Independent Review of the Water Act

Independent Review of the Water Act

Ms LEY (Farrer—Minister for Health, Minister for Sport and Minister for Aged Care) (10:16): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak to the parliament today not as health minister but as local member for Farrer in the New South Wales Murray region. Today I want to sound a note of alarm and caution with respect to my communities, the irrigators of the New South Wales Murray region. Today the water minister has tabled the government’s full response to the Report of the Independent Review of the Water Act, alongside legislation, and this tabling has, I am pleased to reflect, picked up on all of the 23 recommendations that were made in full or in part. I thank the water minister, and I understand that this is, if you like, an important start on the process of making the necessary adjustments to the Basin Plan.

However, when I say I want to sound a note of caution, I want to make it very clear to the parliament today how unhappy, anxious and desperate my communities are feeling at this point in time. For farmers who are fourth and fifth generation to not be able to plant a rice crop this season because of low allocations and the high cost of temporary water—close to $300 a megalitre—but to watch the Murray River rapidly delivering large volumes of water downstream and know that they are effectively excluded from their livelihood is causing great angst, and I understand that very well. So I believe we as a government have to do some important things, and I appreciate the minister for water’s close understanding and contact with me on these issues.

On 1 January next year there will be a new CEO of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, and I want to call out the culture in that authority right now. It simply does not recognise that the communities need to have their voice heard and they need to be understood, and you do not just tick a box and say, ‘We’ve covered off on social and economic outcomes.’ You actually have to understand the cumulative effect of so much removal of water from the vital infrastructure of their farming operations, so when we do these exercises we have to look not only at the most recent social and economic effect but at the total effect. That culture has to change, and we have to understand that the Basin Plan as it stands now is not deliverable. I want the new incoming chief executive officer to prove to my communities that it is deliverable and to take the steps to give them the understanding and make the changes that I know need to happen.