Wednesday, 21 November 2012
Water Amendment (Long-term Average Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment) Bill 2012; In Committee
I move Australian Greens amendment (3) on sheet 7310:
(3) Schedule 1, item 10, page 6 (line 18), at the end of subsection 23A(2), add:
; and (e) a requirement for the Authority not to propose an adjustment under paragraph (1)(a) or (b) without:
(i) undertaking modelling of the environmental impacts of the proposed adjustment using an integrated water model that takes into account the best available science including the most recent knowledge about climate change, ground water and the environmental water requirements of key environmental assets and key ecosystem functions of the water resource; and
(ii) publicly releasing the modelling along with a plain language assessment of the environmental outcomes modelled, including in relation to ground water and the environmental water requirements of key environmental assets and key ecosystem functions of the water resource.
This amendment put forward by the Greens requires that there be basin-wide modelling done prior to any adjustment in the levels of sustainable diversion limits to ensure that we know exactly what the impact of the changes to that water recovery, either up or down, will actually be. As per this legislation, after the authority proposes that a particular adjustment is made, it then goes to the minister and then of course it is a disallowable instrument. That modelling must be done so that the parliament understands and can make sure that the authority has all of the information at hand about the impact that that adjustment would have.
We have heard lots of talk over the last few days about the lack of modelling that has been available—and, to their credit, members of the Nationals have stood and spoken about this—and the lack of information that has been made public. This amendment would be about ensuring that, once there is an adjustment made, that information is available—that the authority is not making the proposal in a vacuum, as some would argue has been the case.
We need to make sure that we know what the environmental impacts of any adjustment are going to be. It is not good enough for the authority to say that they have done the modelling and have looked at it themselves and for them to keep the information to themselves. It must be available to the public. It must be available to the communities that that adjustment may or may not affect. The parliament must have access to it in order to make a decision about whether they accept or deny the minister's recommendation if an adjustment is to be tabled in this place.
The authority will have to assess that the adjustments proposed reflect an environmentally sustainable level of take. This is a requirement of the bill. The detail on how the assessment will occur is appropriately left to the Basin Plan. Based on the most recent draft of the Basin Plan and subsequent suggestions that have been made to the authority, the final plan is expected to set out details of the assessment methodology, including modelling requirements. In addition, the authority will have to include in its notice, which is tabled under 23B(2)(e) and 23B(3)(c), an outline of the materials on which it based its decision in determining that the criteria in the Basin Plan are met.
The CHAIRMAN: The question is that Australian Greens amendment (3) on sheet 7310 be agreed to.
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.
There is already in this legislation the capacity that you cannot adjust down unless there is environmental neutrality. That is already part of the structure. If there is environmental neutrality and you want to help citrus growers or stock and domestic water suppliers as stated by Senator Hanson-Young then why should those people not have the capacity to utilise that water for irrigation? It is not saying that it is going to happen but in fact it is weighted more towards the environment—vastly more towards the environment—because you can only go down if there is environmental neutrality. One of the issues we have is that you can go up without economic and social neutrality.
To agree to this would be to go completely against all the negotiations that have happened thus far over a very protracted period of time where we are trying to get people from all sides of this debate together and this would work completely at odds with that.
In brief response to Senator Joyce: last night both the government and the opposition voted down the exact environmental targets that the plan would have to be benchmarked to, so they are not there. Maybe Senator Joyce was not paying attention last night but, if he was, he would remember that those targets are not in here. There is no benchmark, so South Australia has absolutely no guarantee that the next government could not come in here and legislate downwards the amount of water to be returned to the system. Tough luck for South Australia. Tough luck for the Coorong. Tough luck for the Lower Lakes. Tough luck for the Riverland. Tough luck for other communities throughout the basin who do not have in this legislation a guarantee of what those environmental targets are going to be. Senator Joyce can talk as much as he likes about the fact that the water will not be reduced, unless those environmental achievements and targets are met, except that he voted not to put them in the legislation, so it actually means nothing.
The bill enables the Basin Plan to include an adjustment mechanism that can both decrease the sustainable diversion limit making more water available for the environment and increase the SDL reducing the amount of environmental water needing to be recovered. This amendment would restrict the mechanism to operate only one way and does not recognise that there are ways in which environmental water can be used more efficiently while achieving equivalent environmental outcomes.
