Snowy River Water Flow
The Hon. A. B. KELLY: I direct a question to the Special Minister of State. Can the Minister inform the House on the progress that has been made in negotiations on the flows in the Snowy River?
The Hon. J. J. DELLA BOSCA: The honourable member asks a question that is of great importance to this House.
The Hon. M. J. Gallacher: At least you got one up.
The Hon. J. J. DELLA BOSCA: The Leader of the Opposition says I got one up. Since Parliament last sat the Government has been working hard to get a better environmental outcome for the Snowy River. This is no small task. When the decision was made 50 years ago to build the Snowy hydro scheme the Commonwealth, Victoria and New South Wales governments agreed on a course of action that has irrevocably changed the face of Australia. It brought employment to 100,000 people, including many of the men and women who came with the great wave of post-war European migrants.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: Including the Della Boscas?
The Hon. J. J. DELLA BOSCA: No. My family did not come out after the war. They were actually PC—not politically correct, but pre-Caldwell, or substantially pre-Caldwell.
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: Pre-Caldwell? How did you get in?
The Hon. J. J. DELLA BOSCA: We beat your family by about five years. And they passed the language test! The Snowy hydro scheme gave certainty to irrigating farming communities along the Murray and Murrumbidgee, including those in the rich Riverina region. It provided south-east Australia with reliable electricity generation, a source of supply that continues to meet electricity demands at peak times. It was also a fundamental environmental reversal for the Snowy River, upper alpine rivers and the area of bush that is now known as the Kosciuszko National Park.
I have spent the last months listening to the concerns of the communities dependent on Snowy water. They include the community of Dalgety, just downstream of the Jindabyne dam, with a water mixture of 1 per cent flow from the Snowy and the tertiary output of the Jindabyne treatment works; and the communities of Deniliquin and Griffith, with long-established farms, many embracing innovative irrigating techniques—representing, of course, that area that has become part of the food basket of the nation. They also include, on the one end of the Snowy River, Orbost, where the Snowy meets the Pacific, and at the other end Adelaide, a city dependent on the Murray River for water.
The Hon. C. J. S. Lynn: Orbost is a good town!
The Hon. J. J. DELLA BOSCA: It is in Victoria though.
The Hon. C. J. S. Lynn: It is still a good town.
The Hon. J. J. DELLA BOSCA: They play Aussie rules, and it is a good town. I have also seen the bone-dry river beds of the Kosciuszko National Park virtually devoid of any flows, often times year round, their waters dammed and diverted. In negotiating with the Victorian Government the New South Wales Government established several negotiating principles. I outlined those principles in the House in November 1999. The Government will continue to work at these issues, in particular at identifying water savings and what must be done in order to achieve them.
In fact one of the solutions may have been to change the name of the poem to the "Man from Geehi River". The irrigating and horticultural associations of the Murrumbidgee have been helpful and provided good information to me and to my Parliamentary Secretary, the Hon. I. Macdonald, during our visits. I note that the Hon. R. T. M. Bull expressed concern about this issue. Unfortunately, the Hon. R. T. M. Bull is not here today. I would have liked to be able to answer this question in his presence. The Hon. R. T. M. Bull said that he hoped this issue would not drag on for some time into the future. He also told the House:
The Government would need the wisdom of Solomon—
It is fortunate that I am not as dyslexic as some people think I am, as I could have referred to another figure in the Bible who is referred to as having wisdom. The Hon. R. T. M. Bull said:
The Government would need the wisdom of Solomon to work through this issue and find a solution satisfactory to all sides.
I think Solomon would have been thoroughly vexed when, on 20 January 2000, the Federal Minister, Robert Hill—
Exactly. The Hon D. F. Moppett has picked up on what I was talking about. On 20 January the Federal Minister, Robert Hill, announced that the Commonwealth was conducting an environmental impact statement [EIS] prior to corporatisation. That was supposed to be finalised before June. That date has now been extended until late September. I have subsequently had fruitful discussions with the Federal Minister for the Environment, Senator Hill. Some of the responses that he gave to the questions I asked gave me great hope that the Commonwealth Government would make a serious effort to bring about a reasonable resolution of the Snowy hydro corporatisation issues as well as the complicated environmental questions agitated by this issue.
The terms of reference of the Commonwealth EIS are broad. It is open to speculation when the results of that EIS will be made public. Their effect and utility are open to even greater speculation. Nevertheless, work is continuing. A meeting with the Commonwealth and Victorian governments is scheduled for 19 April. I thought honourable members would like to be informed of that meeting, which will be the first formal meeting with the Commonwealth. I will impress on the Commonwealth Government the need for its support in achieving a better environmental outcome for the Snowy and associated rivers.
In regard to contributing to water flows there is an historic base for the approach taken by New South Wales. In 1957 Victoria signed an agreement with the Commonwealth and New South Wales in regard to water flows—an agreement to which I referred in my ministerial statement. The Victorian Government considered that, in return for ceding its right to flows down the Snowy River, it should be able to access 50 per cent of the water releases flowing down the Murray River. Part of the specific clause agreed to—clause 12—states:
On the State of Victoria becoming entitled to receive—
The Hon. Dr B. P. V. Pezzutti: The Hon. E. M. Obeid, the Hon. Jennifer Gardiner and I went to the meeting. The Hon. I. Macdonald did not go to the meeting.
The Hon. J. J. DELLA BOSCA: I categorically deny that on behalf of the Hon. I. Macdonald. I am sure he was working conscientiously on those matters or on other matters. Clause 12 states:
On the State of Victoria becoming entitled to receive a share of water pursuant to this clause that State shall not require any water to be released down the Snowy River from any storage under the control of the authority and will accept sole responsibility for the construction, operation and maintenance of any works within that State on the Snowy River or in the Snowy River catchment which may be found necessary by reason of the diversion of water from the Snowy River catchment.
This is an important point. In other words, the Victorian Government of the day and all subsequent jurisdictions under the arrangements, signed away the rights to the Snowy River.
The Hon. D. J. Gay: Will you table that document?
The Hon. J. J. DELLA BOSCA: I think it is a publicly available document, although I would have to check that out and subsequently confirm it with the honourable member. Clause 12 goes on to state:
And for any consequence within that State of the loss of water or stream flow due to that diversion, will indemnify that authority against all claims in respect of or arising out of loss of water or stream flows in Victoria due to that diversion.
Just as the New South Wales and Commonwealth jurisdictions swapped their rights to Snowy River water for water down the Murrumbidgee and the Murray rivers, the Victorian Government swapped its rights to Snowy River water for water down the Murray River. That is a fairly definitive statement about the original set of entitlements under the scheme. That is why I wanted to reiterate the New South Wales Government's position, which was put in some doubt by events in Victoria this week. The New South Wales Government's position remains the same. Any contribution to further water flows down the Snowy River must be on a one-to-one basis—not the three-to-one basis which has been called for—between the Victorian and New South Wales jurisdictions.
As I said earlier, that is a fairly definitive statement of water entitlements. However, in light of the obvious need to address important environmental concerns, New South Wales has taken the generous negotiating position that any water flows down the Snowy River will be on a one-for-one basis. That remains our position. Unless the Government perceives that in the course of negotiation there is overwhelming benefit to the irrigators of New South Wales or the environment of the Murrumbidgee, Murray and Snowy rivers, it will not be changing its position.
If honourable members have any further questions I suggest they place them on notice.
Questions without notice concluded
[The President left the chair at 1.06 p.m. The House resumed at 2.30 p.m.]