Snowy Water Agreement
The Hon. I. M. MACDONALD (Parliamentary Secretary), on behalf of the Hon. J. J. Della Bosca [11.08 a.m.]: I move:
I start by pointing out that this agreement has the overall support of all the major parties and all of the New South Wales stakeholders concerned with water issues. I will return to that shortly, because it is very important that honourable members realise that the agreement results from long and intricate negotiations and that there has been wide consultation on it with all interested parties. All stakeholders have had a role in coming to the final outcome that was agreed to and launched on 6 October this year at Jindabyne.
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, and tabled in this House on 6 December 2000.
The Snowy corporatisation project commenced in late 1994, when the then Prime Minister and Premiers of New South Wales and Victoria agreed on principles to guide the corporatisation process. The project has been extremely complex because of the number and breadth of the issues that have had to be resolved. Various aspects of the Snowy corporatisation have been dealt with by this House over the past six years. Honourable members would be aware that a former Coalition member of Parliament, Mr Robert Webster, conducted the major water inquiry.
Corporatisation legislation was passed by the Commonwealth, Victorian and New South Wales parliaments in 1997 but has not yet been proclaimed. Since then a great deal of work has been carried out, culminating in the development of more than 30 complex legal agreements which, when executed, will effect the corporatisation. One of the most difficult issues that has to be resolved is the arrangements for water releases, particularly the balance between the use of water for hydroelectricity generation and its subsequent release to the western rivers for use in irrigation farming, and the impact on the Snowy River of this diversion of water to the west. All three governments, particularly the New South Wales Government, have been concerned to redress some of the environmental damage which has been done to the Snowy River while not adversely affecting the availability of water for irrigation farming. To deal with this very difficult issue the three governments agreed to set up the Snowy Water Inquiry. Provisions to do this were included in the New South Wales Snowy corporatisation legislation.
The water inquiry was established to investigate environmental issues arising from the current pattern of water flows in rivers and streams in the designated area of the inquiry caused by the operation of the Snowy Mountains Hydo-electric Scheme. The inquiry, chaired by the Hon. Robert Webster, was established in early 1998 and reported at the end of that year. Following the inquiry the New South Wales and Victorian governments were to reach an agreement on the outcome of the inquiry. It is indicative of the complex nature of these issues that it has taken two years to reach this agreement. Negotiations during the first year after completion of the inquiry were very difficult and the positions of the two governments were very far apart. During the second year negotiations were much more fruitful and the Commonwealth Government also became involved. After a six-month period of intense negotiation in the middle of this year final agreement was reached between all three governments in September. The part of this agreement that did not involve the Commonwealth was announced by Premiers Carr and Bracks on 6 October 2000 at Jindabyne.
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 to the rivers while at the same time protecting the environment of the Murray-Darling Basin, safeguarding the interests of irrigation farmers, maintaining the quality and quantity of South Australia's water supply, and preserving the viability of the Snowy scheme. Following this announcement all the various stakeholders, including both environmental groups and irrigation farmers, strongly supported the agreement. However, while both the New South Wales and the Victorian Cabinets endorsed the agreement, the approval of the Commonwealth Cabinet was not secured until Monday this week. Even after the Commonwealth Cabinet meeting, further negotiations were required between the three governments to finally settle the details of the agreement, which was achieved on Tuesday of this week. That is why it was not possible to bring the agreement before this House until yesterday.
I now bring to the attention of the House the particular issue under discussion by means of the motion. The Special Minister of State yesterday tabled an instrument in this House which described the specific requirements under the New South Wales Snowy corporatisation legislation. The legislation requires only two items: firstly, the initial release of water to the Snowy River for environmental reasons on the issue of the Snowy water licence; and, secondly, the increased amounts of such releases of water following the first review of the Snowy water licence will not give the Snowy Hydro Company an entitlement to compensation. The instrument provides that the initial release will be 38 gigalitres per annum, which is equivalent to 6 per cent of the average natural flow of the Snowy River. The current release is around 1 per cent. The increased release—which will not give rise to compensation—is 212 gigalitres per annum, which is equivalent to 21 per cent of the average natural flow of the Snowy River. These two volumes are the subject of the debate in this House today. However, yesterday the Special Minister of State also incorporated into Hansard for the information of honourable members a more detailed heads of agreement. I must stress that the heads of agreement document is not the subject of this debate. I draw the attention of honourable members to some of the provisions of that document.
In addition to the minimum requirements in the legislation the three governments were able to agree on additional benefits. First, 70 gigalitres per annum of dedicated environmental flows will be provided to the Murray River. 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. The Minister and I and several members of the negotiating team had the great experience of walking along the rivers. It was very instructive for us to learn at first hand what a great improvement the scheme will bring to the upper montane. This applies to threatened species and rare upper montane ecosystems. The agreed outcome from the Snowy Water Inquiry will achieve significant improvements in the environmental conditions of the rivers. I urge honourable members to support the motion so that the implementation of increased flows in the Snowy River, the Murray River and Snowy montane rivers can go ahead.
I must stress that if the motion is not passed today the implementation of increased flows cannot go ahead until after this House returns next year, effectively not until April or maybe later. Only New South Wales has the problem of having to wait 10 days for a possible disallowance motion. The other jurisdictions do not have this limitation. I think that 15 November was set as the last day when it would be possible to meet that requirement. The Minister, aware of this requirement as a difficulty in concluding negotiations, wrote to the Federal Minister, Mr Minchin, and outlined our time frame. Unfortunately, the Commonwealth Government was unable to meet that time frame and therefore this instrument has been placed before the House today. It will enable us to implement the agreement that has been wrought by three governments.
Support for the agreement has been very wide ranging because the basic stakeholders were consulted. Negotiators and officers spent considerable time with all the stakeholders working the basic concept into shape. All stakeholders supported the announcement on 6 October by the Premiers of New South Wales and Victoria. I refer honourable members to the statements of support by the stakeholders for the broad framework of the agreement. For instance, on 13 August the Total Environment Centre said in a media release in the lead-up to the discussions that it supported the basic objectives of the water inquiry. On 6 October, after the agreement had been struck, a media release by the Australian Conservation Foundation headed "Rebirth of the Snowy River" stated:
Australian Conservation Foundation President Peter Garratt has welcomed the new agreement to save the snowy. he says "today's deal is historic. It will restore the Snowy River. We have never seen such a commitment before. It's a symbolic step forward for all Australian rivers."
The agreement between the Victorian Premier Steve Bracks and New South Wales Premier Bob Carr will lift Snowy River natural flows by 28% within 15 years. Currently Snowy flows are down to 1% of the natural levels at Jindabyne—where the river flow is the lowest. The deal also guarantees $300 million dollars to an independent body to oversee the "purchase" of water efficiency savings in the Murray and Murrumbidgee River valleys.
Speaking from the Jindabyne launch of the deal, Peter Garratt has said "Bob Carr and Steve Bracks deserve our praise and congratulations for their negotiation on this landmark agreement, along with Independent Victorian MP Craig Ingram. The Snowy Valley community has shown great patience and persistence."
To save time I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard the remainder of that media release.
The Hon. M. J. Gallacher: Leave is not granted.
The Hon. I. M. MACDONALD: Then I will read the media release onto the record.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: No way.
The Hon. I. M. MACDONALD: The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti, who was obviously stirred up last night, is seeking to interfere as much as possible with the progress of debate on this issue. Why does he not stick to putting people to sleep in Lismore? The media release continues:
Mr Garratt says "This deal has achieved a win-win outcome. The Snowy will be restored without reducing flows from the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers—South Australians will be pleased. The deal targets water efficiency savings so inland irrigators will not lose out on the water they currently get."
ACF urges both the Victorian and New South Wales governments to move quickly to find the water savings and restore Snowy flows well ahead of the 10-15 year timeframe. It will be important to make sure this work is open to the active involvement of people who live along the length of the Snowy River.
I have a number of statements from other conservation groups. Environment Victoria congratulated the Government on this agreement and said:
This agreement will bring the Snowy back to life. We welcome the Government's ongoing commitment to restoring water to the river.
That body is clear-cut in its support. For the information of honourable members, the Federal Government, which is a party to this agreement, put it through Cabinet. Senator Minchin made a statement yesterday and released it to the world. Even the National Party has been locked into this agreement. It is quite right that it should be locked into this agreement as its alleged constituency in the Murrumbidgee area, which is locked into this agreement, supports and endorses it. After the announcement of the agreement on 6 October rice growers in the Murray irrigation areas supported the agreement.
