Questions without notice – Water

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Ms SHARKIE (Mayo) (14:18): My question is to the Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia. On 28 May in Senate estimates the government advised that only 100 gigalitres of water is estimated to be recovered through efficiency measures. With water buybacks now ruled out, exactly how will the government secure the remaining 350 gigalitres committed to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan?

Mr PITT (HinklerMinister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia) (14:19): I thank the honourable member for that question. The first thing I’d say is that we are not giving up; we are not running the white flag up the flagpole. There are three years to run. I’ve got billions of dollars to put towards the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, and we intend to deliver on it. That is our commitment. We will deliver on it.

I think it’s important to recognise what’s been done already. There have already been 2,029 gigalitres of gap-bridging water against SDLs recovered. That is 97.8 per cent of the water required to meet the SDLs under the basin plan. We have spent over $9 billion of a $13 billion commitment. We delivered a $270 million Murray-Darling Basin community investment package just last year, and it is rolling out as we speak. We will continue to deliver on those commitments.

I’m asked particularly about the streams in terms of off-farm infrastructure funding for recovery. We have unequivocally ruled out further buybacks. Buybacks are bad for regional communities. They are bad for our irrigation centres. They are bad not only for business but for the individuals that live there. We have unequivocally ruled out further buybacks. We will not be buying back more water. I am once again giving that commitment. As for what we are doing, $1.33 billion has been moved to off-farm projects. I have been advised that that could recover up to 150 gigalitres per year. That is the advice that I have. They could also participate in a smaller on-farm initiative of around $60 million. But these are significant projects that improve efficiencies, recover water towards the plan and will absolutely ensure that we deliver on what we said we would.

There is time to run. There is money to spend. We are in negotiations continuously with the states and territories because, quite simply, we are part of the plan along with other state and territory governments and with communities and stakeholders. We are working hand in hand with them to deliver what we said we would and we have made significant progress, particularly over the last 12 months. We have commitments from New South Wales. They have put forward their water resource plans to the MDBA for assessment. That is a significant shift in recent times. We will continue to do what we said we would; that is the bottom line.

We know that we must continue on the journey around the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. There has been significant progress. It has made a significant difference not only to communities but to the environment, and it is our intention to keep doing that.

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