Questions without notice
My question is to the Minister for Water. Minister, what will the Victorian government do to ensure that our irrigation communities in northern Victoria are not short-changed by the recent Murray-Darling Basin deal done by the federal Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, David Littleproud, and the federal Labor opposition?
I was pleased to see the Senate last night voted down the Greens' disallowance motion, which now allows 605 gigalitres of important environmental projects to go ahead, as was always intended. However, I remain extremely concerned for my community as a result of the side deal which appears to tie the delivery of these projects with the immediate commencement of work to recover the additional 450 gigalitres of upwater. It was always understood that this additional water would only be considered once the 2750 gigalitres of the original plan was achieved and should only proceed if there were no further negative socio-economic impacts in our communities.
Ms Neville, Minister for Water:
I thank the member for Shepparton for her question and also just acknowledge her steadfast support for her communities in relation to this really critical issue. We have had a very consistent position throughout the term of our government. We are a signatory to the 2750 plan. That is what we are a signatory to: a triple bottom line plan that is to deliver for the environment, the community and the economy. We have already delivered high-reliability water, the most expensive but also reliable water — 800 gigalitres of the contribution we need to make. From the beginning of the plan, the fundamental component of that plan included the environmental offsets — the sustainable diversion limit (SDL) projects, the 605 gigalitres.
We were all on track with that plan until the Senate decided they might want to derail that. It does appear that sense has prevailed and the 605 projects are getting the support of the Senate — or they were yesterday. We have been very strong in lobbying for that. But as I have raised with Minister Littleproud directly in a phone conversation that we had yesterday and as I have said publicly, we remain concerned about a couple of areas that appear to be part of the agreement. I would caveat that by saying that we have a five-page document. That is all we have at the moment so I will look carefully at that. But that document — and I have asked for more information — does indicate a couple of areas of concern.
We have consistently said that the 450 gigalitres, the extra water, has to be delivered under a neutrality test. That is what the plan also says in our view — a neutrality test. This secret deal that is being done suggests that they will link the 450 and the 605 and the payment of the 605 to us delivering the 450. That remains unacceptable to us, member for Shepparton. It is unacceptable, and I will at the ministerial council, as I have to the federal minister, indicate that we will absolutely not change our position on this.
We have done the work and we have done the tests, and we know that this would have an incredible impact on those communities along the basin in Victoria. It would potentially wreck our food bowl, and we are not willing to do that. We have signed up. We are delivering absolutely. We have done the heavy lifting. We are delivering the water we are supposed to — both the 800 gigalitres, which we have already done, and the remaining water under the SDL projects. We are absolutely committed to doing that. We are not, however, willing to risk the communities that are already doing it tough.
Unfortunately one of my other areas of concern in this document is about constraints. We have said all along that the Goulburn constraints project delivers very little water and potentially impacts 570 landowners. We are also not going to agree to that.
Minister, to some extent you have answered my next question, but perhaps you can just clarify what position you will be taking to the ministerial council and how you see it playing out, given this agreement that is now in place.
I did remind the federal minister the other day that this is an agreement with the states, not between different parties at a federal level. This is an agreement that requires our signature, as do any changes to that agreement. Again what I will not do, as I understand the federal minister and the shadow water minister have done, is have a conversation about what deal they would do on what the neutrality test is. In my view the neutrality test is a community-wide test — the impact across the community — it is not an on-farm and willingness of farmers to sell their water.
We need to make sure the test protects the whole community and understand the impact of any further water sales on the whole community. I am not doing secret deals at all. I will be up-front, sticking to the position we have always had, which is that it is a community-wide neutrality test, that we will not sell further water and that we will not support on-farm efficiencies — because we have already done a massive amount of that — that cause further harm in our communities. We will look at off-farm ones, and I will take that position to the ministerial council.