Question without notice
My question is to the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water.
What will the Victorian government do to protect northern Victorian irrigators from untargeted water buybacks by the federal government when the next round of basin plan negotiations commences in 2016?
Ms Neville, Minster for Environment, Climate Change and Water
I thank the member for her question. It is a very topical question and one that I know is causing a lot of debate in her local community. Over the years significant work, commitment and investment have gone into the Murray-Darling Basin plan. In fact is has been done by both sides when in government because we are aware of the very critical importance of maintaining and improving the health of the Murray River for irrigators, for local communities and for the environment.
That is why, over those years, Victorian governments and water customers have invested more than $1.7 billion in basin water recovery and efficiency programs. It is important that we balance the shared outcomes of having a healthy Murray River whilst ensuring that our regional communities continue to thrive. At the first Murray-Darling Basin meeting I attended in May this year I reaffirmed Victoria’s commitment to work cooperatively to deliver the environmental outcomes of the basin plan whilst ensuring that we continued to support and protect the basin communities and industries.
I am calling on the commonwealth government to acknowledge the heavy lifting that Victoria has already been doing. I have asked that the commonwealth provide assurances that no more water will be purchased by the commonwealth in northern Victoria.
Our strategy works to avoid the need for further commonwealth water purchases where we are investing in the infrastructure, so the $1.7 billion that we have been investing in infrastructure is delivering the savings. It is our view that as we go through the next stage of the management plan and the business cases, we will be able to deliver the water savings that we have committed to, but we can continue to do that through infrastructure and efficiencies and we are urging the commonwealth to take a similar approach.
On 14 August ministers are coming together again, and that will provide Victoria with an opportunity to continue to push the case that the commonwealth does not need to buy back additional water. We believe that through the system of modernisation, through efficiencies and through irrigation upgrades, we can deliver the savings that we promised and committed to under the Murray-Darling Basin plan. I re-emphasise that Victoria has done the heavy lifting in this case. We do need New South Wales to come on board, and we do need the commonwealth to come on board, and that is the message that we will be delivering when we attend the Murray-Darling Basin meeting on 14 August.
Will the minister commit to working with stakeholders in the northern Victoria region to ensure that the future potential of the region is not adversely affected by the demands of further water savings out of Victoria?
I thank the member for her supplementary question. I think it is really important that we engage strongly with members of the local community up there who have significant concerns, whether about the constraints mechanism and potential for flooding of land or the risk of further buyback from the commonwealth.
At the first meeting that I attended Victoria raised the need for the commonwealth or the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to do further consultation, and I am pleased that it has committed to doing that, because the authority is the one that has responsibility around that. In addition to that, after our 14 August meeting I will be in a position to go and talk further with the local community about where we are heading and what the issues are. I think we will need to work very closely with the local community so we can continue to get that balance right around the healthy environment for our Murray River and also the irrigators in the area.