Murray-Darling Basin plan

February 22, 2018

Questions without notice

My question is to the Minister for Water.

Minister, what will the Victorian government do to ensure that the Murray-Darling Basin plan is delivered as the 2750-gigalitre plan it was designed to be and that a deal is not done in Canberra to satisfy the demands of those now wrongly insisting it is a 3200-gigalitre plan?

Recent events in the Senate have again created enormous uncertainty for irrigation farmers in my electorate and indeed about the plan itself. We and the plan are now at risk not only from federal Labor and the Greens but also the federal Nationals water minister, David Littleproud, all of whom are saying that the Murray-Darling Basin plan is a 3200-gigalitre plan and should be delivered as such. Mr Littleproud's current position represents an extraordinary departure from the views of his government to date and is at odds with both your government and with the original signatory to the agreement, all of whom agreed in Victoria that the 450 gigalitres could only be delivered if it did not hurt rural communities.

Ms Neville, Minister for Water:

Can I thank the member for Shepparton for her question, a really critical question and a very important issue for many communities in Victoria. I also want to thank the member for her strong advocacy and voice on this issue. She has not been a silent voice on this, unlike others.

We are at a very critical stage in the plan. I just want to make it clear: Victoria has delivered everything we have been required to deliver under the plan and we are committed to deliver our full contribution of the 2750 gigalitres that was our obligation. Firstly, last week unfortunately the Senate decided to basically put the plan at risk and attempt to reprosecute the plan. Last year every state, including South Australia, voted to support the northern basin review and the sustainable diversion limit (SDL) projects — two key parts of the plan that were always there. These two disallowance motions, one of which, on the northern basin review, was unfortunately supported last week in the Senate, have put the plan at risk, with New South Wales indicating that they will walk away from the project. The future of the SDL projects is also absolutely critical.

Seriously, this is so important — yes, you are yelling it — and let me quote for you, member for Kew. As a Mooroopna irrigator said last week in the Weekly Times:

It's a bewildering scenario: a federal Nationals minister strongarming his base, federal Labor wanting to ram through the 450 gigalitres, and state Nationals completely silent.

Our communities have never felt so abandoned by those who traditionally … see us as their heartland. Ironically, Lisa Neville, a state Labor minister, seems to be a lone voice standing up for Victorian irrigators.

I can tell you right now we have got two issues. Do we have an SDL project? And if that is voted down, we have the potential for the commonwealth to come in and buy water. My message is, we will not allow them to come in and buy further water.

The second issue is we have got the federal minister — and I have got quote after quote — talking about a 3200 plan. It is not a 3200 plan. This is a 2750 plan, with the additional water to be delivered only in a scenario where it is done in a neutral or better socio-economic way. It cannot be done, as the member for Shepparton knows. It will kill off these communities. I will not allow either federal Labor or the federal National Party to do a deal to tie these two together. We will not stand for that. We will back our irrigation communities as we have, and we will back in the member for Shepparton in her strong voice on this issue as well.

Supplementary question

With New South Wales already making moves to pull out of the Murray-Darling Basin agreement, what are Victoria's options to ensure it has access to sufficient irrigation water to continue production of its high-quality, sought-after food if the plan falls apart?

Ms Neville:

Thank you, member for Shepparton, for that supplementary. As I said, we have already done a lot of the heavy lifting. We had to deliver 1075 gigalitres under this plan. We have already delivered 800 of those gigalitres — high-reliability water — way ahead of any other state. We want the SDL projects. We want to continue with the connection projects — the nine projects under the SDL — to ensure we meet our obligations under the signed plan, the 2750 plan, and we will continue to do that. If the disallowance motion gets up, we will negotiate with the commonwealth in order to deliver those projects and deliver what we said we would. But I am making it clear again that we will not allow anyone to tie the 450 gigalitres to the 605 gigalitres in any deal.

Can I just point out again that the Shepparton News said this week:

… apart from Ms Neville and the state member for Shepparton, Suzanna Sheed, irrigators have precious few friends in state and federal politics right now.

On this side, member for Shepparton, we are your friend in the irrigation community.

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  • Suzanna Sheed
    published this page in Parliament 2018-08-30 14:11:09 +1000