation to the mouth of the River Murray—the mouth to be open to an average annual depth of 1 metre or more for at least 95% of years and to an average annual depth of 0.7 metres or more for at least 95% of years;

     (v) the environmental outcomes met under an integrated, Basin-wide, fit for purpose model run based on the levels of extraction contained in the BP-3200-RC model run and the 112 hydrologic indicator targets.

This amendment is in relation to the adjustment ability within this legislation. As we know, in the bill as it currently stands there is an ability to adjust down, or reduce, the amount of water to be returned to the river and back to the environment or to increase it, but only to five per cent. This amendment would put a floor on the amount of water that the plan sets as the appropriate level of the minimum of water to be returned to the river. This amendment will remove the ability to regulate down and to reduce the level of water to be returned to the river—after, of course, the plan has been approved by the parliament.

We would also remove the cap on the level of achievement, because, as we know, this is a plan that is meant to stretch 20 years. This plan takes us out until 2030. With a drying climate, the impact of climate change with less run-off in the system, and changes to various parts of the Murray-Darling Basin in terms of the climate, it may be that we find that those targets or outcomes that we have set out to achieve in terms of restoring various environmental icon sites—how we manage the system—may need more water than the minimum that the plan has set. It may be that we need more than that extra five per cent, so we should not be putting a cap and limiting our level of achievement. Of course it still has to come back to parliament. There has to be the modelling to prove it and it has to go through all of that process, but why would we want to lock in a ceiling that limits our achievement for the next 20 years?

In my home state of South Australia, we know that the plan that is on the table is not enough to get us through the next drought. It is not enough to save our citrus growers in the Riverland. It is not enough to ensure that the dairy farmers throughout the bottom end of the system have water of a quality that is okay to feed their stock. We know that it is not enough in the drier years to keep the Murray mouth open. Why would we want to lock in failure?

This amendment takes away that limit and ensures that, regardless of who the next government may or may not be or the government after that or the government after that or the government after that, you cannot just reduce the amount of water being returned to the river. Under the current legislation, if the plan is put to the parliament next week by the minister at a base level of 2,750 gigalitres, this would allow the amount of water to be returned by 2019 to the river system of only 2,100 gigalitres. That is half of what the best available science says is needed. That is death to the Coorong. That is a nail in the coffin to the lower stretches of the river and it does not give communities certainty throughout the basin that they will have a healthy, living river in years to come.

Unless we amend this part of the legislation, the only amount of water that will be guaranteed to be returned back to the environment is 2,100 gigalitres. That is not enough to save the system. That will condemn the Lower Lakes and the Coorong. It will not flush out the two million tonnes of salt each year that we need to flush through the system to keep the water quality healthy. It will not provide water certainty for the communities that rely on it. Over the next 20 years, we need to adapt to the climate as the climate changes—that is what this amendment is about—and ensuring that we do not limit our ability to look after the environment, look after the communities and not allow the amount of water to be returned to the river to be cut in half.

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