Barwon-Darling River Water Agreement
The Hon. HENRY TSANG: My question is addressed to the Minister for Natural Resources. Can the Minister please provide the House with information about yesterday's agreement between the State Labor Government and stakeholders in the Barwon-Darling region?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: Yesterday's agreement between the Iemma Labor Government and irrigators and other stakeholders on a cap strategy for the Barwon-Darling river system was an historic milestone for New South Wales. For the first time, all the major irrigation rivers in this State will comply with the Murray-Darling Basin cap on diversions, which was set by the Murray-Darling Ministerial Council in 1995. For some years now there has been uncertainty in the Barwon-Darling about how the cap strategy should be implemented in this region. This insecurity, combined with the most severe drought in our State's history, has had a crippling effect on local producers, who have been unable to plan effectively and confidently for the future. I am pleased to inform the House that this cloud of uncertainty has now been lifted. Following yesterday's agreement, a new cap management strategy will be introduced, which will provide a transparent, practical process for limiting water extraction levels along the Barwon-Darling river system.
The Hon. Melinda Pavey: What size will that be?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: I will deal with that in a second. The cap will be implemented from 1 July this year, with a nominal extraction limit of 173 gigalitres per year. However, after listening to the concerns of stakeholders the State Government has agreed to carry out an immediate review of the existing figures for the Barwon-Darling to gain a more accurate picture of flow levels and current extractions.
The Hon. Melinda Pavey: It is good that you have finally listened to the people.
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: That is right. This Government listens to the concerns of people in the bush, unlike members opposite, who are completely out of touch with families and communities in the north-west of the State.
The PRESIDENT: Order! I call the Hon. Melinda Pavey to order for the first time.
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: Despite the noise they make, Opposition members are utterly incapable of developing coherent policies that actually address difficult problems. There has been broad agreement that a cap was necessary, but also that the information we had on the river system could be vastly improved. Honourable members should ask Coalition colleagues at the Federal level about whether they want a cap. As a result, new state-of-the-art meters will be installed right along the Barwon-Darling. These are ultrasonic metering systems.
The Hon. Melinda Pavey: Ultrasound?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: Ultrasonic, yes. This will help us gain more accurate data and recalibrate the model as required. I have announced also the immediate establishment of a special working group that will immediately begin reviewing the existing Barwon-Darling cap model and volume figures. This group includes an independent hydrologist, a nominee from the Mungindi-Menindee Advisory Council, and a representative from the Department of Natural Resources.
The Hon. Rick Colless: Who is that?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: I will announce that in due course. The final review will have to be accredited by the Murray-Darling Basin Commission, but at this stage we anticipate the long-term cap to be in the range of 173 to 250 gigalitres. As part of the agreement, the distribution of the cap will be weighted towards active licences. It is not about making random decisions about water allocations but, rather, making sure that we have a fair and accurate picture of levels of extraction back in 1993-94.
This agreement will ensure that the people of Bourke are treated in exactly the same way as others in every other river system in New South Wales. It will also protect the rights of downstream users, by preventing excessive extraction levels and maintaining environmental flows for the long-term health of the river system. The Government is proud of its outstanding record in water reform, with New South Wales leading the way in meeting the objectives of both the national water initiative and the Living Murray agreement. Unlike The Nationals, we believe in working with our communities, including environmental groups, primary producers and industry, to achieve the best possible results for our rivers and our regions.
This agreement is yet another example that our approach is benefiting all stakeholders by limiting and properly managing water use, while ensuring our regional towns and cities will continue to prosper. It is a practical solution, reached after months of hard work between the Government and the various stakeholder groups. It has been warmly welcomed by the community, the Mayor of Bourke, Wayne O'Malley, the New South Wales Irrigators Council, and Ian Cole from the Mungindi-Menindee Advisory Council.