Snowy Water Agreement
Mr YEADON (Granville—Minister for Information Technology, Minister for Energy, Minister for Forestry, and Minister for Western Sydney) [11.13 p.m.]: I move:
By leave, I table the agreement.
That, under section 2 of the Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Act 1997, this House does not propose to disapprove of the agreement between the State of New South Wales and the State of Victoria on the outcomes of the Snowy Water Inquiry, dated 5 December 2000.
In October 1998 the final report of the Snowy Water Inquiry was presented to the New South Wales and Victorian governments by the commissioner, the Hon. Robert Webster. Completion of the inquiry is a precondition of the corporatisation of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority. The inquiry was set up to develop fully costed options to address the environmental issues arising from the current pattern of water flows in rivers affected by the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme. Water flows are determined by the requirements for both electricity generation and for supply of water for irrigation farming to the Murray and Murrumbidgee valleys west of the Great Dividing Range. The inquiry received wide-ranging submissions from interested parties. These included three major groups that have substantial interests in the flows of water from the Snowy scheme: environmentalists, the irrigation farmers from west of the Great Dividing Range, and the electricity generation interests.
Extensive negotiations on the outcome of the Snowy Water inquiry have been carried out by New South Wales, Victoria and the Commonwealth. The results of these negotiations were announced on 6 October at Jindabyne by Premier Carr and Premier Bracks. The premiers outlined an agreement on increased water releases from the Snowy scheme to the Snowy River, the upper Murrumbidgee River and the Snowy region alpine rivers. This package has been designed to deliver environmental flows for the rivers and at the same time to protect the environment of the Murray-Darling Basin, safeguard the interests of irrigation farmers, maintain the quality and quantity of South Australia's water supply and preserve the viability of the Snowy scheme. The key to the solution is the achievement of water savings in western rivers, which are then used to offset increased flows in the Snowy River.
The outcome can be summarised as follows. In implementing increased flows in the Snowy River below Jindabyne, in the Murray River and the Snowy montane rivers the three governments will aim for no adverse impacts on, firstly, water entitlements for irrigation diversions from the Murray River, the Murrumbidgee and Goulburn-Murray river systems; secondly, water flows for environmental purposes in the Murray River, and in the Murrumbidgee and Goulburn-Murray river systems; and, finally, South Australian water security or water quality consistent with water-sharing arrangements in the Murray-Darling Basin agreement. The three governments will establish a jointly owned enterprise that will be charged with acquiring, at least cost, up to 282 gigalitres of water per annum. This is irrespective of whether the water is sourced from New South Wales or Victoria. The water acquired by the enterprise will be used to offset increased flows in the Snowy River of up to 21 per cent of average natural flow, that is 212 gigalitres.
The target is to achieve these increased flows within 10 years. The flow level in the Snowy River above which compensation will be paid to Snowy Hydro Limited will be set at 21 per cent of average natural flows. This is the substance of the agreement that I tabled in the House today as the agreement that is required under the Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Act 1997. However, the three governments were able to agree on additional benefits beyond the minimum required by the legislation. First, 70 gigalitres per annum of dedicated environmental flows will be provided to the Murray River; and, second, increased water flows will also be provided in the Snowy montane rivers. Many of the Snowy montane rivers, such as the upper Murrumbidgee and the Snowy above Jindabyne, have high environmental value. This applies to threatened and endangered species, and rare upper montane ecosystems.
The agreed outcomes of the snowy water inquiry will achieve significant improvements in the environmental conditions of those rivers. The joint government owned enterprise will acquire water primarily through investing in water saving measures and, if necessary, through the purchase of water entitlements in New South Wales and water rights in Victoria. It is anticipated that the majority of water will be acquired through water saving measures rather than purchases. The enterprise will be required to manage any purchases of water very carefully so as not to inflate prices paid in water markets.
The enterprise will be funded by the three governments for the 10 years. New South Wales and Victoria will each contribute up to $150 million, and the Commonwealth will contribute $75 million in that period. The Commonwealth contribution of $75 million will primarily be used to fund the 70 gigalitres per annum of dedicated environmental flows in the river Murray. Those familiar with the story of the Snowy will recognise this agreement as a major intergovernmental initiative and a determined move by governments to address a major problem. It is an example of governments acting responsibly and collectively on environmental issues of concern to the broader community. I commend the agreement to the House.