The government supports an approach that both provides for environmental water to be used as efficiently as possible while maintaining the environmental outcomes of the Basin Plan and makes further environmental water available improving the environmental outcomes of the basin. Making this further water available is to be done in a manner that maintains or improves the social and economic outcomes in the basin. The five per cent limit is necessary to provide assurance about the range of change permissible under this plan.
(The Chairman—Senator Parry)
I move Nationals amendment (1) on sheet 7302:
(1) Schedule 1, item 10, page 9 (after line 35), after section 23B, insert:
23C Achievement of reductions in long-term average sustainable diversion limit
Any reduction in the long-term average sustainable diversion limit for the water resources of a particular water resource plan area may only be achieved through the purchase of water access rights if the purchase of those rights will not cause apparent social or economic detriment to the district in the Murray-Darling Basin from which the water is retrieved.
We have only put up one amendment, and it goes to the nub of the issue, which is the utmost concern for the 2.2 million people who live in the basin. In respect and in balance to an environmental outcome, we need the triple bottom line to be enshrined in the legislation and definitive. It is vitally important that we recognise that if this goes wrong we do have the capacity as it currently stands to destroy towns, to take away their economic lifeblood so that they collapse.
As I said in my opening speech, the picture we have in our minds is not even so much of the irrigators; it is of the people who live in a house on a street and who are looking to us to make sure that their economic base is protected. They do not get compensated if this goes wrong. These are people who have paid off their houses, who have done the diligent thing, who have done what the Australian public have asked and moved west to be a mechanic or a schoolteacher or a labourer; they have built their life up in one of these regional towns—and there are 2.2 million of these people. We must make sure that their economic and social fabric is maintained and that we do not devastate their lives, because they have as much right as the environment. I think that the purpose of this parliament is primarily to protect the rights of people, and these people certainly have rights.
This is a definitive statement of trying to make sure that, in any move you make, you must look at the social and economic outcomes of removing water from that district. There must not be an apparent social detriment. We always know there could be some form of detriment, but it must not be so apparent that it becomes quite obvious that you have affected the social and economic future of that town—whether it is Collarenebri or St George, Berry or Mildura. These people have done what our nation has asked of them and, therefore, we must respect that by dealing with the aspects that are pertinent to the river. We have proved our credentials there by, under the last days of the Howard government, putting $10 billion on the table to try and remedy the environmental outcomes.
If we want to maintain the respect of the Australian people, we must make sure we protect them from unreasonable social and economic detriment. What this basically says is that we have all these clauses in there about environmental neutrality, about protecting the environment. We have stated over and over again, ad nauseam, about the worth and benefit of the environment. The Australian people, particularly those 2.2 million who live in the basin, are worthy of at least one amendment that definitively spells out their rights, that they are not going to be the casualties of any actions by this government, or a future government, and that they can rely on one clause that says, 'You can’t do that to our town because it is protected within the legislation—it is outside the law—therefore, you must not do it.'
The Greens will not be supporting this amendment. There are no details, no criteria, in this. Who is to decide what is detrimental? Where is the detail of how that will be measured? It is not on the table. Senator Joyce has not given that to us at all. He wants us to pass this amendment with no details, no criteria, no nothing while at the same time voting down a very detailed amendment that does set some criteria, at least for the environmental outcomes. I would have been more than happy to have talked about how we determine and measure the detrimental socioeconomic indicators but they are just not there.
I want to point out one thing in relation to buybacks. We hear rumours that even within the coalition parties there are splits and people will cross the floor because they do not know what impacts the buybacks will have. There is a myth being peddled, particularly by the Nationals but by the coalition broadly, in relation to the impacts that buybacks are having. We know, at least from the public purse perspective, that buybacks are the most efficient way of returning water to the river. Let's remember why we are doing this because more water has been allocated throughout the system than the river can sustain.
The Australian taxpayer is going through this process of buying back water that should never have been given away in the first place. South Australia uses seven per cent of the entire water in the basin yet we are spending $11 billion to claw back some of the water—just some of the water—that might get us somewhere near to returning the river to health.
We know that buybacks are four to five times cheaper in terms of their return rate of water. This is public money. I find it astonishing that the coalition does not seem to give two hoots about spending $11 billion on a plan that is not even going to achieve the outcomes. Why is that? Chair, I put to you that perhaps because most of the $11 billion will go to friends of Barnaby Joyce. Friends of Barnaby Joyce will get the $11 billion of money.
I will take that interjection by the minister. Apparently Barnaby Joyce has no friends. Well, he is going to have a lot of friends very soon—$11 billion worth of friends.
