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.