Statement on Parliamentary Committee Report – I am pleased to rise today to make a contribution on the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee’s report that was tabled back in October 2019. In speaking on this report I want to refer to chapter 8, which deals with findings of the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning. The area that I wish to speak to relates to the water portfolios generally.
We are well aware that the Minister for Water has a number of key portfolio areas and maintains accountability in relation to the Victorian Environmental Water Holder, the Victorian catchment management authorities and a range of other Victorian water corporations.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! Could I ask the member for Shepparton to clarify which report in October?
Ms SHEED: It is the 2019–20 budget estimates.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Thank you.
Ms SHEED: There were many topics discussed during the hearings, and I draw attention particularly to the fact that the Victorian government has secured $29 million in commonwealth funding to enable the first stage of the Victorian Murray Floodplain Restoration Project to get underway. This is a really worthy project that is designed to contribute environmental outcomes to the Murray-Darling Basin plan and deliver a range of benefits right across nine sites along the Murray River and throughout northern Victoria, but there is a really serious anomaly in all of this that I wish to draw the house’s attention to. While many of these works are being undertaken jointly between the commonwealth and many Victorian water authorities, we see on our own front door in Shepparton the very significant damage that is occurring to the Goulburn River. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority has taken it on itself to override the Victorian minister’s authority and has taken steps to demand that 50 000 megalitres of water a day be provided by way of inter-valley transfer down the river. The negative impacts of this are enormous, and steps must be taken to stop it. It would seem that Victoria, which in the scheme of water policy across the whole eastern seaboard has really been the good citizen and has done the right thing by downstream communities—has been metred, has delivered water in a way that really abides by most of the rules—is becoming the victim of bad behaviour from others.
Just last week in the lower Goulburn River at Murchison it was running at 1.8 metres. Its normal, environmentally safe flow for this time of year in February would be about 50 centimetres, so it is running at four times the height it normally would—and it is cold, and it is high, and all that water is destroying the fish, the river red gums and the river banks and leaving the Goulburn Valley. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority needs to stop this. It is a breach of both federal and state environmental legislation. The Goulburn—the lower Goulburn—is one of the last strongholds anywhere in the world for trout cod, silver perch and Murray spiny crays, not to mention Murray cod. It is now being trashed and made into an irrigation ditch with cold summer flows.
There is a particular irony in all this because of the fact that the Victorian government is going to build a fish hatchery just out of Shepparton to deal with the challenge to so many of our native fish. The current operations of the Goulburn River by the Victorian government and the direction being taken by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority really will make this almost a senseless exercise if something is not done about the way the river is being used. Environmental works in the form of planting of native grasses all along our rivers are going to be—are being—damaged as we speak, and taxpayers money is effectively being thrown away while all the works that have been done to make the river more environmentally safe are being effectively washed away.
It is time the Victorian government stood up to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and the federal government. The Victorian government has been the good guy for too long, and it is time the Victorian government takes on the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, takes legal proceedings and demands that something be done to protect our rivers here—particularly while we see northern New South Wales right now flood plain harvesting, into huge dams, irrigation water for themselves. The water has not even reached Menindee in the Darling River yet. We have seen pictures of the fish kills. There is something terribly wrong with water management in this country. It is our most precious resource and we do not know what to do about it. It is time that the Victorian government imposed some of the rules that it itself abides by on others. We are seeing massive foreign-owned almond plantations being grown down beyond the Murray choke and water forced down the choke. These developments, while harming our environment— (Time expired)