The CHAIRMAN: Order! Senator Hanson-Young, can you refer to senators by their correct title and, minister, no further interjecting.
Senator Joyce is going to make a lot of people in the upstream states very, very happy. Eleven billion dollars will be bankrolled out to big irrigators for buying back water that they greedily took when they should not have had access to it in the first place—$11 billion of Australian taxpayers' money.
Let us look at some of the reaction from those irrigators who have participated in the buyback programs in the past. There was a survey and report done by the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities in relation to sellers of water entitlements, called Restoring the Balance in the Murray-Darling Basin Program. Some of the responses of people who have already participated in water buybacks under that program were: 80 per cent of irrigators surveyed said the decision to sell water had been positive for them, including 30 per cent who said the decision had been 'very positive'. This is not doomsday, as the coalition would like to make out. Most of the 158 irrigators who sold their water and exited farming are now working in other employment in that same region—51 per cent are still working in the region—and 35 per cent have retired in that region, so they are still contributing the money they got to that local community.
Half of the irrigators who sold part of their water entitlement continued farming. So, after selling their water, they are able to continue farming, and they have said it has had no consequences for farm production. Around 30 per cent of irrigators surveyed who had sold all their water on entitlement and continued on the farm said that selling had had no impact on their ability to continue production. Around half of all irrigators who sold water to the Commonwealth did so because they believed they received a higher price for that than they would get selling their water on the market. It is a pretty good deal. It is also the best bang for the buck for the Australian taxpayer.
The coalition does not give a damn about spending $11 billion and not even getting the environmental outcomes that this plan is meant to achieve. What happens in five years when we are back in drought? We have already spent $11 billion not returning enough water to the river.
What then? When the impacts of climate change start biting in the southern basin and the water quality north of Adelaide is too salty to feed stock, let alone use domestically—what then? How are we going to get back the water that we need when we have just spent $11 billion not returning enough water but bankrolling Senator Joyce's mates?
Well, where does one start? It is a wonderful day: I have just been informed that I have lots of friends—that is a turn up for the books—and I have just found out that I have $11 billion—that is also a new experience! I have to admit that, as perverse as it is, sometimes when people from the Australian Greens get stuck into me it is advertising—very good advertising. So I would like to thank Senator Hanson-Young for her exemplary promotion of the work that I do. But it was an absolutely absurd statement that we have just heard. It was also completely convoluted and confused.
How on earth can you say that we are talking about a process that would actually limit buybacks? They would have to pass a socioeconomic test of neutrality or, better than that, no detriment. Because there is no detriment, even if I did have these multibillionaire big irrigation mates—and this is like Disneyland—they would not be able to do that with this amendment that I have moved. They would not be able to do it because it would bring detriment to the community and therefore it would not be allowed. So the whole purpose of this is completely at odds with the dissertation that we have just received from Senator Hanson-Young.
I also find it amazing that, all of a sudden, the Greens have been endowed with financial purity. Where they become financially prudent is when they decide that the frogs are more important than the people. Then, they become pure. When it is actually people who are going to be hurt then they are financial purists. The whole purpose of this from the start was that $5.8 billion was to go to infrastructure because we did not want to destroy communities. But the Greens, by Senator Hanson-Young's own advocacy now, have said, 'No, forget about the people. They don't matter. It is all about the newts, the frogs and the swamps. Let's forget about the people and what this is about.'
This is a parliament that is supposed to represent, first and foremost, people—the rights of the Australian people and the future of those towns. But the Greens do not care about that. Today, Senator Hanson-Young has become an economic rationalist—an economic rationalist at the expense of the rights of the people who live in the basin. This is not an amendment for irrigators. This is an amendment for the people who live in the brick and tiles in the streets of the town of Mildura, who live in the weatherboard and iron of Dirranbandi, who live in the houses of Berri and who live in the irrigation towns up and down the basin. This is their amendment, not the irrigators' amendment.
This is the amendment for the vast majority of the people who actually have no right to any compensation, who are never going to be compensated. It is an amendment that talks about social justice, which I thought the Greens, once upon a time, believed in. We now see that their social justice mantra is a ploy that is wheeled out from time to time for purposes that they determine fit. It is not a genuine outcome. I am not surprised in the least by the Australian Greens' position on this. I am disappointed, but surprise at the hypocrisy from the Greens is something that, in this place, we have grown awfully accustomed to.