They support it as it will result in the expenditure of a lot of money to enhance water efficiency in the Murrumbidgee irrigation areas. The $150 million contribution from New South Wales, the $150 million contribution from Victoria and the $75 million contribution from the Federal Government will make a huge difference in improving water quality and the delivery of water efficiency. For the benefit of honourable members I have several copies of Senator Nick Minchin's media release. However, I am sure that the Leader of the Opposition has some idea of what Senator Minchin said.
The Hon. M. J. Gallacher: I have it.
The Hon. I. M. MACDONALD: I am sure that the Leader of the Opposition has Senator Minchin's media release. Senator Minchin would have sent it to him and he probably also sent copies of the media release to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
The Hon. R. S. L. Jones: Read them.
The Hon. I. M. MACDONALD: I seek leave to incorporate Senator Minchin's comments in relation to the Snowy water agreement.
Leave not granted.
The Hon. I. M. MACDONALD: How extraordinary! Senator Nick Minchin, the Federal colleague of honourable members opposite, made this magnificent announcement and Opposition members will not even allow its incorporation in Hansard so that honourable members are able to ascertain the views of the Federal Government.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: Point of order: This is an historic debate of great national importance. It does not enhance debate when the Hon. I. M. Macdonald responds to interjections. More importantly, he is questioning decisions that have been made by you, which is a reflection on you. I ask you to call him to order.
The PRESIDENT: Order! The honourable member should not canvass decisions of the Chair. I warn him also not to take points of order in order to make debating points.
The Hon. I. M. MACDONALD: I will table these documents. However, I wish first to quote from them as they adequately summarise the position of the Federal Government which, I might add, has been party to the discussions. We have had several productive meetings with Nick Minchin in South Australia, which resulted in this agreement. On 6 December, yesterday, Nick Minchin issued a media release, which stated:
Plans to finalise the corporatisation of the Snowy Mountains Scheme early next year have been given the go ahead by Federal Cabinet, Minister for Industry, Science and Resources, Senator Nick Minchin said today.
This decision creates the opportunity to improve the environmental condition of some of Australia's most important rivers and establish a dedicated environmental flow down the River Murray.
As part of the corporatisation process, the Federal Government has given in-principle agreement to commit $75 million to deliver a significant increase in environmental flows down the Murray.
Under the Heads of Government Agreement reached with New South Wales and Victoria, the three governments will provide a total $375 million over the next ten years to implement water efficiency projects and carry out riverine works which will benefit the environmental condition of affected rivers.
Quite clearly, the Federal Government has come on board in favour of this agreement. I seek leave to table the media releases of Senator Nick Minchin, the Federal Minister for Industry, Science and Resources.
In conclusion, the Snowy water agreement is a major agreement. It is unfortunate that we have had to deal with it at this point in time and in this way, but I emphasise that it was not of our making. In fact, I do not think anyone in particular is to blame. It has been brought about by the fact that the magnitude of these decisions has taken time to go through several jurisdictions, including the Federal jurisdiction. It has not given us the time frame within which to meet the requirement on disallowance in the way that we would have liked—and in the way that Minister Della Bosca sought in writing to Senator Nick Minchin. Today, our hands are on the table and no tricks are involved. This agreement, which was announced in September, was agreed to by all parties.
The Hon. M. J. Gallacher: October.
The Hon. I. M. MACDONALD: We reached in-principle agreement in September. The agreement was announced on 6 October. There is no hidden agenda. We are debating this issue now purely and simply so we do not have to wait until some time next year to get on with the process of corporatisation and the release of water to the Snowy—something that I have supported for years and something about which I have written articles. I have been several times to the Snowy River. I am really pleased that this agreement has come to fruition and that we can finally get some water down the river. I urge all honourable members to support the motion that I have moved.
The Hon. M. J. GALLACHER (Leader of the Opposition) [11.28 p.m.]: The motion moved today by the Hon. I. M. Macdonald on behalf of the Government states:
That, under section 2 of the Snowy Hydro Corporations 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, and tabled in this House on 6 December 2000.
The interjection by the Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti highlighted the historic significance of what we are debating today. Yesterday the Special Minister of State led on that very point. Three-quarters of the ministerial statement made by the Minister yesterday was couched in historical terms—looking at the cultural, environmental and social significance of the Snowy to the Australian people, and the examinations and inquiries that have been conducted that have led us to the debate today. This is an extremely important issue for all Australians who have an interest in and love for the Snowy River. It is an issue that the Opposition believes is deserving of considerable debate and most certainly considerable public consultation.
The Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary, the Hon. I. M. Macdonald, spoke at length about the 6 October announcement and the subsequent letters of support that resulted from that joint announcement by Premier Carr and Premier Bracks of Victoria. The Premiers outlined an agreement to increase water flows from the Snowy through the Snowy River and on to the upper Murrumbidgee River and the Snowy region alpine rivers. It was interesting that the letters of support that the Hon. I. M. Macdonald mentioned in debate this morning were from the Total Environment Centre in August 1999, the Australian Conservation Foundation on 6 October 1999 and Environment Victoria. There was absolutely nothing in his submissions to this Chamber this morning to indicate the views of the other stakeholders involved in this process: the rice growers and the irrigators. There has been a lot of discussion about their initial support for the announcement of 6 October, but even the Hon. I. M. Macdonald would concede that that announcement was a draft agreement. I am reliably informed that a number of changes have been made to that draft agreement, and that is what the House is debating today.
We should look at the issue in that light. At that time the rice growers and the irrigators were supportive of the draft announcement made by the Government. We need to be assured that all the irrigators, rice growers and those affected by this heads of government agreement are involved in the process. This extremely important debate has been thrust upon us this morning and that, in itself, is another concern that the Opposition raises. We have been told in the past few days that we have to ram through as much legislation as possible to ensure that the House rises. I speak for the Opposition—I think most members of the crossbench would agree—when I say that we were not interested in the time it took to get through the legislation that has been on the notice paper for the past few days; we were concerned to maintain the integrity of the legislation that was passed in what we believe to be the last few days of this sitting. Just after three o'clock yesterday afternoon the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and I were summoned to a meeting with the Minister and his secretary to discuss this proposal.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: There was one at 1.15 p.m. that he didn't turn up for.
The Hon. M. J. GALLACHER: We were originally told 1.15 p.m., but the Minister had his staff inform us that he was tied up with another meeting, and we accepted that. Be that as it may, within the hour prior to question time—which was held between 4.00 p.m. and 5.00 p.m.—we were told this was going through. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition rightfully raised concerns, as did I, about the speed with which this was proposed to be pushed through Parliament and we asked for an opportunity to consult with the stakeholders on the proposal. Even at that stage the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and I had not been given an opportunity to look at the agreement. We were not aware that some changes had been made, so we decided to ensure that the stakeholders involved in this historic decision had the opportunity to raise their concerns. Of course, we were told by the Government that it was quite happy for us to go away and discuss this with the stakeholders. Within a very short time of leaving the meeting we found that that great Government negotiator—the Hon. I. M. Macdonald—with his strong-arm tactics—
The Hon. J. H. Jobling: Bully-boy.
The Hon. M. J. GALLACHER: With his bully-boy tactics, the Hon. I. M. Macdonald tried to push the crossbench members to ensure that this motion was rammed through the House with great haste. The Opposition is concerned that there may not have been an opportunity in the past 24 hours to consult with the stakeholders other than the environmental groups that the Hon. I. M. Macdonald has mentioned in the course of this debate. We want to be assured that there has been an opportunity for people whose livelihoods rest on the success or failure of this instrument to have their concerns heard and their livelihoods protected. The Opposition has looked at what is hoped to be achieved with these increased flows. Yesterday the Special Minister of State said in his ministerial statement:
All honourable members will agree that we are talking about an incredibly large project, one that the motion details will be played out over the next decade. Over the next 10 years, possibly longer, this instrument will have a significant effect on the environmental viability of the region, and the economic and social impact of the proposal needs to be examined. We recognise that the Federal Minister has made comments about this instrument and his support for it. Be that as it may, this Parliament is a sovereign Parliament and we uphold the right to make our own inquiries of our constituents to ensure that their voices are heard. I suspect that will work in tandem with what the Federal Government has done and will continue to do, but it is beholden on all members of this Chamber to be sure in their own minds that in the ensuing days all possible inquiries that can be made will be made.
The outcome can be summarised as follows: in implementing increased flows in the Snowy River below Jindabyne, in the Murray River and in the Snowy Mountain rivers, the three governments will aim for no adverse impacts on water entitlements for irrigation in diversions from the Murray River and in the Murrumbidgee and Goulburn- Murray river systems; water flows for environmental purposes in the Murray River and in the Murrumbidgee and Goulburn-Murray river systems; and South Australian water security or water quality consistent with water sharing arrangements in the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement.
