Mr PEDERICK (Hammond) (16:46): I rise to speak to the Landscape South Australia (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2020. Obviously, issues of water significantly affect the seat of Hammond, being at the bottom of the Murray-Darling Basin. Before I go on, my wife previously worked for natural resources management, a few years ago now, as an environmental scientist.
What we are looking at here are vital amendments to work with the new process of quarterly accounting that has come in recently in 2019-20 as a new way of managing allocations across the board for landholders throughout South Australia. This is to get a better management plan in managing people's allocations through the season instead of doing some form of tidy up at the end of the season and trying to tie that in with carryover water and that kind of thing.
It has been difficult for some growers to get their heads around this. I have farmed for a while myself. Sometimes you hate change, but in the water game, especially in the last few years since the Millennium Drought of the mid-2000s—it really started hitting in 2006—we have really had to take notice, with the Murray-Darling Basin Plan right across the basin, whether it is through Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria or South Australia, of how we manage our water.
To say it was challenging in the period 2006 to 2010 would have to be the understatement of the century or the millennium, seeing as it was the Millennium Drought in that period. There was that now infamous meeting—not just famous but infamous, I think—that John Howard called on Melbourne Cup Day in 2006. I only came into this place on 18 March 2006, so it has been just short of 15 years now. The meeting took place between Prime Minister Howard and the states, their water ministers and Premiers, to say, 'We have a significant problem.'
I can say as a dryland farmer at Coomandook that 2006 was a significantly dry year in dryland farming terms as well. As the member for Flinders just indicated, when you have the rains they are welcome, and that happened recently up in the northern reaches of the basin in Queensland, New South Wales, even down through Victoria, and there has been a little bit of rain in South Australia, but most of the inflows have come from the Eastern States.
It was a difficult, difficult time. I will certainly never forget that time and how difficult it was. I was privileged to be the shadow parliamentary secretary for the River Murray. I think that came on in about 2007, and soon after that, I think it might have been in 2008—someone will correct me somewhere down the track—I became the shadow minister for the River Murray, and it was a pretty tough gig. I was seeking some answers for my electorate because the government of the day, with the water minister at the time, the former member for Chaffey, Karlene Maywald, were going to instigate some pretty draconian measures, especially with regard to the impact on my electorate.
As flows literally dried up and the rains did not come, the River Murray dropped about two metres. There were significant issues at the bottom of my electorate. The interesting thing was that in my first term I represented Strathalbyn, Langhorne Creek, Clayton and Milang, so getting down very close to the mouth of the River Murray. Just outside was the town of Goolwa, which did not come in until the redistribution in 2010. That was extremely significant because I was fighting for the freshwater recovery.
From the history I have read about the River Murray, I believe it has been predominantly fresh 95 per cent of the time. And, yes, it is true: it has become quite dry. I have seen the photos of the Riverland where people had Sunday picnics on the bed of the river in certain places. I remember, during the Millennium Drought, we were up towards Swan Reach and landing helicopters on the riverbed—not on the bank, on the bed. I do not think I bothered, but you could have walked directly across the river. You would have become a little bit wet in spots, obviously, and in one instance this had a major impact on getting houseboats and tourist vessels through, let alone ski boats and that kind of thing.
One of the issues with the river level dropping was that a lot of my houseboat operators operate in my electorate up around Mannum, a bit further north and all the way up the river. My boundary then went somewhere north of Nildottie. There was a significant impact below Lot 1 at Blanchetown where the water level could be managed. That was where the former government decided to build a weir at Wellington and to hell with the mouth of the River Murray. I did not agree with that and I dug my toes in. I can tell you that I was not sure where that argument would end.
As the member for Flinders indicated, you do not know when it is going to rain, and I did not know, but we were there for at least 3½, nearly four years, getting this outcome. I was on the local group, having monthly meetings, working out the processes that could happen. The government decided they wanted to build a weir out of stones at Wellington. It would have been a sinking structure that sat on the riverbed soils that have washed all the way down from Queensland, and it would have progressively sunk and needed more stone year by year. Some suggested it might have sunk about a metre a year.
Just as a matter for history's sake, when people were building the barrages at Goolwa and surrounding areas through to Tauwitchere, heading back towards Meningie, they put at least two piles together, maybe three, and just drove them in near the Wellington Lodge property and they just disappeared into that silt.
There was going to be a structure built way back then in the 1930s or 1940s for water management, but I am pleased that there was not a structure there because it would have been used by some as a management tool to cut off flows further south. It was nasty. We had acid sulfate soils and we had the lakes drying up. I remember going out on four-wheel motorbikes on Lake Albert with a fisher family down Meningie way across a dry lake bed. You would go out on Tauwitchere barrage and basically look out towards open bare country and the water was way, way away in the distance. It was a terrible time.
