MURRAY VALLEY WATER ALLOCATION
Mr SMALL: My question is directed to the Minister for Land and Water Conservation. Have State Government water policies caused an estimated $60 million loss by Murray Valley rice growers, a 40 per cent cut in rice plantings, and a significant loss of the market share? Why has the Minister announced an allocation to the Murray Valley food bowl of a mere 50,000 megalitres of water when the exceptional circumstances of the rice industry demand an allocation eight times that size?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I place the honourable member for Pittwater on three calls to order.
Mr YEADON: I advise the honourable member for Murray and other members of the House that they should stop aiding and abetting the untruthful propaganda that is being touted around about water reform in New South Wales. The honourable member for Murray is well aware of the problems with the Hume Dam in the south of the State during the past couple of years and the need to take account of the safety of people and property in that area. The measures that were implemented to ensure that safety required the drawing down of water from the Hume Dam. In addition, the recent dry weather has resulted in resource constraints in the Murray Valley. To suggest that those events have anything to do with the Government’s water reform program or that they have had the impact on the rice industry suggested by the honourable member is absolutely ludicrous. In fact, the contrary is true. The Government has done everything it possibly can to ensure that the important productive area in the south-west of the State, the Riverina area, is in a position to cope with these problems in the best way possible.
Despite the problems the production of annual crops, particularly rice, has continued to develop. Although water availability for irrigation is totally dependent on inflows, the Government and the
Murray-Darling Basin Commission are working together, through a number of initiatives, to maximise the available water resources. Those initiatives include renegotiating the interim maximum level of Lake Victoria, working with South Australia to reduce demand for extra dilution flows during this period of reduced water resources, considering the usage of environmental allocations to provide dilution flows if required and the lifting of restrictions on the water transfer market. In the latest development, the Murray-Darling Basin Commission has agreed to make the New South Wales component of the Barmah-Milawa Forest allocation available to irrigation this year. The Barmah-Milawa Forest has an annual 50,000 megalitre allocation entitlement. Because of climatic conditions, that allocation would not have been used for the environmental management of the forest this season. It is normal to mimic natural conditions in operation of the environmental allocation. In a year in which the forest would naturally have dried, an allocation of water would not have been released as an environmental flow.
The water loan is available only this season and payback provisions have been agreed to for subsequent years. That means that additional water for environmental purposes will be available when the forest most needs it. I am also able to advise the House that discussions are currently under way to seek approval from the Snowy Mountains council for the release of an additional 50 gigalitres of water from Snowy storages. At the end of the day that decision rests with the Snowy Mountains council, and the New South Wales Government is not the only party on that council. Members of the National Party are doing no service to their local industries or their constituents by continually running around beating up these issues.
The Government is seeking to assist the regions as much as it possibly can in the circumstances. That is in stark contrast to what is occurring at the Federal level. I am sure that a number of honourable members saw a press release issued last week by the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, the Hon. John Anderson, in which he gratuitously attacked the New South Wales Government over its water reform process. What an about-face! When he became chairman of the council he was absolutely supportive of the implementation of the Murray-Darling cap. Last week he suddenly did a complete backflip and started to complain that the cap, which he had supported until that time, may be detrimental to production within this State. I was absolutely bewildered as to what had produced that change.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I place the Deputy Leader of the National Party on three calls to order.
Mr YEADON: I was bewildered as to what had brought about this change. When the weekly edition of the Land arrived on the newsstands on Thursday last week I suddenly realised what the change was all about. The Minister for Primary Industries and Energy was under huge pressure in his electorate from pork producers after his decision to allow pork meat imports. He was being flayed and put on notice by his constituents that he will lose his seat at the next election. Of course, in order to create a diversion he started to slam the New South Wales Government on the implementation of a cap that he supported until last week. He was considered to be a Minister with potential, but his reputation plummeted because he has no commitment to the pressing national issues facing this country. He is just a small-time, parochial, go-nowhere National Party politician, just like all National Party members opposite.
Mr SMALL: I ask a supplementary question. In view of the Minister’s answer, will he guarantee sufficient water for rice growers to produce their crops in accordance with world best practice?
Mr YEADON: I have no doubt that the New South Wales rice industry works towards best practice. Our rice growers are doing an outstanding job, particularly in the export market, which is very much supported by this Government. However, I must say to the honourable member for Murray that I am not God and, therefore, I cannot give guarantees on the availability of water.