Mr D. L. PAGE (Ballina) [10.20 p.m.]: The Opposition will not oppose the motion. However, it has major concerns about the agreement and its implications, particularly for the communities to the west in the Murrumbidgee and Murray valleys. The essence of this agreement is, during the next 10 years, to increase environmental flows to the Snowy by 21 per cent and to increase environmental flows into the Murray by 70 gigalitres a year. At the same time, infrastructure savings of some $375 million—a contribution of $150 million by the New South Wales Government, $150 million by the Victorian Government and $75 million by the Commonwealth—will be invested in a number of measures that will generate savings in the Snowy system to enable environmental flows into the Snowy system and the Murray to occur.
The Opposition does not have any major concerns in relation to the provision of money to upgrade the infrastructure, which is obviously good. However, the Opposition would prefer it if the governments involved identified where those savings are likely to occur. As I understand it, the only identified project is the Barren Box Swamp, which is in the Murrumbidgee system, and I know that substantial savings can be generated through improvements there.
Under the Snowy agreement the extra water that has to be found for the Snowy and for the Murray can only come from two sources: savings within the system, or the purchase of water. If the savings within the system are not sufficient to generate the targeted environmental flows—in other words 21 per cent for the Snowy during 10 years—quite clearly the governments will feel obligated to go into the market and purchase water from irrigators in the Murray and Murrumbidgee valleys in order to meet those targets. It is no small matter that the targeted savings in the system need to be identified. It is all very well to allocate a certain amount of water and invest a certain amount of money to achieve those targets within a period but unless we know how that will be done it is possible and reasonable to argue that at the end of the day it is likely that governments will go out into the water market and purchase water from irrigators in order to enable the environmental flows to be effected. The concern of the Opposition is that there is not enough detail of where those water savings are going to be generated.
I should also point out that the agreement provides for savings to be made at the least cost, and there is some argument about whether the least cost option is via water savings in investment in infrastructure or to go into the open market and purchase water. Bear in mind that the governments are referring to the permanent acquisition of water and not water bought in one year and sold the next. Having spoken to people who know about this matter, I understand that the cheapest option is determined by the time frame over which the available options are looked at.
In other words, if a longer time frame is taken it will be cheaper to invest in infrastructure and generate water savings that way because of the high yields obtained from investing in infrastructure; but in the short term it is cheaper to purchase water on the open market. At the moment in the Murray and Murrumbidgee systems, depending where one is, it costs somewhere between $500 and $1,000 a megalitre to purchase water, whereas under this agreement with the $375 million or 300,000 megalitres involved in the environmental flow it will cost approximately $1,200 to $1,300 a megalitre under the water savings option.
Quite clearly at the moment it is cheaper to purchase water than to invest in infrastructure. However, during the five or 10 years the higher yields and benefits one gets each year from investing in infrastructure will mean that the actual cost per megalitre will reduce. It is important that the governments involved understand the complexities of these issues and consider purchases from irrigators as an option of last resort. If water is purchased from the irrigators in the Murray and Murrumbidgee valleys to satisfy the targets for the Snowy and the Murray there will be social and economic impacts for those communities. I am concerned that if the New South Wales Government enters the water market to purchase water in order to satisfy environmental flows for the Snowy and the Murray River, quite clearly the real prospect of a distortion of the water market will occur. If governments go into those markets and buy up in say, year four of an approaching five-year target which has not been met, quite clearly the real chance is that the price of water will rise substantially because the Government is entering the water market.
That could be a negative factor for irrigators who need water in a year when commodity prices may not be particularly good; but because the Government has entered the water market in that year—in order to satisfy its objective in year five—those irrigators will pay more for water than would otherwise be the case. Because of those concerns the Opposition has consulted some of the major players who are likely to be affected by the decision. I should indicate that the Irrigators Council and the Rice Growers Association have indicated general support for the agreement. Mr Brett Tucker, Acting Executive Director of the Irrigators Council, wrote to me on 7 December as follows:
The council basically concurs with the essence of the proposals in the agreement but wants to ensure that the savings identified are agreed and audited in consultation with the industry. The council looks forward to dialogue with the Government about where those savings should be effected and makes the same point I made earlier, that purchasing of water entitlement should be considered as a last resort option only when all other savings options have been exhausted. I should indicate also that since this matter was dealt with in the upper House I have had the benefit of discussions with some people in the academic field who have indicated to me that this is essentially a political solution to an environmental problem and that there is a scientific solution that the governments involved have not addressed seriously. Technology is available that enables satellites to photograph clouds from above in a way that has never been done. I note that the Minister is smiling.
