MURRAY-DARLING BASIN PLAN
Mr JOHN WILLIAMS
(Murray-Darling) [1.51 p.m.]: Last Wednesday I had the opportunity to attend, together with the community of Deniliquin, a meeting held in the southern Riverina regarding the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. At the meeting there was a very clear indication that the Murray-Darling Basin Authority had really underestimated what this proposal meant for the people of
and the surrounding irrigation communities. The venue for the meeting was the RSL hall. However, the accommodation was definitely inadequate for the number of people in attendance. There were at least 2,500 people in the hall, and there were an equal number of people, if not more, outside the hall who could not gain entry because of occupational health and safety standards. Regardless of what the green elements in our society today prescribe, the proposals in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan can only cause fracturing and destruction of most of the irrigation communities in my electorate particularly and in the other Murray-Darling Basin electorates.
The plan was probably foreshadowed by the Wentworth Group, which made the decision to pre-empt the contents of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and go out with a plan of their own. It is interesting that the figures that came out of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan do not fall short of what the Wentworth Group prescribed. The plan is poorly timed for the people of the Murray-Darling Basin. Members would be well aware that three years of drought have precluded implementation of the plan, and the depth of suffering and despair in most of those irrigation communities has been mainly unmeasured, and to a great extent probably never considered by the wider population of New South Wales and Australia. For most people outside the basin the proposal put forward in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan looks pretty good on paper. However, the plan does not take into account the fact that people are affected by it. Somewhere along the line we need to recognise that while the environment does play a part, the key role of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority is not to establish a plan for the environment. The plan should encompass a transitional period that recognises that irrigation communities need to survive. We also need to address environmental issues.
The people in the Murray-Darling Basin have been well versed in reform. Reform has been a fact of life for those people. It started off with the National Water Initiative, which in most cases removed about 40 per cent of their water entitlement. After that change was made there was a drought and there was no average flow in the Murray-Darling Basin. So the benefits of the National Water Initiative have never been demonstrated. We have also had the living Murray, the water for Rivers Project, and State governments buying back water for the environment. However, absolutely no accounting has been done with regard to exactly what is available for the environment. The fact is that we could well meet the environmental needs of the Murray-Darling Basin once we can demonstrate an average flow in this river system. With regard to the benchmarks that are used, even the authority has admitted that those benchmarks are subject to some scrutiny. Ultimately, we are talking about records for the river between 1880 and today. In the early days we did not monitor our rivers as well as we do today; today we account for every drop of water. [Time expired.