The honourable member for Ballina made a very quick examination of this instrument. Honourable members should bear in mind that the lower House is not sitting and members of that House have not had an opportunity to look at or discuss this matter either. The honourable member for Ballina raised a number of valid concerns, which I am sure the Deputy Leader of the Opposition will expand upon, including water purchasing and its likely impact on the availability of water for irrigation purposes.
The honourable member for Ballina asked: What will protect the market from a distortion in price as a result of government purchases? He is concerned that, as yet, the Government has not spelled out what safeguards will be in place to ensure that licence-holders suffer no detrimental effects as a result of the agreement. The honourable member for Ballina is also concerned to know how the $375 million will be spent to achieve water savings. I am sure honourable members believe that these are all significant issues; that it is appropriate to examine and debate them; and that the Opposition has the right to be assured that the Government, in conjunction and consultation with other governments, has in fact got it right. We in this Chamber represent the people of New South Wales. We are the voice of the people of New South Wales and we must do absolutely everything we possibly can to ensure that the interests of the people of New South Wales are being safeguarded. That is the case in respect of the passage of all motions and legislation through this Chamber.
In conclusion, the Opposition will move an amendment to the Government's motion seeking sufficient time—not a lengthy period, but a sufficient period—to allow for consultation with the stakeholders and then the motion will be brought back to the House before the end of this year. The House will be able to agree to the motion, knowing that all stakeholders have been consulted and that the concerns of the Opposition that I have outlined and as the Deputy Leader of the Opposition will raise shortly have been addressed. Currently there is no such guarantee. The Coalition put its concerns to the Government in a meeting held before four o'clock yesterday. We are not ambushing the Hon. I. M. Macdonald, who is sitting opposite. He is fully cognisant of those views, although he did not address them this morning when he had an opportunity to do so. The Coalition is putting forward a reasonable proposition. We are seeking a few days in which to examine the agreement, to take into account the views of stakeholders and to bring those concerns back before this House to ensure that everyone involved in this process is being looked after.
The Hon. D. J. GAY (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [11.42 a.m.]: It is interesting to note that today is 7 December. Yesterday was 6 December—
The Hon. A. B. Kelly: And tomorrow will be 8 December.
The Hon. D. J. GAY: The convenor of County Labor is trying to be smart. This is a matter of huge importance. I would have thought that the people he purports to represent would expect better than trite, stupid comments from the so-called convenor of Country Labor. If he can control his stupidity in regard to this matter I will continue. Yesterday a motion was moved relating to this important matter and several bills that I regarded as important were recently debated in this Chamber. When one is talking about legislation one is loath to say which is the most important bill to have come before this House, but I will narrow it down. We have had a couple of goes at water. We debated the Water Management Bill put forward by the Department of Land and Water Conservation—
The Hon. R. S. L. Jones: Four days!
The Hon. D. J. GAY: As the Hon. R. S. L. Jones interjected, debated continued in this House for four days—22 hours in Committee—and it was debated in the other House. It was an exposure bill with heaps of amendments. At the end of the day, although that bill is not perfect, it is a damned sight better than it was when it was introduced into this House. Yesterday afternoon we got our first look at this motion, which will have huge ramifications for the State. This is probably one of the most important notices of motion we will ever have to vote on. One of the reasons it was late is that, after agreement was reached, the Federal Government took 10 weeks to sign off on it—10 weeks! That is not the State Government's fault. The Opposition does not for one moment blame the State Government for that.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile: Who delayed it in Cabinet?
The Hon. D. J. GAY: Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile is being just as trite as the convenor of Country Labor. Who delayed it in Cabinet? Who cares who delayed it in Cabinet? They were trying to get it right.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile: The National Party?
The Hon. D. J. GAY: It was probably the National Party. I would like to think it was because the National Party had real questions of concern that needed to be addressed in that particular instance.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile: Now they are happy.
The Hon. D. J. GAY: They may be happy with the Federal link, but we do not know what the ramifications will be of the New South Wales portion of the agreement. We have not had appropriate time to talk to the irrigators or to the Snowy River Alliance. We have not had an opportunity to talk to the honourable members for the electorates of Monaro, Wagga Wagga, Albury and Murrumbidgee, whose constituents will be affected.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile: What will you do then, reject the agreement?
The Hon. D. J. GAY: Look, you will have a chance. You represent the Government in this place. You will get a chance to speak. I will not interrupt you. You should not interrupt me.
The Hon. A. B. Kelly: Is that a promise, you won't interrupt?
The Hon. D. J. GAY: No, I will not interrupt him.
The Hon. I. M. Macdonald: You will not interrupt? That's a deal!
The Hon. D. J. GAY: I will not interrupt him. I will give him a chance when he gives me a chance.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile: Answer the question.
The Hon. D. J. GAY: What is your question?
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile: What will you do after all that consultation, reject the agreement?
The Hon. D. J. GAY: If the honourable member would wait a moment and give me a chance to speak, he might be enlightened. If he does not, he will not be enlightened. The Leader of the Opposition indicated that we have had this important motion for only 12 hours. We are asking that the debate be adjourned until 19 December. On that day the Legislative Assembly will meet to consider the bills that we have amended and forwarded to that House. It will take that House most of the day to consider the amendments forwarded by this House. We ask honourable members of this House to support us and to adjourn this motion until then. That will enable us to take this motion and these heads of agreement to the stakeholders who will be affected—such as the Snowy River Alliance and local members of Parliament—for their consideration.
The Hon. I. M. Macdonald: We have done all that.
The Hon. D. J. GAY: The Opposition has to take the Hon. I. M. Macdonald's word, which is not always the best thing to do—although, sometimes it is. I was probably a bit short with Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile. He asked a fair question. I suppose he was trying to help me. The Opposition is seeking to have debate on the motion adjourned until 19 December. We are members of Parliament and we are paid a salary to work all year. Under the current sitting arrangements our time in Parliament is hardly onerous and we should be able to put ourselves out a little bit. The Legislative Assembly will meet again on 19 December. This House could meet on that morning—having taken this motion and the agreement to the stakeholders and having considered the concerns that have been raised—and put it to the vote.
That will not delay the matter beyond Christmas. I do not suggest that we wait until the House meets next year. I am asking for a little extra time to enable the Opposition to address any concerns related to the agreement. I do not think that is too big an ask. We are not saying that we will oppose the motion, because the agreement contains a lot of good things and, as Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile pointed out, our Federal colleagues have signed off on it. The chances of the Opposition going against its Federal colleagues are pretty remote. The motion is quite explicit. It states that under section 2 of the Snowy Hydro Corporatisation Act this House does not propose to disapprove of the agreement between the State of New South Wales and the State of Victoria, et cetera. We have no come back. If this motion is passed by the House, it will wipe out our right to come back and change the agreement. If there is a mistake in the heads agreement that inadvertently affects a township or some of these people, we will not have the right to come back and review the matter.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile doesn't like to review things. He does not like being in a House of review.
The Hon. D. J. GAY: The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti makes a valid interjection that, after all, this is the House of review. We are not here simply to rubber stamp whatever the Government puts in front of us, be it the State Government or the Federal Government—my colleagues and the colleagues of members opposite. We need an opportunity to examine the agreement, to get the reactions of those who will be affected by it and to find out whether it contains any mistakes. Having said those few words, I move:
The House divided.
That this debate be adjourned until 19 December 2000.
|Mr Johnson |
Mr M. I. Jones
Mr R. S. L. Jones
|Mr Lynn||Mr Della Bosca|
|Mr Moppett||Mr Hatzistergos|
|Mr Samios||Ms Tebbutt|
Question resolved in the negative.
The Hon. D. J. GAY: "Disappointing" is the only word to describe the work ethic of my colleagues in the Labor Party and on the crossbench, because they are not prepared to come back at a later time, to give up one day.
Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile: We are, but not on this matter.
The Hon. D. J. GAY: Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile now says that he would come back on another matter, but not on this matter. Frankly, I cannot see anything more important before the House than this motion, but the Opposition was unable to adjourn debate on it. In the limited time available to us, in 12 hours, we have received concerns from various people in the community—I hope the Government's advisers are in a position to take notes. Last night I contacted the honourable member for Monaro, Peter Webb. He sent me an email which stated:
The township of Dalgety has been promised certain water flows in the future. There is no guarantee that that will happen or that the current flow will remain. The email continued:
There is some concern that the 28% or progress toward 28%, doesn't take into a/c stock and domestic requirements. The flows are supposed to be over and above current uses. There is no mention of the current syphon and to what level it would be opened up to.
Dalgety needs assurances that it won't be any worse off than it is now. Over the next three years.
There is no mention of 6% in the first 4.1.1.
