Question without notice – My question is for the Minister for Water. Minister, while we have been lucky in relation to bushfires in my electorate, water availability remains very important. At the ministerial council meeting of water ministers in December 2018 a much-lauded agreement was reached by ministers, establishing the basis upon which the additional 450 gigalitres of up-water would be achieved. The agreement was that there would be no negative impacts on our rural communities. It is now apparent that the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, the federal one, has continued to seek expressions of interest to carry out on-farm projects—at least eight of them are on their own website—primarily in South Australia and without regard to the terms of the agreement, indeed in breach of the agreement. The agreement was an important milestone. What steps will the Victorian government take to stop such projects proceeding and to ensure that the federal government abides by its commitments?
Minister response – Ms NEVILLE (Bellarine—Minister for Water, Minister for Police and Emergency Services) (16:14): Can I thank the member for Shepparton for her question. As the member knows, I have strongly tried to ensure that there is no more water recovery from the southern basin—because it cannot just be from Victoria; it is from the southern basin—that would have a negative socio-economic impact. I am absolutely aware of the proposals, particularly from South Australia, that are absolutely in breach of the agreement that was reached in 2018. In my view they are in breach of the law. The agreement is actually very clear: you cannot deliver this water if it has a negative impact, and we know that that sort of water recovery, those sorts of projects, will continue to have a negative impact.
I have raised this issue with the federal minister, both in writing and verbally, and I will continue to do that. It is my view that the federal department is out of step with the federal minister on this and that the federal department continues to run their own agenda. They do it at each and every meeting, which is why it is probably the most active group of ministers who make the decisions around the table as opposed to departments. I will continue to be a strong voice to stop that happening and do whatever we can to ensure that they abide by the agreement that the ministers have reached. I am confident that the federal minister will continue to back that position that was reached by ministers. Whatever I can do—and we are seeking advice about that—to ensure that people comply with our agreement, we will do.
Supplementary Question – Thank you, Minister. That is heartening, but given the terms of the socio-economic test are not being adhered to by the federal government and in light of the government’s own recent deliverability report will the Victorian government finally bite the bullet and acknowledge that there will be no way for that 450 gigalitres of up-water to be delivered without causing major damage to Victorian rivers and the Barmah Choke, and that its recovery should really now be abandoned?
Minister response –
Ms NEVILLE (Bellarine—Minister for Water, Minister for Police and Emergency Services) (16:17): Thank you for the supplementary. I think the member would understand we have a legal obligation around 62 gigalitres of that 450. We will deliver our component. We have got projects on the table, all of which are beneficial and will not have a negative impact—the Mitiamo project, the East Shepparton project, for example—modernisation projects. We will continue to do that bit.
That report was pretty clear: the New South Wales and the Victorian governments—again, different governments—put that report together with the independent experts that made it pretty clear it was going to be very difficult to deliver any more water down without significant environmental risk. We are asking for that to be assessed by the ministerial council. We need to go through a process. I think it is going to be impossible to deliver without significant damage, but we need to go through the process, which is appropriate, so that people come along with us based on the evidence.
I would say again just to put on record my disappointment with the authority, which is continuing to put high flows down the Goulburn despite what we have said to them. They need to lift their game.