Question without notice
My question is for the Minister for Water.
As chair of the Goulburn-Murray irrigation district (GMID) leadership forum, I am only too aware of the concern in my community and other Murray River communities about the impacts of the Murray-Darling Basin plan.
Recent socio-economic impact statements, including the one independently commissioned by my group, have shown the devastating effects of the plan to date and that which may continue if it goes through to full implementation. Already $550 million worth of production has been lost each year to the GMID since the plan commenced. We must have some adjustment to the plan. Following the tumultuous ministerial council meeting last week, can the minister advise as to the current state of Victorian government policy relating to the 450 gigalitres of upwater?
Ms Neville, Minister for Water
I thank the member for Shepparton for her question and her work and leadership around these issues, bringing local communities together. As I have said on a number of occasions, Victoria remains committed to delivering its commitment under the Murray-Darling Basin plan in a way, however, that balances the social, the economic and the environmental outcomes. It is a plan that I remind all members was signed up to by those opposite when they were last in government. All the criteria, including the 450 gigalitres, was signed up to by the former water minister, the Leader of the National Party.
As always, at each meeting I have put the interests of Victorian communities first. We have consistently done that, and I did that again last week in Adelaide. Victoria, as I have pointed out on numerous occasions, has done the heavy lifting. We have already delivered 711 gigalitres, most of which is high-reliability water. We have got 116 gigalitres as part of our water recovery projects, including the connections project. We have got 19 business cases for environmental projects. We have called for more work on the test of the limits of change.
We have also called for a socio-economic plan to ensure that the impacts on our communities are minimised. I have always indicated that there is potential for dire consequences if we do not deliver this plan in a smart and fair way, which is why we started our own socio-economic work. Unfortunately that has already indicated that there is potential for significant impact on horticulture and dairy. Horticulture will be very significantly impacted if we have another long duration of drought.
Increasing evidence suggests that we need to do something differently in order to deliver the 450 gigalitres. It is very clear under the plan that it can only be delivered if there is a neutral or improved socio-economic outcome for communities. Our focus is on delivering the 1075 gigalitres that we are committed to and making sure that the Murray-Darling Basin Authority continues to do the work which we pushed for at the meeting to test the limits of change, to test some of the complementary measures and to see whether we can deliver the 450 gigalitres within the legislation, which requires a neutral or improved socio-economic outcome.
As I indicated before, my priority is and always has been Victorian communities. This government’s priority is Victorian communities. I really do not want the South Australian Labor minister saying that I stood up and was much better support for South Australia, unlike the former water minister. I quote:
Quite frankly I got more support when the Victorian government was run by the Liberals and we had a National Party minister who was also committed to … the plan.
Rather than giving me advice, maybe those opposite should stand up for Victorian communities and stop defending South Australia.
What action is the minister taking in negotiations with the commonwealth and other basin states to secure a change in the basin plan which reflects the true bottom line?
At the ministerial council on Friday Victoria sought three key measures. Firstly, we wanted to make sure that the states were at the table in relation to the socio-economic work that the authority was going to do. Secondly, we wanted to ensure there was an independent expert panel to really test the limits of change and ensure that we are testing things like natural cues and complementary measures to see if we can achieve environmental outcomes with a reduction in the socio-economic impacts.
Unfortunately one state did not support our measures, and so New South Wales and Victoria are going it alone to make sure that we ensure that work is done before any further movement on the 450 gigalitres. We will continue to resist and ensure that there are no buybacks and that we do not move forward with the 450 unless we can show there is neutral or better socio-economic work. We all know what the South Australian Labor water minister said about me, but we also know what he said about those opposite, which is that they supported South Australian interests.