We need clarification on who will pay for that. The email continued:
In 4.2.1 (and clarified in section 8.2 and 8.3) there is no mention of who will pay for the thermal outlet on Jindabyne that will need to be built in the 2 to 7 years stage that will enable 28% flows for the Snowy, ultimately.
And also 4.2.4 for the Snowy Hydro to build within three years the necessary constructed outlet on Tantangara that will allow increased flows down the upper Murrumbidgee. Snowy Hydro trading and the authority are quite concerned about this.
Peter Webb's point is that Monaro often has no rain for three months; sometimes it has no rain for 12 months or longer. Constituents from Monaro have also contacted me. This morning I received a fax from Ms Jo Garland, who is based in Dalgety.
Apart from the outlets capacity for 28% in 4.2.1 and in 5.2 for compensation the Snowy Hydro P/L for future flows above 21%, there is no mention of 28% …
6.12 talks about monthly schedules, what if it doesn't rain for three months as is common or indeed 12 months or longer as is also common.
The Hon. I. M. Macdonald: I know her well.
The Hon. D. J. GAY: As the Hon. I. M. Macdonald would be aware, Jo Garland is the deputy-chair of the Snowy River Alliance. She has also telephoned me. Her fax referred to the agreement between Victoria and New South Wales on the Snowy River environmental flow. She indicated that the agreement marks a tremendous outcome for the Snowy River compared with the current situation. I do not think anyone would disagree with that. She listed a few concerns which mainly relate to ensuring that the stated goals are reached. Her fax stated:
That is a fair point. That is one of the reasons the Coalition needed extra time to work out the details. The alliance is concerned about the 28 per cent environmental flow, the 10-year time frame, the amount of water required for Dalgety's town water supply plus the stock and domestic rights of land-holders on the river, which must be calculated and added to the environmental flow. The 28 per cent environmental flow is required to stay in the river to its mouth. There would need to be provision to review and increase the amount of water required for local townspeople and landowners as development and population increase. The fax from Ms Garland also mentioned that the 50-centimetre syphon, through which water currently leaves Jindabyne Dam and enters the Snowy River, can give the river 50 megalitres a day. The alliance asks that the syphon be fully opened at the same time as the Snowy hydro corporatisation is achieved.
The long-term nature of the agreement will most likely mean changes of government and political will and the Snowy River Alliance does not want to risk the survival of the River after we have campaigned so hard to achieve it.
The Hon. I. M. Macdonald: Do you support that?
The Hon. D. J. GAY: I am outlining the concerns of the alliance. Those concerns are the reason that we asked for more time to consider the motion. The water released from Jindabyne Dam, combined with the water from the Mowamba aqueduct, would be the minimum Dalgety could get until major structural works are completed. The alliance would like confirmation of the money that will be available in New South Wales for Snowy River rehabilitation. The terms of the motion made it necessary for the Coalition to contact the relevant shadow Ministers. The shadow Minister for Land and Water Conservation, Don Page, lives on the far North Coast. We had to get him down here to look at the agreement. We also contacted the shadow Minister for the Environment, Peta Seaton, and asked her to look at the agreement. Both shadow Ministers have had a brief but close look at the agreement.
The Hon. I. Cohen: Don't you have faxes?
The Hon. D. J. GAY: Yes we do.
The Hon. R. S. L. Jones: Don't you have emails?
The Hon. D. J. GAY: Yes, we do, but honourable members would understand that matters as important as this need face-to-face contact. The shadow Ministers have the carriage of a matter as important as this, and that is why Don Page had to be here. He has been in the Chamber and is in Parliament House today. On behalf of the Coalition he has said that the environmental flows for the Snowy and Murray rivers would be achieved through two sources, one of which is water savings through investment in infrastructure. The Coalition supports those measures. They are innovative, and they are probably the reason most people became a little more than excited about the direction in which the agreement was heading.
However, the Coalition is concerned that there is no detail on how the $375 million will be spent to achieve water savings. The Coalition would be much more comfortable if the Government had identified some major projects to achieve water savings. Indeed, we have serious doubts about whether the projected water savings of 21 per cent can be achieved within the 10-year time frame. We believe that the enterprise will have to resort to water purchasing to meet its targets. Given the time that would be needed to detail some of the projects, it is fair to place those concerns on the record. Had we had an extra week to study the agreement, the Government may have been able to explain how the $375 million is to be used and how it is to be staged over the years to make infrastructure savings. As I indicated earlier, that is what most people, including the Greens and the Coalition parties, identified as one of the most exciting and innovative aspects of the water savings process.
The shadow Minister, Don Page, said that environmental flows will also be achieved through water purchase by the newly created enterprise. The Opposition has serious concerns about that. Purchasing water entitlements from irrigators will reduce the water available for irrigation purchases and will have flow-on effects for dependent communities, especially those in the Murray and Murrumbidgee valleys. Once a quota is taken out of a valley, part of the economy of the valley is also removed. The Coalition will revisit that concern a little later. Furthermore, Government purchases of water entitlements will distort the water market by driving prices up, which will in turn affect licence holders, who will have to pay for water at dearer than normal rates.
When State Forests competes for agricultural land the price of that land is forced up. The Government is in competition with farmers and, with the resources available to it, it usually ends up buying the water entitlements. If it does not, the farmers are forced to pay more. It should be noted that I am talking about permanent purchases of entitlements. That water will never again be available for irrigation. The Coalition argues that water purchases should be the measure of absolutely last resort. In the limited time available since yesterday we have sought comment from key stakeholders, particularly the New South Wales Irrigators Council. Today the Coalition received a letter from the council in which it indicated its support for the agreement, subject to various conditions. The letter from the New South Wales Irrigators Council reads:
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.
I will seek assurances from the Government on those matters.
The Hon. I. M. Macdonald: Both are in the agreement.
The Hon. D. J. GAY: The letter continues:
c) That purchasing of entitlement is considered a last resort option where savings are unavailable.
To assist the Government I will provide a copy of the letter to the Parliamentary Secretary so that he is able to address the council's concerns in his reply.
The NSW Irrigators Council looks forward to ongoing discussions with the NSW Government and Opposition in relation to industry participation in the above processes.
The Hon. I. M. Macdonald: I will certainly do that.
The Hon. D. J. GAY: The Parliamentary Secretary indicates that he will give those matters consideration. The Coalition appreciates that. The Opposition seeks an assurance from the Government that purchasing of water will be a measure of absolutely last resort when savings are unavailable. It is simply too easy to achieve savings by buying a licence out of a valley. Part of the widespread community support for the agreement relates to the innovative idea that infrastructure will be used to prevent evaporation, help protect against salinity and bring a proper focus to the saving of water. The Government certainly deserves part of the credit for that idea. However, it is such a good idea that it obviously could not have come from the State Government originally. It must have come from the Federal Government or, perhaps, the Victorian Government. However, it is an idea that the Coalition supports and wish to see realised. There is concern that the Government will go for the least-cost option in the agreement. I will seek an assurance that the Government will not go for that least-cost option, because the least-cost option will be the purchase of water title out of a valley rather than achieving savings through infrastructure. Such an assurance will go a long way towards settling the concerns of many people about that ambiguity.
The Hon. I. M. Macdonald: We will do that.
The Hon. D. J. GAY: That is excellent. The Opposition also seeks an assurance from the Government that additional flows for the Snowy River will be sourced from water savings in the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers and that these savings will be identified, agreed to and audited in consultation with industry.
The Hon. I. M. Macdonald: It is in the agreement.
The Hon. D. J. GAY: The Parliamentary Secretary indicates that that is in the agreement. The Opposition also seeks an assurance from the Government that the proposed water saving projects will be clearly identified as quickly as possible in consultation with industry. That is the concern I expressed earlier. With regard to the $375 million, no-one has said if it will be spent, how it will be spent and where it will be spent.
The Hon. I. M. Macdonald: We do have some idea about that! I will speak to you about that later.
The Hon. D. J. GAY: The Parliamentary Secretary indicates that the Government has some idea about that matter. Frankly, instead of treating honourable members like mushrooms it would have been better for the Minister to detail that matter in his ministerial statement rather than require members to drag it out of him. I thank the Parliamentary Secretary for the indications he has given in response to most of the Opposition's concerns and for his indication that he will address the remaining concerns in his reply. The Opposition's support for this agreement is certainly dependent on the answers we receive.
The Opposition believes that this is a good agreement. However, we remain disappointed that such an important notice of motion was given to the House at five minutes to midnight, as it were. Indeed, I moved that debate on the matter be adjourned so that it could be further discussed on 19 December. The Opposition was willing to continue work on the matter, but it appears that the Government and the crossbenchers were not. C'est la vie. The Opposition hopes that the results of the agreement turn out to be as good as what is envisaged. If they do, they will herald an exciting time for this country. However, I am concerned that if there are problems with the agreement because of the haste with which the motion will pass through the Parliament it will be too late to protect those who need protection.
