March 27, 2014  |  Second Reading

Water Amendment (Water Trading) Bill 2014

Mr HOWARD (Ballarat  East)— I am pleased  to  add my comments on  the Water Amendment (Water  Trading)  Bill 2014. As we have heard from other speakers, the bill ties into the stages of intergovernmental agreements that  have taken place in regard to the Murray-Darling Basin  plan. We  all know the background to this — in particular, the 10-plus years of  drought  experienced across a large part of this state  and other  states until  about 2009,  when the  realities of  the limitations of  the water supply across  this country became  even  more starkly evident.

The  major catchment  system  across this  state  is  the  Murray-Darling  Basin catchment.

The Darling River runs from Queensland through western New South Wales and links into the  Murray  River system, which  flows along the New  South Wales-Victoria state boundary and finishes up in South  Australia. It is a huge system of water which the people of those four states rely  on  for  agricultural  produce,  for water supply and for the life of the communities that exist along and near those rivers. So it was important for the  four states  involved to come together with the commonwealth to  plan  how  irrigation  permits  can be provided and how the sharing of water can take  place  in the future. We can no  longer  have,  as we nearly did,  a situation where states continue to give further irrigation rights to irrigators in their areas even though the river  system could not be depended upon to meet  those needs and meet  the environmental requirements  which ensure that those rivers remain healthy and  that  downstream  water demands are met as the water comes in towards South Australia.

It was vitally important that an agreement be reached and approaches be taken to limit the ways that permits can be offered in future. A great deal of money  was expended, with something like $2  billion worth of investments  planned and some undertaken to  improve our irrigation systems.  Not only are we  restricting the way permits are offered, but we are  ensuring that  the water used in irrigation is  used intelligently,  using the  latest technology, so that we do not  have a waste of water. We  know, for  example, that  for many  years farmers across the Mallee  who  depended  upon water for their stock actually received most of that water from the Grampians through old systems of canals. Only about 10 per cent of  that water  actually reached  its final destination in the farmers’ irrigation troughs.

That is a great testament to the Labor governments that built the Wimmera-Mallee pipeline. As a result  of  the pipeline, a much  smaller amount of water is  now required to  meet irrigation  needs, and  much of  that comes out of the  Murray River via the pipe system and into the Mallee. The farmers also have to do their bit on  their properties to ensure that they do not maintain water in open dams, causing  more evaporation,  that  they  all  have  appropriate  tanks  on  their properties  and  that the water is mostly in pipes.  I am familiar with a lot of other  investments that were undertaken by the Labor government. We upgraded the systems for irrigation and  initiated the food  bowl modernisation project,  and there were many other projects along the Murray to  reorganise  the channels and to  ensure  that  piping  was  used where possible and that the  allocation  and metering systems used modern technology to reduce water wastage.

We have seen projects like that in  other parts of Australia, and  that has been very good news for our country.

We have seen  an intergovernmental agreement  on  how water trading  should take place, and the bill removes a number of the restrictions that are still in place regarding water trading. It was agreed that the changes would come in by 1 July, so this bill is a little late in coming before this house.  I trust it will have a smooth passage and will be implemented by the required date of 1 July.

Overall, the Murray-Darling Basin plan has been a terrific development to ensure water security across the four states, as I mentioned. We  know many other water savings plans have been put in place across the state which have changed the way people  think about water,  whether they are  irrigators,  urban populations  or other water  users. We also  appreciate the importance of ensuring environmental flows.

The  Moorabool  River,  a  significant  river  in  my  electorate,   has  become significantly  degraded over  the  years. It is  important  to recognise in  our overall water management systems that  there needs to be  an appropriate balance between all of their users and, as much  as we can, we need to ensure that there are good environmental flows through all our river systems. There is still a lot more work to be  done  to ensure that we  have healthy flows down the  Moorabool River, which will  reinvigorate it  and ensure  that it  can have  a vibrant and healthy future from an environmental point of view as well as from a utilitarian point of view for urban and agricultural water users.

Likewise  in Ballarat we  have had  a discussion  this week  with the  Office of Living Victoria, which I do not want to go into in great detail, about  the plan to save water and  harvest stormwater and ensure that  it can be made better use of.

Ballarat has attracted $1 million  in funding from the Office of Living Victoria for the Living Ballarat project, and  I am glad that our committee is getting on with that  work. We  know the  committee  is frustrated  that the  money is  not flowing  into actions  at this  stage, but look forward to that happening in the near future.

I  commend this bill to the  house. I commend all the work that is being done to ensure  that  there  is  good  water  management  across  this  state.  We  were trendsetters compared with New South Wales  and  Queensland  in  the past, and I hope  we continue to be in  the future. We need to sustainably use this valuable commodity in the future, and this bill assists us to do that.