Further to our discussions by telephone today, I confirm that NSW Irrigators' Council is supportive of the Snowy Environmental Flows agreement, but only on the understanding that:
a) Additional flows for the Snowy are sourced from combined government investment in water savings in the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers.
b) That the savings are identified, agreed and audited in consultation with industry.
c) That purchasing of entitlement is considered a last resort option where savings are unavailable.
The NSW Irrigators' Council looks forward to ongoing discussions with the NSW Government and Opposition in relation to industry participation in the above processes.
Mr Yeadon: The old cloud seeding.
Mr D. L. PAGE: The thing about cloud seeding that the Minister probably does not understand—
Mr Yeadon: I do. We are running ongoing trial programs. It has not been neglected, but it is not a panacea either.
Mr D. L. PAGE: The Minister says it is not a panacea, but it has not been considered in this agreement. The fact of the matter is that the CSIRO has been involved in cloud seeding in the past but has not had the technology that apparently is available today. Therefore, it has been doing cloud seeding without really knowing what it was doing, with all due respect to the CSIRO. However, new technology is available to determine exactly what is needed to generate rainfall. It is interesting to look at the satellite imagery. Pollution from industrial areas of Melbourne, for example, blows across the Snowy catchment, but those clouds do not bear rain because the small particulates in the clouds generated from industrial pollution do not allow the generation of droplets in the clouds. Technology is now available to identify those clouds that are rain bearing. From satellite imagery it is obvious that clouds downwind of industrial pollution do not bear rain, yet where there is no pollution the clouds do bear rain.
Of course, the solution is to seed non-rain bearing clouds in such a way as to turn them into rain-bearing clouds. The Government will spend $375 million to effect increases in environmental flows through savings in the system. That is all well and good, but the amount of water that can be dropped into the Snowy catchment through this technology is substantial and could be done at a fraction of the cost through what might be called a more traditional approach by reducing leakage and evaporation wherever possible. We should not be so smart as to think we have all the answers today when the technology is constantly developing. I do not have the relevant papers with me but serious consideration ought to be given to the cloud-seeding option in conjunction with other proposals to save water. If more water can be put into the Snowy catchment through natural measures by reducing the effect of pollution upwind, obviously a more natural supply of water will be provided into that catchment and, therefore, it will be environmentally beneficial to the catchments that depend upon the rain. Broadly, that is the Opposition's position. We will not oppose this motion, but we have a number of concerns about it.
Mr PICCOLI (Murrumbidgee) [10.35 a.m.]: This deal between New South Wales and Victoria is perhaps one of the saddest and sleaziest we have seen between two State governments. The Snowy inquiry, which was conducted last year, recommended the return of a 15 per cent flow to the Snowy River. At that time there was a lot of discussion to the effect that 15 per cent was too much. Now, in order to keep the Independent member for East Gippsland in the pocket of the Victorian Labor Party following the Victorian election, Steve Bracks' friend Bob Carr, the New South Wales Premier, has done him a favour by shifting $150 million of New South Wales taxpayers' money into Victoria. That can be the only justification for a 28 per cent flow down the Snowy River. I understand the feelings of the people in East Gippsland, but this issue was born 50 years ago when the Snowy scheme was constructed.
A lot of infrastructure is in place in western New South Wales on the basis of those water diversions. I certainly support some increased flow down the Snowy River, but the decision to make it 28 per cent occurred only after the Victorian State election in order to keep Craig Ingram on good terms with the Labor Party—at the expense of New South Wales, I am sorry to say. I certainly support the notion of State and Commonwealth governments funding water savings throughout the river and irrigation systems in western New South Wales, but I would have been much happier if the water saved was used also for environmental flows in the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers. I understand the Federal financial commitment is based on the fact that water saved from its contribution will flow down the Murray River, but the Victorian and New South Wales contributions should also have gone to significant flows down those rivers. However, due to the politics of this scenario, that is not going to happen. Essentially, New South Wales will spend $150 million of its taxpayers money to fund something in Victoria, which I find rather distasteful, but I am sure the Victorians are pleased with the outcome of this agreement.