The Hon. M. I. JONES [12.19 p.m.]: I seek the Government's answer to a question which is simple and straightforward. The document entitled "Principles for an Agreement" states in paragraph 10:
I seek an assurance from the Government that normal riparian rights of property owners alongside the river valleys will be maintained.
All increased flows in the Snowy River and the River Murray are to be for environmental purposes and are not to be used for irrigated agriculture or any other consumptive purpose.
The Hon. I. M. Macdonald: That is correct.
The Hon. M. I. JONES: The Hon. I. M. Macdonald has said that those rights will be retained. I take the opportunity to comment on a statement by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition about the Government entering the water purchasing market. Historically, from an economical perspective, competition between government and the private sector for a resource is a primary and major source of inflation. I ask the Government to take that into account. Although there are many economists in Treasury, it is crucial that the Government monitors that issue to keep inflation under control in the future.
The Hon. R. S. L. JONES [12.20 p.m.]: The Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme was rightly regarded as a great engineering achievement in the days when it was considered important to conquer nature. Nature was an impediment to human progress. There was absolutely no understanding or appreciation of the consequences of damming the Snowy River, and no thought was given to the environment or to Australia's flora and fauna. No-one seemed to appreciate the importance and glory of the wild Snowy River. Man and his achievements came first—and I use the word "man" advisedly. Our amazing wild places and nature took a back seat. It was not until the 1960s and 1970s that awareness of the importance of wild places came to the fore. This awareness was promoted by such campaigners as the late Milo Dunphy and David Brower, founder of Friends of the Earth, who died last week.
The attitude that we need to control everything is still present. Virtually every river in New South Wales is regulated in some way. Very few wild streams and rivers are left to run free in their natural state. The obsession with human control over everything has come at a high cost. We have lost some of the essence of Australia, including many native species of plants and animals. To maintain the true spirit of Australia we need to relinquish some of our control and allow wild places to remain untouched by humans. We need to allow wild rivers to flow unhindered to the sea or to vast inland waterways. Turning the tap back on for the Snowy River is a significant advance not appreciated by those who only regard rivers as a means to irrigate crops or produce electricity. The value of the Snowy River is beyond mere dollars and cents. It is part of the legend of Australia.
We are reclaiming part of Australia's soul which was lost when the great Snowy River became a trickle. Let us hope that this is the beginning of the reclamation of other parts of Australia that we have lost or are in the process of losing, for example, the Murray-Darling system. We are not turning back the clock by restoring the flow of the Snowy River. We are turning it forward to a time when we can appreciate the beauty of nature and our wild places and regenerate those that we have lost. I congratulate all those who have campaigned to restore this mighty river and the three governments who have taken this historic step. I include locals living on the Monaro plains in New South Wales and around Orbost in Victoria.
As a result of their efforts an expert panel which consisted of scientific experts in freshwater ecology, fish ecology, geomorphology, riparian vegetation, hydrology and local knowledge was convened by the Snowy Genoa Catchment Management Committee in 1995 to report on the structure, stability and ecology of the Snowy River since the construction of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme. The panel reported in February 1996 that the river's channel in many reaches was silted up, that once-deep pools were filled in and that weed innovations had been promoted. The panel also reported dramatic reduction of macro-invertebrate diversity because of habitat loss, water temperature changes, and reduced flow velocity and variability. In addition, fish populations had been dramatically reduced due to habitat loss, there had been reduced oxygen levels and difficulties in upstream migration, river bank vegetation of much of the Snowy River had been altered and weed invasion had been severe.
Those impacts have made the river much more susceptible to erosion by tributary flood events that cut swathes through the riparian vegetation with the result that the Snowy River ecology resembles that of a lake more than that of a river. The panel therefore recommended a 30-fold increase in the average release to 800 megalitres per day, the removal of obstacles to fish migration, the implementation of a research program and the development of a vegetation management plan to repair the river. It is more than clear that in November 1997, when we debated the merits of corporatisation of the Snowy River Hydro-Electric Scheme, that remedial action was urgently needed to return the river to some semblance of ecological health and that the river needed water returned to it, using a managed environmental flow regime, as soon as possible. In fact, it had already been scientifically determined and was widely known that an environmental flow of 28 per cent of the original river flow was required for the Snowy River to survive, let alone to be restored or enhanced.
It was also widely known that the benefits to be derived from the introduction of a 28 per cent environmental flow would not merely be environmental. Fish breeding would increase, water quality would improve and the public would have increased opportunities for recreational activities, such as fishing and canoeing in receiving rivers. Large financial returns and employment opportunities would also be generated from events such as fly fishing championships, from rafting companies and from marketing the region internationally. The allocation of water to meet environmental needs has also become an important public issue. Community awareness of environmental values has increased, and the impact of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme on the environment outside its boundaries has been a contentious issue since the mid-1960s, and will continue to be so. Without an allocation to the Snowy River, the issues of reducing nutrient load on the river, appropriate environmental flows and the impact on irrigation leases and other water uses in the Murray-Darling basin are unlikely to be resolved.
The document entitled "Heads of Agreement: Agreed Outcome from the Snowy Water Inquiry" will finally put right the poorly planned engineering and land clearing of the post-war era and save another great Australian river from certain death. The agreement not only provides for a 21 per cent average natural flow to be returned to the Snowy River within 10 years and an additional 7 per cent to additional major capital works program to achieve water savings, it also provides for dedicated environmental flows for the Murray River. Three governments have worked on this agreement, and the Federal Government has been dealing with it for 10 weeks. I hope the motion is passed by this House today without any problem.
Ms LEE RHIANNON [12.25 p.m.]: The Greens are pleased to support this important motion. We recognise that it has come after years, indeed decades, of work by thousands of people who had the vision that the Snowy River would run free again. I was concerned earlier in the debate to hear Opposition members effectively misusing this debate as a grab for relevance. I remind members where this motion comes from. On 10 June the Leader of the National Party in this State, Mr George Souris, accused the Premier of doing a sleazy political deal. The National Party has tried to present the whole Snowy agreement as a sleazy political deal.
The Hon. R. H. Colless: Rubbish!
Ms LEE RHIANNON: They are the words of the Leader of the National Party. Is the Hon. R. H. Colless saying that his leader's words are rubbish?
The Hon. R. H. Colless: No, I am not.
Ms LEE RHIANNON: That is what it sounded like. The Leader of the National Party said, "Mr Carr has sold out on New South Wales irrigators and producers to stitch up the political future of his Victorian counterpart." It would be interesting to hear the Leader of the National Party comment on the reflections he cast there, considering that some of his colleagues eventually, after many shadow Cabinet meetings, saw some sense. So the situation has been a little unsavoury. It is relevant to remind my Opposition colleagues of the catalyst for this motion. The election of Craig Ingram as a Independent representing East Gippsland in the Victorian Parliament brought the issue of letting the Snowy River run free again to a new stage as a result of which an agreement has come forward between the Commonwealth, Victorian and New South Wales governments. I was again surprised about the development with the Nationals, considering the election decimated the conservative parties in Victoria. Hopefully, they will learn sooner or later.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: Nationals, not nationalists.
Ms LEE RHIANNON: I did not say "nationalists". Do not put words into my mouth—and I would advise the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to check in Hansard what he said yesterday. This is a historic day: the New South Wales Parliament is on the eve of passing this important motion. It is the beginning of the end of abuse of the Snowy River, which for many decades has had 99 per cent of its flow sent westward into the Murray River system. On the eve of having a considerable proportion of the water returned, the Greens still hope that a greater proportion will flow into the Snowy. It is vitally important that the water that is returned to the Snowy River mimics natural flows. Most of the water should be sent down the river at the end of the winter months when the snow is melting, and after that the water flow should be allowed to subside.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: Will there be drought runs?
Ms LEE RHIANNON: For the information of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, that is precisely what is meant by what I am suggesting. The Greens believe that it is necessary to concentrate on the positive environmental impacts that will result from the agreement, which will apply to other regions of New South Wales and Victoria. Its operation will not be confined just to the Snowy, and that is something that honourable members ought to keep in mind. I note that a number of environmental groups will be monitoring the increased flows very closely. Environmental groups will take great interest in how the agreement plays out and develops.
I place on record the fact that we have arrived at this point because of the tremendous work of so many environmental groups and local community organisations. Organisations such as the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Total Environment Centre and the Nature Conservation Council often come to the minds of honourable members in this place but there are literally hundreds of grassroots community and environment groups, particularly in northern Victoria and southern New South Wales, that have worked for years to achieve this outcome. On behalf of the Greens I congratulate those groups. I am pleased to support the motion.
