Question without notice
My question is for the Minister for Water. The RMCG report finds $550 million each year is being lost in agricultural production in the Goulburn-Murray irrigation district, and that about 1000 jobs have been lost to the region so far as a direct result of reduced water availability under the Murray-Darling Basin plan.
Farmers have been leaving the region in significant numbers since the water buybacks commenced a decade ago. This week dairy farmer and Australian Dairy Industry Council water task force chairman Daryl Hoey has spoken out again about the serious risk to dairy farmers in our region if more water is taken out of the consumptive pool. All signs indicate that the federal government is burying its head in the sand and is intent on rolling out the plan regardless of its impact on river communities. I ask the minister: what steps will the Victorian government take to protect access to water for our dairy industry and other food producers, who account for at least 25 per cent of the total value of Victoria’s agricultural production?
Ms Neville, Minister for Water:
Can I thank the member for Shepparton for her question. It is a very important question and one that confronts us immediately with the ministerial council coming up next week, but also over the coming months and where we head with it. I completely understand her frustration. She is really reflecting the frustration of her communities, not just in the Goulburn-Murray irrigation district (GMID) but also along the Sunraysia as well in terms of some of the issues we have faced around allegations of water theft et cetera.
We do know from our own socio-economic report and that done by the communities in the Goulburn-Murray region that we have significant pressure because of the significant buybacks that happened during the start of the Murray-Darling Basin plan. In fact we know that dairy in particular was subject to selling off a large quantity of their high-reliability water shares, to a much greater extent than horticulture, although our socio-economic reports show that we are at a pretty significant trigger point not only for dairy but also for horticulture. So this is an issue right across the basin in Victoria.
At the Ministerial Council for Corporations (MINCO) on Monday and Tuesday of next week we are meeting with stakeholders, and then the ministers are meeting. Firstly, I will be calling for a high-level independent review. We have been doing that consistently; we have been asking the commonwealth to do this because we do need to get to the bottom of what has occurred. We have got multiple reviews going on, none of which go to the issue of improving turbidity confidence. I would be very keen for those opposite to perhaps support that independent call to Barnaby Joyce.
Secondly, I will be telling MINCO — and I am sure the member for Shepparton will agree that the evidence does not yet exist for us to be able to proceed with the recovery of the additional 450 gigalitres that South Australia is seeking. There is no community confidence — every single socio-economic report shows us that 450 could significantly harm our communities.
Thirdly, I will be calling for the work to continue on delivering the projects under the plan that will deliver the 605 gigalitres. That is currently before the Senate, and unless we get that through, our communities will potentially face further buybacks from the commonwealth. There is a legislative component around that, so again we need the commonwealth to get this through the Senate to support that and get the 605 gigalitres and the sustainable diversion limits adjustments and the projects on the ground.
I can assure the member, I can assure this house and I can assure northern Victorians that we are going to be continuing to advocate strongly to protect their water interests. This is significant to the economy of Victoria but also for that region. Unfortunately others signed up to this plan that I do not think has been in the interests of Victoria.
Minister, will you go to the ministerial council meeting of water ministers in Albury next Tuesday and call for a pause in the basin plan while the current shambles is addressed; the results of at least 11 different inquiries, evaluations and reviews are assessed; and a practical way forward is found that meets the needs of the environment and supports the local, social and economic future of the Goulburn-Murray irrigation district?
I thank the member for Shepparton for her supplementary question. Just as I indicated, firstly, we need an independent review with powers to subpoena people and subpoena records. In my view the Ernst & Young report will not give us the answers we need. We are absolutely clear that there are socio-economic impacts of taking any more consumptive water out of that region, and Victoria will be strongly saying that we cannot sign up to that 450 gigalitres unless it can be delivered in a way that is neutral or better in terms of socio-economic impact. I do not think that is going to be possible, but we will not be signing up to that until that is assured. Thirdly, we cannot fully pause the plan because we do need to deliver the 605 gigalitres, the offsets, the infrastructure, and we need the commonwealth to get that out the door. I do not want to risk any more buybacks from the commonwealth government in relation to this.