I note that since 1995, when the Minister for Information Technology was Minister for Land and Water Conservation, a number of changes were made to water-sharing rules in the Murray and Murrumbidgee valleys. I believe about 70,000 megalitres of water have been removed by water users in those two valleys. At that time the Government was not interested in making any financial contribution towards getting that water from anywhere but water users and irrigators. Based on the precedent in this agreement, and unless some great idea has flashed into the minds of the New South Wales Cabinet that suddenly funding water savings is a good way to create additional water, why was that method not used five years ago to fund those water savings to increase environmental flows in the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers? Instead, it was paid for—by water users. That is one of my significant concerns. My other concern is that under the agreement this water will be sourced at least cost. In the Murrumbidgee Valley permanent water transfers are available for about $500 a megalitre.
From my discussions with people involved in the industry I have found that the cheapest megalitre that will be saved in the Murray or Murrumbidgee valley will cost $1,300. One of the projects is reducing the surface area of the drainage system in Barren Box Swamp near Griffith. Horticultural areas in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area will adopt higher technology. The projects are worthy and I am very pleased that they have been considered for financial assistance. But if it will cost $1,300 a megalitre to fund that type of infrastructure saving and if it will cost $500 a megalitre to buy, it makes commonsense that State governments will go into the water market and bid the price of water up from $500 to $1,300 a megalitre. That will be good for the people with land who have water rights in that it will increase the value of their assets but, like every cost to a business, water is a cost to water users and irrigators.
The price of water is a big factor in whether it will be economical to grow rice, summer cereals and horticulture crops. At the present cost of $500 a megalitre it is fairly marginal to buy water. Increasing the cost by 2½ times to $1,300 will make it uneconomic to grow those types of crops. So the long-term repercussions on agricultural output in irrigation areas will be significant. The State Government will have virtually an open chequebook to buy water. That will have very serious effects. I support the notion of governments funding water savings but I have no doubt about how the figure of 28 per cent was arrived at. Nonetheless, the deal has been done, and we will see its repercussions in time to come.
Mr WEBB (Monaro) [11.42 a.m.]: At the end of the year 2000 there is a rush to deal with the arrangements for the Snowy River. It is a very complicated issue. The Webster inquiry took many submissions on environmental degradation in the Snowy River resulting from the Snowy scheme, which was 50 years old last year, and the social and economic impacts of diverting water down the Snowy. After considering all the issues and the many submissions the Webster report recommended a flow of 15 per cent of the natural flow. The honourable member for Murrumbidgee spoke about the political imperatives of making a decision at this stage. The honourable member for Ballina spoke about the problems associated with the decision to return up to 28 per cent of natural flow to the Snowy River. Sadly, detail is lacking, particularly on how the contribution of $150 million each by the Victorian and New South Wales governments and $75 million by the Federal Government will be spent. All the governments have put in their claims about where the $375 million should go.
The honourable member for Ballina and the honourable member for Murrumbidgee spoke of the cost of purchasing water to provide the environmental flows. There is a lack of detail about how long it will take to achieve the flows and how much they will eventually cost. Environmental flows have been suggested for the upper Murrumbidgee but there is no detail as to the amount. Environmental flows are desirable to improve the temperature regime in rivers; achieve channel maintenance and flushing flows; restore connectivity within the rivers for migratory species, including fish; provide triggers for spawning; and improve the aesthetics of currently degraded river environments in the upper Murrumbidgee, the Murray, the Snowy and the alpine montane rivers.
The proposal is that the increased flows will be for environmental purposes only. People below the Jindabyne storage question this. They ask about stock and domestic flows for the area below Jindabyne and the town of Dalgety. This year that town has suffered again because the town and country water supply and sewerage program has been cut. Dalgety is seeking money for better water supply. It could be argued that Adaminaby and Dalgety are the two towns most affected by the Snowy scheme, and both are screaming at this time for the provision of better water services, yet the Government has backpedalled on that program. It is an irony that we are talking about many gigalitres of stored water flowing down various rivers for vital environmental reasons yet the people in those towns once again will miss out.
There is also a lack of detail about the responsibilities of Snowy Hydro Ltd. Within three years of corporatisation the company will be required to build a thermal outlet at Jindabyne to provide a proper thermal gradient of water down the Snowy River. The maximum environmental flow will be 28 per cent of the natural flow. But there is no detail of how Snowy Hydro Ltd or the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electricity Authority will go about this task. There is also a requirement that within three years of corporatisation Snowy Hydro will build an outlet at Tantangara Dam to enable environmental releases to the upper Murrumbidgee River, but again there is no detail about the size or nature of the outlet or the amount of flow. There is also no detail of river bed works to ensure that the flows actually achieve something.