The Hon. Dr P. WONG [12.31 p.m.]: I support the Government's motion on the agreed outcome from the Snowy Mountains inquiry. As the Special Minister of State pointed out—
The Hon. D. J. Gay: Where is he?
The Hon. Dr P. WONG: Good question! The Snowy Mountains scheme was, and still is, of major practical and symbolic significance to south-eastern Australia. As it was built during the sixties and seventies, it was a major employer of thousands of new migrants. It is a large part of the collective memory of many migrants and refugee communities who came to Australia after World War II. It was one of the birthplaces of multicultural Australia. It has made a major contribution to the wealth of Australia through power generation and irrigation.
Of course, when these waters were first harnessed we had less knowledge and appreciation of the environmental impact of it on the Snowy River. With water being scarce and unreliable, it was generally accepted that the best thing one could do with a river was to build a dam on it. Times change, and there is now broad agreement that when allocating water we must consider broader environmental considerations as well as direct economic benefits.
The agreement outcome by the Federal, New South Wales and Victoria governments is a significant step towards formally recognising and making provision for water for the environment. I congratulate those governments on co-operating to bring this about. Given that the State governments are contributing $150 million each, I do not quite understand why the Commonwealth Government is contributing only $75 million, but there may be some sound reason for that. That the Snowy may begin to flow again will touch our imagination today as much as did the Snowy scheme in the fifties. Perhaps it will even inspire some new poetry.
The Hon. I. COHEN [12.33 p.m.]: I speak with pleasure during debate on the motion concerning the Snowy River agreement. This significant historic occasion will draw together, rather than separate, many sections of the community, such as the farming community and both city and country conservationists. I am reminded of my first real experience of a river campaign, which involved the Franklin River in the early 1980s. I was part of the protest campaign. I was told by many a person from the Wilderness Society in Tasmania that the aim was not so much protecting the forest, although members of the society were keenly aware of the issues, but seeing the river maintaining its flow from beginning to end in its wild state—flowing to the sea through its own natural ability. That was the ideal. The conservation movement has felt very strongly about the preservation of rivers. In Australia and overseas, particularly in United States, there have been many campaigns against dams. In United States dams have been decommissioned to allow the waters to flow free once again.
It is important to look towards less regulation of rivers and returning them to their natural state. Although we do not condemn our forebears for an amazing post-war engineering feat at a time when engineering solutions were regarded as the way to go, at that time we were imbued with a scientific ethos and were overawed by technology. We had only a rudimentary awareness of the environment and ecology, and environmental values were essentially unknown.. The Snowy Mountains scheme was part of the building of society and post-war reconstruction. However, as time has passed, in common with the farming community, we have learned to work with, rather than against, nature.
We have witnessed development in all areas of the community.We should join together as one to accept that development and acknowledge that the Snowy River should have its environmental flows reintroduced and then maintained. The human centred and non human centred opportunities that arise are fantastic. The ecology of the river can be regenerated from what it is at the present time: a mere trickle in a very unhealthy ecological situation. Towns such as Dalgety, which I understand was one of the original sites proposed for the Australian Capital Territory—
The Hon. D. J. Gay: So was Crookwell.
The Hon. I. COHEN: That is very interesting. I acknowledge that Crookwell could well have been put on the map, and I make the point that Dalgety could also have been put on the map. I have been to Dalgety to visit friends; it is a wonderful little town. It is just waiting for what could be a real tourism boom in the not-too-distant future when the flows are reinstituted and fishing is reintroduced. I understand that fish bypasses are being allowed in the town of Dalgety near the caravan park. Once those bypasses are established, the environmental flows can start to develop and that will lead to the introduction of more native fish. After that, a very healthy tourism industry will come into an area which is otherwise fairly economically depressed.
There will be fantastic opportunities all the way downstream along the Snowy River. The Greens look forward to that and hope that the agreement will receive bipartisan support. The agreement will help all country and city people by implementing the ideal of environmental restoration in our society. It will provide practical support for the regeneration of areas that have been ignored and abused for a long period. It is a pleasure to support this motion. It seems that Australians have finally agreed on a way forward to ensure that our national icon can flow once again. The Greens hope that the agreement will result in sufficient water being given back to the environment to redress the damage that has occurred as a result of water being taken from the river over the past 30 years. I thought I heard the Hon. I. M. Macdonald, who has moved the motion on behalf of the Special Minister of State, say that there was the commitment to a 28 per cent flow within 10 years. I ask him to repeat that during his reply.
The Hon. I. M. Macdonald: It is 10 years now, is it?
The Hon. I. COHEN: We will make it 15 years then. Even if that commitment is not made now, the conservation movement will be working towards achieving that target over future generations to bring about an adequate restoration of the river. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition referred to the sale of water licences as a last resort. However, $395 million has been allocated to achieving efficiency in the use of water and to getting this right. Nevertheless, it is fair to acknowledge that a fair bit of wastage has occurred in the past for which all sections of society, both in the city and in the country, share some guilt. We should also acknowledge that through efficiencies, technology enables us to produce water resources.
I know that honourable members on the Opposition benches have seen an improvement in farming techniques and drip irrigation systems to create conservation farming, and that is what we are talking about. There is real potential for the sharing of ideals and practicalities between the Green movement and the farming sector to create conservation farming.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: I don't disagree with you,but it doesn't negate the point I made. The point still stands.
The Hon. I. COHEN: We can ameliorate the point made earlier by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. There will be an opportunity to buy up licences and at the same time there will be an acknowledgment from the farming community that it can cope with less water by using it far more efficiently. The Snowy River has flowed at less than 1 per cent of its average annual flow for the past 30 years. The February 1996 report of the expert panel on the environmental flow assessment of the Snowy River below Jindabyne Dam commissioned by the Snowy-Genoa Catchment Management Committee stated:
In summer the river dies. The shallow water, choked by weeds, heats up and releases oxygen to as much as 120 per cent saturation. At night the prolific algae and weed growth uses much of the available oxygen, crashing it to below less than 70 per cent saturation. The natural inhabitants of the Snowy, the fish and macro-invertebrates, cannot survive such large fluctuations in oxygen levels: they die in significant numbers. The environmental flows are usually described as the minimum flows that will sustain the necessary ecological process of a watercourse. They are a baseline, the bare minimum. They are not a luxury flow, which represents waste, but a flow that represents the survival of species within the watercourse. Currently, the Snowy scheme delivers approximately as much water to the Snowy-Tumut-Murrumbidgee as it does to the Snowy-Murray scheme:approximately 2,360 gigalitres per annum.
The channel has dramatically contracted in size and has been invaded by exotic vegetation, including blackberries and willows.
A minimum requirement is outlined in the Commonwealth-States agreement and the Murray-Darling Basin agreement of at least 1,062 gigalitres per annum for each scheme. The Snowy River represents only 5 per cent of the Murray's flow, and approximately 14 per cent of the Murrumbidgee's average annual flow. That is, however, a significant flow as it can be supplied quickly during periods of low flow or high salinity. Redressing that situation has put Australia's standing as an advanced nation and conservation community in line with intelligent thinking on the use of resources. The Snowy River has international significance. It is far more than just a river, it is certainly one of a kind. It is steeped in Australia's traditional psyche. Virtually all Australians have supported the restoration of environmental flows to the Snowy. However, the agreement did not happen overnight.
The agreement is the result of a long and arduous campaign. In the last Parliament the Greens were pleased to support the Snowy Mountains Corporatisation Bill and associated legislation, which provided for a water inquiry with public participation prior to the proclamation of the corporatisation provisions. The inquiry report was handed down in October 1998. It was agreed that efficiency savings in the irrigation industry would be achieved to redirect sufficient water to guarantee a sufficient level of environmental flows. Negotiations proceeded between the Commonwealth and various States, and the outcome of those negotiations is the agreement that this House is considering today. We were made aware of this agreement only yesterday. We have not had sufficient time to study the terms of it in detail, although we have certainly gone through it in the past 24 hours. It is therefore difficult to give a considered response on many aspects of this very important document.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: Why didn't you support our amendment?
The Hon. I. COHEN: However, I acknowledge that there has been an inquiry and that there has been a lot of lobbying by both industry and conservation groups. Campaigns have been waged over many years. The Hon. Robert Webster, a former Leader of the House, headed the inquiry. This matter has been the subject of an incredible amount of discussion and inquiry. It is not as though the whole thing has been dumped onto us at the last minute.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: He has nothing to do with the heads of agreement.
The Hon. I. COHEN: Communication on this matter has been long and arduous.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: You're making all the noises that you should have argued on my amendment.