Hell has truly frozen over in this place this morning, because we just received a lecture on economic and fiscal responsibility from the Australian Greens! The Australian Greens—the big taxing, big spending party of this parliament, who put even the Labor Party to shame with their spending habits—have just attempted to give the parliament a lecture on economic and fiscal responsibility. As I recover from the shock of hearing Senator Hanson-Young try to lecture us on how to return water in the most fiscally responsible way and for the least cost, I think it is important that we put some context to the issues around buybacks, the issues around the buyback versus infrastructure debate and, of course, the amendment that is related to this.
Last night and this morning we have heard, frankly, plenty of sanctimonious BS coming from that corner of the chamber—plenty of it. I am tired of hearing it. They are pretending that they are the only ones who care about getting a result for the Murray. Occasionally they drag the communities of the Murray into this debate somehow and pretend they are also standing up for all of those irrigator communities as well as the Lower Lakes communities. That is just not true. The Greens seem to be obsessed by headlines about what the number is that is going to be achieved. It is not about the number; it is about the outcome. And the outcome is about ensuring that we get an environmentally sustainable plan, but a plan that is delivered in a way that leaves us with sustainable communities as well.
In an earlier amendment, Senator Hanson-Young had the gall to pretend that she wanted and was arguing for even greater water cuts so as to protect Riverland citrus growers. Well, hello? If you have greater cuts, there is going to be less water available for those Riverland citrus growers to use.
Senator Hanson-Young just does not seem to appreciate the fact that every drop we put back into the environmental flows has to come from somewhere, and that it comes off the productive capacity. We took the bold step in government of saying: 'Yes, we acknowledge the system has been overallocated'—and I am going to turn to whose fault it is that it was overallocated in a second because I think you totally misunderstand whose fault that is—'and we've got to return water to the environment. We want to get the system back to a level of sustainability, but we want to do so in a way that preserves and protects the fabric of the communities up and down the river system.'
If infrastructure projects and environmental works and measures can be undertaken, and if they can deliver the water necessary for sustainability, why are they better and preferable to buybacks? They are preferable because they ensure we keep farmers on farms along the river with productive capacity, growing food for this country's future. There seems to be a misconception, and it is often spread around, that farmers and irrigators are to blame for overallocation. It is certainly not the farmers or the irrigators and it is most definitely not the communities they live in. Those who are to blame for overallocation are state governments. Let's lay the blame firmly where it sits.
If we could manage to get the state governments to foot the bill for all of the adjustment costs, I would be very happy—and no doubt Senator Ludwig, Senator Conroy and Mr Burke would all be delighted. But, of course, the state governments will not meet the bill for the costs of adjustment. The state governments issued the licences and farmers went out to those communities and set up. Taking advantage of those licences, communities were built around them and now 2.1 million people, I think, live in basin communities, and rely, in large part, upon irrigation activities to sustain the social fabric and the economic basis of those communities.
This is a devil of a problem when you boil it all down, because you are trying to get water back—water that underpins the economic base of those communities without destroying that economic base. That is why the Howard government prioritised spending on infrastructure. It is why Senator Joyce, Senator McKenzie, I and others have been so critical of the government for not fulfilling those expectations and delivering the priority when it comes to infrastructure spending. We welcome the fact that the government seems to have rediscovered that as a priority. It will allow us to achieve the objective that we all want, that I know deep down you want, Senator Hanson-Young, and that I certainly want which is to get sustainability into the river system. That will ensure that those whom I spoke about yesterday, those Lake Albert farmers and irrigators on the Lower Lakes, have water that they can use to irrigate. That is what I think would be a good and equitable outcome: that they should be able to pump water that is of a quality and a standard for them to irrigate. But, as I said yesterday, it is not the volume of water in that case that matters because there has been more than enough water flowing through the Lower Lakes in the last three years.
Senator Hanson-Young interjecting—
Don't roll your eyes, Senator Hanson-Young, or shake your head around. We have had three years of floods and it is the management of the lakes and the management of the system that is in large part why Lake Albert has not recovered from drought—it is not from a lack of water.
To ensure that in future droughts there is greater resilience in the system, we need to ensure that there is more water flowing through, especially in those average years. It is the average years that provide the resilience for when we come to the droughts. The flood years provide the recovery when we leave the droughts. That of course is exactly what is happening.
This attempt to constantly second-guess what the headline figure should be, I find to be the most appalling part of this debate.
