Local, Independant and Effective

Cathy supports changes in Water Amendment Bill 2015

Posted September 09, 2015


CATHY McGOWAN (Indi) (20:14): I welcome the contribution of my colleague, the member for Mallee, the great work that he does in his community and his real concern for the river. Thanks for your comments.

I am pleased to speak to the Water Amendment Bill 2015. By way of introduction, I would like to inform the House that 50 per cent of the water that falls in the Murray-Darling Basin falls in the electorate of Indi. This figure has been verified by a number of reputable sources, including the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority and the North East CMA. This water falls as rain—obviously—but also as snow in the mountains of the great Australian Alps.

From the Murray Valley in the north of the electorate of Indi down to the Goulburn in the south, Indi is in fact a watershed electorate. Indi is a catchment electorate—it is the catchment for the Murray-Darling Basin. This water flows into the rivers and creeks of Indi, the tributaries of the Murray river. Let me name them: the mighty Goulburn, the Broken, the King, the Ovens, the Kiewa, the Mitta, the Dart and, the grandest of all our rivers, the mighty Murray. Embedded in these valleys and on these rivers are the dams of the Dart, the Hume, the Nillahcootie and the Eildon—the places where we store this environmental water.

Right across the electorate—in every community and in every valley—the people care deeply about how our water is used. We care that our water is needed and used efficiently and effectively. We care that our water is used for the environment and is used well. Water is used for farming, for our towns and for our regional centres. The water is for our industries and manufacturers. The water is for our recreation, for our wild life and for our wellbeing. Water to drink and to cook and clean with. Water for our parks and gardens. We care about its use.

Currently, a very large percentage of our water is exported. It is exported to our neighbours in the Mallee, to the flat landers, to the irrigation lands and to the cities and towns of South Australia. It is of use and benefit, I am sure. However, the rules for this export are outlined for us by this parliament in the rules around the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. They have been well-debated and argued, and compromises have been made and agreements reached. This legislation before the House tonight is proposing to change some of these rules. Following consultation and negotiations with the minister and relevant staff, I am pleased to support these changes. But in doing so, I would like to draw attention to a number of issues raised by members of my constituency—issues relevant particularly to the implementation of the plan. These issues centre around the constraint strategies. How will the environmental water get from the rivers and dams of Indi to the environmental sites in the west? Who will bear the cost? How will compensation be made?

On the Goulburn River the Goulburn Broken CMA is the key authority responsible for this planning. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority, with technical support from Goulburn Broken CMA, is developing a business case for addressing environmental flow constraints along the Goulburn River. Funding for the development of the business case is being provided by the state of Victoria from the Australian government's water special account as part of implementing the Basin Plan. The development of the business case commenced in May 2015 and the final business case is required to be completed by November 2015. The business case will assess the feasibility of delivering increased environmental flows along the river to inundate the lower Goulburn River floodplain—overbank flows would benefit the network of billabongs, wetlands and river red gum forests on the floodplain and the many native animals they support; what land, businesses and infrastructure could be affected by delivering increased environmental flows, which may include farms, fisheries, caravan parks, roads and bridges; and the options to mitigate or offset potential impacts and their costs, which include easements over private property and modifying or building new infrastructure.

In the north of the electorate a similar process will need to be carried out on environmental flows released from the Hume dam. However, I understand this work has not yet commenced. I look forward to working closely with the relevant authorities.

Let me proceed by reading a letter from a farmer and community leader from the Yea community in the shire of Murrindindi, Jan Beer. Jan Beer expresses her concerns strongly:

Dear Cathy,

As my Federal representative in the electorate of Indi, I'm writing to ask you to make representation to the Minister for the Environment, Mr. Greg Hunt, the Parliamentary Secretary for Water, Mr. Bob Baldwin and the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) regarding my concerns on the Constraints Management Strategy (CMS) under the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

Jan goes on to outline her concerns:

(1) The river channel capacity of the Goulburn River at Molesworth in the Upper Goulburn Catchment is 9,500Megalitres/day (ML/day). The MDBA are proposing environmental flows of 20,000ML/day, which they describe as "small overbank flows", but are in reality over double the channel full volume. This flow completely inundates the high value agricultural river flats at Molesworth and cuts access in many other properties downstream. Flows of 15,000ML/day and 20,000ML/day are totally untenable.

(2) No extensive Cost/Benefit Analysis or Socio-Economic Impact Study on proposed flooding of the Upper Goulburn catchment have been undertaken. The MDBA have commissioned at least 22 socio-economic reports in the Murray Darling Basin and all but one of these reports were on impacts of reduced irrigation, with the other one covering flooding in the Northern Basin—

We need it for our community in the Yea area.

(3) The Constraints Management Strategy 2013-2014 Page 32, states that during Phase 2 there would be "a property-by-property assessment with regard to landholder impacts and mitigation options." The MDBA and Goulburn Broken Catchment Association (GBCMA) now state there is insufficient time and insufficient money for this to take place. Instead, saying there will be "limited opportunities to work at farm-scale levels". Now only 2-3 case studies of farms will occur and 2-3 "specialist case" studies, that is, trout farms, caravan parks.

(4) The Victorian Government is required to acquire easements as a mitigation process, over land that will be intentionally flooded.

Mitigation means to alleviate, lessen the pain or impact. An easement is NOT mitigation for landholders. It devalues the affected land and total farm value.

An easement is in reality mitigation for Goulburn Murray Water and GBCMA who are the government agencies deemed to be legally liable and responsible for damages caused by flooding.

Phase 2 of the Constraints Management Strategy states that evaluation and analysis of the proposed project must be based on extensive investigation and research to support the decision-making process.

Jan writes: I do not believe that this process, which should demonstrate that the Strategy is viable and technically and economically achievable, is being undertaken.

As part of the Murray Darling Basin Plan, this is a multi billion dollar project, involving the expenditure of tax payer's money, therefore who will be liable and responsible when it is found that decision-makers have not been fully informed of all aspects with a detailed risk analysis.

Indeed, who will be liable? Who will take responsibility and how will compensation be paid?

In conclusion, while I do support this bill, I call on the minister and the parliamentary secretary to work closely with farmers such as Jan Beer, to clearly and accurately communicate with them and to address their concerns. I call on the minister and the parliamentary secretary to make that special effort to work with catchment farmers and with the people and the communities right across Indi. After all, it is our water and it is 50 per cent of the water in the basin.

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