The Hon. I. COHEN: The Deputy Leader of the Opposition is becoming a little bellicose. It is interesting to note that he has complained that honourable members voted the way they did because of an indisposition to return because the workload might be heavy. I find that extremely offensive. I am on record as saying a number of times during my six years in this Parliament that I work hard, as do many other members of this House, including most if not all of those on the crossbench. It is totally inappropriate and reprehensible of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to assume that I do not want to come back. I will come back day in and day out. I will come back over the whole of Christmas, if it is appropriate. But I will not come back to be part of a National Party stunt to debate further a matter that has been well and truly ventilated over a long period. The only way I can describe the comment of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition is that it is a telegraph comment: he will get himself a line in the Daily Telegraph. It is a cheap shot at the Parliament. I thought that we were all working towards maintaining the integrity of this place. It is very unbecoming of the honourable member to make such a cheap shot. If he has something worthwhile to discuss further down the track I will come back at any time.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: Are you saying that this is not worthwhile?
The Hon. I. COHEN: I am saying that this has been discussed and that we have been through it time and time again.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: You just made a contribution that backed up my amendment. You are playing politics.
The Hon. I. COHEN: I was acknowledging certain things. This matter and associated legislation have been discussed for many years.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: Not these heads of agreement.
The Hon. I. COHEN: On the other hand, the Government claims the Parliament must not delay the agreement because any delay may place the restoration of flows in jeopardy. I fear that time spent in the intervening period up to Christmas could place the restoration flows in jeopardy. The Snowy River Alliance has asked me to raise a number of issues. Earlier this year I circulated to honourable members a letter from the alliance. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition quoted some parts of it, but I would like to go through it. The letter from Jo Garland, Deputy Chair, Snowy River Alliance, states:
As we understand it, the agreement marks a tremendous outcome for the Snowy River, compared with its current situation. There are a few concerns which I will list, but mainly they are related to ensuring that the stated goals are reached. The long term nature of the agreement will most likely mean changes of government and political will and the Snowy River Alliance does not want to risk the survival of the River after we have campaigned so hard to achieve it.
1. While the 28% environmental flow is committed to in principle, we ask that the full 28% is delivered within the 10 year time frame.
For the information of the Hon. I. M. Macdonald, that is where I got the 10 years from
The Hon. D. J. Gay: I put those on the record earlier.
The Hon. I. COHEN: But it was incomplete.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: I do not think I put them all on the record, but I had put those particular ones on the record.
The Hon. I. COHEN: I seek leave to incorporate this letter from Jo Garland, Deputy Chair of the Snowy River Alliance.
As we understand it, the agreement marks a tremendous outcome for the Snowy River, compared with its current situation. There are a few concerns which I will list, but mainly they are related to ensuring that the stated goals are reached. The long term nature of the agreement will most likely mean changes of government and political will and the Snowy River Alliance does not want to risk the survival of the River after we have campaigned so hard to achieve it.
1. While the 28% environmental flow is committed to in principle, we ask that the full 28% is delivered within the 10 year time frame.
2. The amount of water required for Dalgety's town water supply plus the stock and domestic rights of landholders on the river must be calculated and added to the environmental flow amount. The 28% environmental flow has to stay in the river to its mouth. Also there would need to be the ability to review and increase the required amount of water for local townspeople and landowners as development and population increase over time.
3. The 50 cm siphon through which the water currently leaves Jindabyne Dam and enters the Snowy River can give the river 50 megalitres per day. We ask that the siphon be fully opened at the same time as Snowy Hydro Corporatisation is achieved. This water, combined with that from the Mowamba aqueduct would be all Dalgety can get until the major structural works are competed and it is minimal.
4. How much money will be available for Snowy River rehabilitation in NSW?
5. Regarding the upper montane streams and rivers, the Snowy River Alliance continues to support the expert panel's recommendations including 25% environmental flow for the Eucumbene River.
6. The Snowy River Alliance believes it would be appropriate to have community representation on the governments "entity" to achieve the water efficiency savings.
7. What happened to the "contingency" water required by the 1997 Snowy Mountains Authority corporatisation legislation? This was a percentage of water to be nominated to be accessed in the case where the environmental outcomes were not achieved by the initial environmental flow level decided upon, after a 5 year review. Use of this water was to be non-compensatable to Snowy Hydro. This is an important safeguard for the River as the environmental health of the river is the goal and is unmeasurable until the water is sent downstream and the river health monitored over time.
8. For Victoria 21% environmental flow will not achieve the required environmental outcomes. It will not move sediment, drop water temperature nor maintain the channel as required. Therefore 28% is necessary.
The Hon. I. COHEN: I thank the House for that leave. Therefore, the major issue is the amount of water that the agreement will redirect into the Snowy. Yesterday the Special Minister of State said in a ministerial statement that increased flows of up to 21 per cent of average natural flows—212 gigalitres within a 10-year period—would be the target. Any increased flow above 21 per cent would result in compensation being paid to Snowy Hydro Ltd. The Minister's statement and the terms of the agreement raise a critical issue about whether the amount of water that it promises will be sufficient to restore the river. The agreement allows for only 212 gigalitres of extra flow. The agreement is very vague about the extra 7 per cent of flow that is necessary for sufficient flow.
The Parliamentary Secretary must explain how this agreement will result in the availability of sufficient water. A related question is compensation. Yesterday the Minister stated that the flow level in the river above which compensation will be paid to Snowy Hydro Ltd will be set at 21 per cent. This means that the 28 per cent flow level will not be achieved unless compensation is paid. I certainly hope that the electricity from Snowy Hydro Ltd is worth less when the Government is confronted with that situation, and that we are so well endowed with stand-alone alternatives and a sustainable means of electricity power generation that this will not be an issue. In the meantime the Greens will continue to watch the situation.
Another issue is the compensation to be paid for publicly owned resources. Although Snowy Hydro Ltd is a publicly owned corporation, it is likely that pressure will be brought to bear for it to be privatised, which the Greens will oppose as we have opposed other Government moves in Parliament to privatise. The agreement contains an in-built entitlement to compensation by the owner of Snowy Hydro Ltd if flow levels above 21 per cent are achieved. It therefore seems to contain an in-built disincentive to achieve the 28 per cent flow. Again, I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to comment on that issue in reply.
The Greens recognise the significance of the commitment of $375 million by the New South Wales, Victorian and Commonwealth governments to this worthy cause. This agreement has the support of all the major conservation groups. As previous speakers have said, many small organisations have worked in various areas around the Snowy River, at the dam site area and also downstream. I particularly thank and congratulate those people from the Snowy River Alliance and many others, including Paul Leete, who for many years has led the campaign with intensity and idealism, and Jo Garland and Carl Drury, who honourable members may have seen jump the tiny creek which is the Snowy River. Carl is a mountain man down to his boot straps. I first met him in the Victorian forests downstream in the Snowy River, not far from Orbost, when he was a real bush bloke defending the forests against unsustainable logging. These conservationists are not seeking acknowledgment in the community; they are merely doing the hard work to help a wonderful icon river flow free again. I congratulate the Government.
The Hon. Dr A. CHESTERFIELD-EVANS [12.52 p.m.]: This is an historic motion. Obviously, the Snowy hydro scheme was a great concept. It was an engineering solution that was the product of a time when people dreamt of making deserts blossom by undertaking huge public works projects to redirect water. At that time it was regarded as a waste if a drop of water flowed into the ocean unused. The scheme fulfilled a dream, but not much was known about ecology, river systems and salinity problems arise because of changes in watertables and so on.
The Hon. R. H. Colless: What about the wealth it created for Australia?
The Hon. Dr A. CHESTERFIELD-EVANS: It must be acknowledged that immense wealth and economic benefits to Australia have been created by soldier settlers and those who took up allotments along the irrigation areas. They developed industries that have fed millions of people around the world. As the problem of salinity was identified, the suggestion was made for a possible win-win situation by dramatically cutting leakages out of the system to produce much more water to improve the ecology of the Murray-Darling Basin and also put water back into the Snowy. Of course, a large amount of money was needed to fix the channels. Perhaps the catalyst for this agreement is the electoral change in Victoria where the Independent who was fighting for this cause, Craig Ingram, the member for East Gippsland,, had to cut the Gordian knot. He derived the will to initiate this agreement from his balance of power position in the Victorian Parliament. A small group of activists were the prime movers in the Victorian Parliament, and that says a lot about the balance of power and the importance and effect of Independents in Parliament. It is odd that for some reason the major parties have not mentioned that.