How about listening to the independent authority? Have a look at the members on the authority. There is a scientist on the authority. There is an environmentalist on the authority. There is a respected former public servant running the authority. There has been more than $100 million spent on research and on consultation to get to this point and they are now saying, 'We're going to return at a starting point 2,750 billion litres of water into the system' and the government is now committing to try to get a further 450 billion litres of water on top of that. Are you suggesting that this is not a big step forward? It is a big step forward.
But I have no doubt when I see the plan that I am going to see problems with it. I have no doubt that I am not going to think that it is perfect. I have no doubt that there will be concerns with aspects of the water recovery strategy. I have no doubt that there are some issues throughout this. We are on the cusp of taking a big step forward, but Senator Hanson-Young and the Greens just seem intent on tearing down and destroying what should be a good step forward in the management of the Murray and what should be acclaimed in South Australia. If we can get this plan in place and if we can get an outcome that protects the Riverland communities of South Australia just as much as it protects the communities upstream, we should be hailing that as a good result.
That is what we on this side are trying to work towards—something that will see the eastern states actually cooperate in this process. They want to protect their communities just as much as you or I, Senator Hanson-Young, or Senator McEwen, or any other South Australian, want to protect our communities. We need to find a way that ensures that they feel that there is protection for their communities whilst giving the win for our communities that we want and need.
Do not come in here and lecture on fiscal responsibility because it suits your political ends. Nobody believes the Greens when they talk about fiscal responsibility. Understand that there is a very good reason that governments of both persuasions now—us, when we were in government; the other mob now that they have worked this out—support and prioritise infrastructure outcomes because they can give the win-win result that gets us the water we want for a healthy river and does so in a way that actually leaves the socioeconomic fabric of this community intact.
The government does not support the amendment, though we have enjoyed the debate. The government expects that, in line with the minister's suggestions of 1 November, the issue of social and economic neutrality will be dealt with in the Basin Plan. Recommendation 12 states that socioeconomic neutrality will be established where a farmer participates in the On-Farm Irrigation Efficiency Program, or where a state assesses a project put forward by that state as having neutral or improved socioeconomic impacts.
Projects for recovering additional water under the SDL adjustment mechanism can involve water purchase of the component only if the project overall has a neutral or improved socioeconomic impact. The socioeconomic impact of water purchase is more suited to be considered in the Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill, which specifically references the possibility of water purchase in offsetting socioeconomic impacts. The coalition minority report in the Senate committee report proposed that this matter be addressed by amendment to that bill.
On that point of socioeconomic neutrality or improvement as the basis of decisions being made, is the minister able to outline all the assumptions that have been used to underpin the socioeconomic modelling so that we can have an understanding of how the government will make those decisions?
The reason I have asked is we raised that point repeatedly throughout the inquiry you mentioned. According to evidence given by the National Irrigators' Council during that inquiry process not all the assumptions were made public in that particular report.
I am afraid we do not have any further information we can add to what is on the website at this point. We can seek some further information but we would not be able to get it to you in the next few minutes.
Earlier, in response to Senator Hanson-Young, you stated that water was to be used as efficiently as possible. I think everybody in this debate recognises how important water is in underpinning the economic and social fabric of these communities and, indeed, our nation in terms of food production. Does that view also include the water held by the Commonwealth water holder?
The water holder is, I am advised, required to use the water for environmental benefit. Equally, they would have to efficiently use the water for environmental benefit.
I am told the base includes some urban use. These are the proportions that have been suggested and which, at this stage, are expected to be the outcomes: New South Wales has 47.2 per cent of the total; Victoria has 43.8 per cent; South Australia 8.5 per cent; and the ACT 0.5 per cent.
I would really appreciate the government's opinion on the best way to measure the environmental health of the Murray-Darling Basin. Throughout our inquiry and this whole debate there has been a complex and contested understanding of what a healthy river looks like and means in actuality. I could not agree more with Senator Birmingham's debating points around getting the outcome right rather than getting fixated and obsessed with a particular number, particularly when we look at science and technology's capacity to assist us to use water more efficiently and therefore ensure a more sustainable outcome for the river itself. Could you outline the best way to measure the environmental health of the Murray-Darling Basin system?
That is a very broad question. I will see if there is anything we can assist with. I am advised that the Basin Plan itself will contain the principles and they will be publicly available.
Thank you; I do appreciate your patience on this, Minister. With the consultation process outlined in the newly amendment bill, can the minister give us an indication of what that will look like on the ground for communities?
I am advised this is the framework bill. The actual consultation will take place by the authority not by the government, so the government is not directly doing that part of it.