There is also concern that the flows for the alpine montane rivers simply are not enough. The Snowy scheme captured something like 98 per cent of the water from the Snowy Mountains for the production of hydro-electricity and irrigation out west. The honourable member for Murrumbidgee referred to the use the water has been put to and its cost. We know the importance of the environmental flows and the social and economic costs to electricity generators, New South Wales and the people of south-eastern Australia. I have already spoken about Dalgety and Adaminaby. There are socioeconomic costs to the people in those towns and people downstream. If the reduction of evaporation and other savings through better irrigation methods enable environmental flows I am all in favour of it; but if the water has to come from the present system, inflating the price of water for irrigation, I do not know what that will achieve.
The scheme itself was a water transfer and perhaps a wealth transfer scheme, similar to the current legislation, the Water Management Act, which takes water out of the ownership of people from the high-rainfall tablelands and transfers it on a cost-profit basis elsewhere across the country for economic use and even for environmental use. I wonder whether, on the fiftieth anniversary of that legislation, someone will be talking in this Parliament about returning water to the high-rainfall areas for environmental purposes and to those people who own the land where the water falls in the first place.
There is also some question about opening up Mowamba River and Cobbon Creek and their ability to provide the initial 6 per cent flows down the river. There is a question as to why the siphon at the bottom of Jindabyne has not been opened fully at this stage. This would provide some initial flushing, particularly in a wet year such as this, when the Snowy hydro scheme and perhaps even irrigators can forgo some water. The honourable member for Ballina spoke of the concerns about the purchase of water which will be used to provide average monthly flows down the Snowy River. I thought the whole basis of this was to provide something that would mirror our climatic history by providing the massive flush flows at certain times of the year. Just by working with a formula of average monthly flows and saying that we have to put down 20 gigalitres this month—because that is the average flow—does not achieve anything, particularly in drought years. I do not see how those objectives can be fulfilled. Again, a lot is lacking in the detail.
There is a need to identify where savings will occur. Some have been identified, but if all those areas were fully identified the cost would exceed the $375 million by a considerable amount. There has been very little talk of using top water in the reservoirs and storage schemes to flush the Snowy River but that needs to be taken into account. The honourable member for Ballina commented on cloud seeding. We have the ability to predict rainfall well ahead of time. It would be interesting to bring back the experiments of the 1960s using different mechanisms that are available to maximise our ability to increase rainfall and snowfall in the Snowy Mountains, and to make the best use of the harvesting capability that is there to provide environmental and socioeconomic flows to these rivers.
I urge the Government to increase the plans it has to look at cloud seeding, because we will have to accept change in the future and account for the environmental flows that will have to be provided for those montane rivers—for the upper Murrumbidgee with a major built environment and for the Murray River with major irrigating requirements—and also into South Australia. In this whole debate we have heard very little about South Australia, being on the end of the Murray River, and its need for water.
The legislation is timely. Most people accept that some flows are necessary—certainly the people in the Snowy River alliance areas south of Jindabyne and into Victoria—although many people in my electorate figure that 52 per cent of the original flow is quite adequate when compared with the flows that annually go from the Murray River. The legislation has been rushed through. Not a lot of thought has been given to the detail. There will be a need to define the expenditure of money, the acquisition of the water, the water-saving mechanisms that need to be put in place, when and where the environmental flows are appropriate and where they may far exceed the capacity of the river to cope with those increased flows. Some of the largest flows the Snowy River has ever seen have been since the completion of the Snowy scheme. I am certainly pleased that decisions have been made during this term of government but there is a lack of detail particularly for the Snowy hydro scheme and how it will go about spending money prior to corporatisation and the problems that will cause for corporatisation.
Mr YEADON (Granville—Minister for Information Technology, Minister for Energy, Minister for Forestry, and Minister for Western Sydney) [10.56 a.m.], in reply: I thank those honourable members who participated in the debate. The honourable member for Ballina led on behalf of the Opposition and indicated that the Opposition would not oppose the motion. He also indicated that by and large, the various constituent groups with an interest in this issue in the southern region of the State were also not opposed to the approach being adopted by the Government. Woe, woe, woe, are we not a pessimistic lot? I would hate to spend Christmas with members opposite because it would be more like a wake than a celebration of life. The Opposition has failed to recognise that we are moving forward in relation to the Snowy hydro scheme to get a better outcome for all components of it. Honourable members opposite are so pessimistic.