The input from the New South Wales Government and the Victorian Government will be $150 million each, while the Federal Government will contribute $75 million—a somewhat miserly amount given its resources—to fix these channels and, hopefully, to deliver water. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition said that there are still some problems with the agreement. The assumption is that the money is sufficient to deliver the required amount of water, but that has not been spelt out in detail. Obviously, if the costings and the anticipated amount of water to be delivered from the public works projects were clearly given it may be more reassuring. It would seem that we are able to get 15 per cent relatively easily, 21 per cent with a little more difficulty and 28 per cent with more difficulty again, but without knowledge of the likely costs and returns from the public works it is obviously still somewhat of an imponderable.
However, in relation to this Government delaying the passage of the motion, it is a question of the three governments—New South Wales, Victorian and Federal—coming to the party. The Victorian Government has been spurred on to keep the matter at full throttle by the Independent with the balance of power. The New South Wales Government seems enthusiastic but the Federal Government has a poor record on environmental issues, as illustrated by its $75 million contribution compared to the $150 million from each of the State governments, which have much less money. Accepting the agreement as a certainty rather than putting it at risk through the Federal Government was prominent in my mind, and probably in the minds of other crossbenchers, when wedid not support the adjournment motion of the Opposition. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition made the rather unworthy suggestion that we did so because of laziness. We are willing to sit longer and discuss legislation at great length, and it is it cheap shot to claim that we are just lazy.
Obviously, there are other problems. The Snowy River Alliance wants guarantees of more water and a number of us want more costings on the public works. The agreement has been reached and the sooner it is confirmed the better it will be for the people of New South Wales. We hope that the outcome will be as has been suggested: a win-win situation with the input of money-saving water to improve the ecosystems of the Murray and the Snowy rivers. Tourism benefits will then flow from the Snowy River, an Australian icon, and be enjoyed by the people of Australia in the future.
The Hon. I. M. MACDONALD (Parliamentary Secretary) [12.57 p.m.], in reply: The New South Wales Irrigators Council in correspondence with Don Page, the shadow Minister, dated 7 December raised the following three issues:
I advise, first, that no additional flows will be sent down the Snowy River unless they are offset by water savings from western rivers.That is the clear-cut agreement by the three governments. Second, the savings will be identified, agreed and audited in consultation with industry. Third, purchases of water will be very small and will only be done when excess water is available. Water available for irrigation farming will not be significantly reduced. There will be no impact on the price of water in the market because the purchases will be so small. It is clear from discussions with the three governments and irrigators that those water efficiency savings are wanted by the irrigators. We have been looking at projects at Barrenbox Swamp at Griffith to develop a major program to enhance greater water efficiency savings and capabilities of storage. We have also looked at a number of the irrigation channels in that area that need considerable work.
(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 three governments have projects in mind, as I outlined in the case of Barrenbox Swamp, to achieve water savings. Two major reports have been prepared: the Bewsher report in New South Wales and the Sinclair-Knight report in Victoria. Those reports identify possible projects. However, when the joint government enterprise, as mentioned in the agreement, is established, it will have to conduct its own feasibility study, including reviewing the two previous reports to identify which projects are put in place. Jo Garland from the Snowy River Alliance, whom I have met many times in relation to this project, obviously is seeking an assurance about riparian rights in the Snowy.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: As was Peter Webb.
The Hon. I. M. MACDONALD: Absolutely. We can state categorically that the existing riparian rights are guaranteed, but we make it clear that the agreement does not intend that the additional or enhanced water flows down the Snowy will be used for irrigation. That was regarded as contrary to the spirit of what we were endeavouring to do. Stock and domestic water requirements are not affected by these arrangements; specific allowance is made for those requirements in the New South Wales corporatisation legislation. It was said during the debate that 38 gigalitres, increasing flows to 6 per cent in the Snowy River, will be released from the first year, and the question was asked: Where is the money coming from for the Jindabyne outlet? This will be paid by Snowy Hydro, as provided in clause 8.2 of the Heads of the Agreement, after corporatisation. Honourable members will be aware that that will take two to three years to get up and running, as major engineering works need to be completed.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: Is the Snowy Hydro going to pay for that?
The Hon. I. M. MACDONALD: Snowy Hydro is paying for that. A second point raised in the debate was: What will happen if there is a drought? If there is a dry sequence—that is, no rain—water in the Snowy storages will be used. The storages enable use to be balanced during variable climatic conditions. The Snowy River Alliance suggested also that 28 per cent should be delivered within 10 years. It is not possible to acquire sufficient water savings to offset that level of flow within 10 years. Achieving 28 per cent would be dependent on establishing major capital works programs through public-private partnerships to do such things as pipeline irrigation channels. The idea of achieving 28 per cent in 10 years is somewhat quixotic.
The Hon. I. Cohen argued that compensation payable above a 21 per cent flow would be a disincentive to achieve a 28 per cent flow. It is intended that the establishment of public-private partnerships will include payment of compensation in assessing the financial viability of the major public works program. In other words, that can proceed only if that is built into the financing structure for proceeding with any particular project. Compensation will be from that particular process. I believe that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition remarked that market prices might be distorted.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: Yes.
The Hon. I. M. MACDONALD: Our position is that it will not be distorted, because any purchases on the market will be minimal. The emphasis in the agreement is to actually have the water efficiency programs.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: And not the option of first resort?
The Hon. I. M. MACDONALD: That is correct. The comment was made that things might have changed since the first agreement. This instrument has not changed since it was announced on 6 October. The heads of agreement, or the terms sheet, has undergone changes, but that is not the subject of the debate. Reference was made to consultation, and the Government has consulted extensively with the stakeholders. We have had many meetings with stakeholders both in Griffith and in Deniliquin, and in the Snowy area at Orbost and Dalgety, with the environment movement.
Further, we have had a large number of meetings with various instrumentalities that have a role in maintaining the quality of the environment of the Snowy Mountains, including the National Parks and Wildlife Service [NPWS], the Department of Land and Water Conservation and other groups. We believe there has been an extensive consultation period. Honourable members might recall in the 12 October edition of the Land, the first issue after the initial release of the agreement by the New South Wales and Victorian governments, several comments were made by the New South Wales Irrigators Council about the consultation process. The article stated:
I believe we have addressed those concerns in this agreement. After the agreement was reached, the Murrumbidgee Irrigation group inserted, at its expense, an advertisement in local papers supporting Snowy flows. In that advertisement Mr Dick Thompson, Chairman of Murrumbidgee Irrigation, said:
NSW Irrigators Council president, Colin Thomson, said irrigators had already lost significant amounts of water to environmental flows but would lose no more.
"Irrigation in the Southern Murray-Darling Basin underpins prosperous rural communities and generates billions of dollars in economic activity for the nation—but nobody benefits from inefficient delivery and storage systems."
Ricegrowers Association president, Ian Douglas, said all water users across the region would benefit from a more efficient irrigation system, but irrigator profitability must not be compromised.
... that measures in the agreement are designed to:
- Safeguard the interests of irrigators;
- Deliver environmental benefits to the Snowy River and its communities;
- Protect the environment of the Murray-Darling Basin;
- Maintain the quantity and quality of South Australia's water supply; and
- Secure the financial position and operating flexibility of the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme..
As I said, that advertisement was published and paid for by Murrumbidgee Irrigation. I believe it satisfies any doubts about the fairness of the consultative process over the vast period that this issue has been before this Parliament, in effect waiting for determination. The process that has been followed is a model of how government instrumentalities and the Government itself should seek to reach agreement between stakeholders.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: It's a pity you spoiled it at the last minute.
The Hon. I. M. MACDONALD: I believed I had dealt with those aspects in my original speech. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has made some good points and I have tried to answer his questions. I did not particularly want to revisit the point covered in my opening speech that, unfortunately, there was a problem with the timing of this matter, which was why we have had to deal with it this way.
I should like to conclude on what I believe is a positive note. A week or so ago I was in Griffith to meet with irrigators and go over a number of issues. I had the opportunity of visiting a small farm at Hanwood owned by Steve Barbon, who had won an award as the young irrigator of the year in Griffith. His tremendous farm has been converted, at considerable cost I might add, to the most modern technology. He has introduced efficiencies in every possible form, and they are fantastic for the environment. He has dramatically reduced the amount of water he uses. The water table has actually lowered, as drip irrigation operated by a computer system delivers the right amount of water at the right time to his 18 hectares of grapes.
These are the sorts of changes that need to be implemented in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area—in fact, in irrigation areas throughout the southern half of the State. Mr Barbon's system is a model for the future of irrigation in this country. It is not flood irrigation; it is drip irrigation, trickle irrigation and small microspray systems. This is the way we are going in the future. Again I place on record my support for the initiatives of Mr Barbon. That has been our intention from the beginning of negotiations on this agreement with the Commonwealth and Victorian governments. I commend my motion to the House.
Motion agreed to.
[The Deputy-President (Reverend the Hon. F. J. Nile) left the chair at 1.10 p.m. The House resumed at 2.15 p.m.]