I will address a range of issues brought forward by members of the Opposition. Firstly, the honourable member for Ballina was concerned about where the savings for water are coming from. The three governments have water-saving projects in mind but none of those projects have yet been fully evaluated. Two major reports—the Bewsher report in New South Wales and the Sinclair-Knight report in Victoria—identify possible water-saving projects. However, when the joint government enterprise is established it will have to conduct its own feasibility study, including reviewing the two reports I just mentioned, to verify which projects will go ahead and be put in place.
A number of honourable members expressed concern about the fact that such savings should be properly identified, agreed upon and audited in consultation with industry. I can allay their concerns in that regard because that issue will be addressed. That will be precisely the case. Water savings will not be verified until they have been examined by an independent auditor. The honourable member for Ballina also spoke at length about purchasing of water and compared that to saving it. I am not sure whether I understood all the honourable member had to say but I certainly recognise his concern about the impact on the market for water. I assure him that purchases of water will be very small and will predominantly be purchases of temporary water, that is simply picking up an amount of water for a one-year annual allocation, when there is an excess of water available because of wet climatic conditions.
Purchase of permanent water, that is, the picking up of a water entitlement, will only be considered when the individual farmer concerned is a willing seller of that water and when there is no alternative economic use for the water. Those are important requirements: not merely a willingness by the farmer but also no identifiable alternative economic use for the water. Categorically, there will be no compulsory acquisition of water entitlements, contrary to recent incorrect statements made by individuals. The bottom line is that water available for irrigation farming will not be significantly reduced and the market price of water will not be distorted.
The honourable member for Ballina expressed concern about spending on infrastructure vis-à-vis purchasing. I did not entirely understand that because later he was adamant that he did not want large purchases of water to occur. I fail to understand his concern about infrastructure. Putting aside the establishment of an environmental flow for the Snowy River, it is a major plus to undertake infrastructure renewal and upgrading to ensure that the significant losses in the system at the present time are curtailed so that water is available for other purposes, in this instance the Snowy River, and perhaps for more economic production. It is a valid and laudable objective to pursue infrastructure upgrades to save water losses, which are considerable in the Murrumbidgee-Murray system through ducts, channels and the like. Extraordinary losses of water do occur and it is a laudable objective to undertake work to save that water.
Also, technology may emerge in the future that will provide additional sources of water, for example, cloud seeding. I say to the honourable member for Ballina that the joint enterprise agreement may indeed consider the cloud seeding technology that is being developed by Mr Aaron Genghis. Technology may increase rainfall in the Snowy catchment but the technology is only at the exploratory stage and is not yet developed sufficiently for it to be relied upon at this stage. Even if the technology proves to be of some value in the future—even over the next decade—the work being done on infrastructure will certainly not be unnecessary or superfluous, because those savings will still be derived from the system, which allows for more additional water, and that must be a positive. The honourable member for Ballina obviously has a firm commitment to and great confidence in the future of cloud seeding. I inform him that that avenue is not being ignored and that the Government is looking at that approach.
The agreement that has been reached by the three governments is very positive and it is on that note that I will conclude. A number of members expressed concern that this matter was being dealt with hastily. However, all three governments, and particularly the New South Wales Government, have been concerned to both redress some of the environmental damage that has been done to the Snowy River, and to not adversely affect the availability of water for irrigation farming. It is indicative of the very complex issues involved in achieving these objectives that it has taken two years after the Snowy water inquiry reported to reach this agreement. Negotiations during the first year following completion of the inquiry were very difficult and the positions of the two governments were quite opposed. During the second year, negotiations were much more fruitful and the Commonwealth Government also became involved. After a six-month period of intensive negotiations in the middle of this year, a final agreement was reached between all three governments in September.
Part of the agreement that did not involve the Commonwealth was announced by Premier Carr and Premier Bracks on 6 October at Jindabyne. However, although the New South Wales and Victorian cabinets endorsed the agreement, the Commonwealth was unable to secure the approval of its Cabinet until 4 December, some significant time later. Even following that Commonwealth Cabinet meeting further negotiations were required between the three governments to finally settle the details of the agreement. These details were finally settled on 5 December. The agreement was tabled in the Legislative Council the following day, on 6 December, the earliest possible date that the Government could bring the agreement before Parliament and the last possible date for the agreement to be passed this parliamentary session. If the agreement is not passed this session, the implementation of the increased flows in the various rivers could be delayed up to six months.
It is important that the agreement is passed by the Parliament because it has been discussed and negotiated at considerable length over a couple of years. As agreement has been now reached and there is consensus in the community, as Opposition members concede, it is proper and appropriate that we get on with it. I commend the motion to the House.
Motion agreed to.