It was certainly very challenging coming into a new area like Goolwa in the 2010 election. The place was just enveloped in dust a lot of the time with any wind, because there was some water there heading through Goolwa under the Hindmarsh Island bridge and out towards the mouth, but not a lot. It was very much a lightning rod issue for everyone. There were different points of view, especially from some people in the Eastern States.
I do not really like getting into the Eastern States and South Australia argument, but I think you have to give a little bit of context around it because it is one basin and it needs to be managed as one basin. I know the states have management under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, but obviously the federal government has a lot of management on top of that. People were peddling all sorts of myths about how it was never fresh, it was this and that, and how much evaporation came off Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert. Most of these numbers were fabricated or highly exaggerated.
I just thought, 'You've got to stand up for something,' and this was something that needed to be fought for because essentially half my electorate was going to be taken away from the opportunity to have not just environmental flows but vital flows to keep the River Murray fresh. I would hate to think what would have happened if that Wellington weir had been built, because I believe the powers that be right across the country would have just said, 'We'll just write off the mouth.' Well, guess what? Rivers die from the bottom up and, if that had happened, the squeeze would slowly go on right throughout the rest of South Australia.
There are three levels of water in the basin: environmental water, irrigation water and critical human needs water. There was nothing more essential during that Millennium Drought than the fact that Adelaide needed critical human needs water. You may think that is a strange thing to say about a city needing about 130 gigalitres a year as their allocation. Obviously, a lot of it was being pumped from the river. There were decisions being made around a desalination plant. We had a plan to build one of about 50 gigalitres per annum capacity, but there was one built for 100 gigalitres per annum and has never fired right up. I always thought the 50 was going to be big enough, but that is all history now.
The context of having Adelaide on the end of the river as critical human needs water was absolutely vital in the discussion that all the shadow ministers, being National Party members and Liberal Party members, had in New South Wales one day. We flew in in the morning: Mitch Williams as the shadow minister for water and me as the shadow minister for the River Murray. I cannot remember which seat John Cobb had, but he was based in Cobar, New South Wales. He was the federal shadow for water at the time and a really lovely man. I must catch up with him one day. I have not seen him for a long time. He came over our way and we entertained him and looked after him and gave him our views on how the River Murray should be managed.
We were sitting at this meeting with all the shadow ministers, all men at the table—not that that matters, but it is just who was there. I think Queensland was sitting opposite me, with Victoria next to them. New South Wales was there, with Mitch next to me, and John Cobb was sitting next to Mitch. As the federal shadow minister, John started the conversation by making a point (this was the very first comment of the meeting), saying, 'I think we need to wean Adelaide off the river.'
That immediately rang alarm bells in my head. I raised my hand and said, 'Hang on, John, before we go any further', and, good on him, he asked, 'Well, what's your view?' I said that I thought that could be a problem and that we should change the language to, 'We should ease Adelaide's reliance on the River Murray.' I said, 'It may not be when one of you fine gentlemen are sitting around this table, but what could happen if we say that we will wean Adelaide off the River Murray is that the other states will forget about environmental water and forget about production water for South Australia.'
I said at that meeting that a wall would be built at the Victorian border and no water would get past. I tell you what, when you talk about this interstate discussion around water, I saw enough half smiles and almost nods to know that I was on the money. That critical human need was the magnet to make sure we got water down the river, notwithstanding that we need the production water and the environmental water as well to make sure we get the right outcomes for the whole river system.
I was very proud to get through our party room, under the leader Iain Evans, that we would go against the building of the Wellington weir. Thankfully, that never happened. It got so close that there was compulsory acquisition of the roadways on either side: the Withers' property at Pomanda Point on one side and Wellington Lodge, the MacFarlane property, on the other side. They were tough negotiations, but in the end the compulsory acquisition (it might have been negotiated through, but I will have to check that) was right there amongst it in the debate because the government were determined to build the weir.
I must say that I went into the 2010 election with more than a hint of nervousness because plenty of people at Goolwa, and one or two councillors who will remain unnamed, saw me at meetings and events and said to me, 'What are you doing to our water?' It was in the media and a lot of people wanted barriers put up and wanted to float on anything. In fact, one bloke on the radio said he would float on raspberry cordial if he could just to get their boats—and their boats are very important to them in the Goolwa area. Bunds were put in at Narrung, Currency Creek and Clayton, and to this day not all those bunds have been pulled out of the river system and they have silted up those areas a bit.
I went into that election thinking, 'I have upset the houseboat owners, I have upset the flood plain dairy farmers at Murray Bridge, I have upset the new community of Goolwa. Well, that was a lovely one term in parliament.' Anyway, something must have gone right because I was re-elected and my margin went up 7 per cent, but I have not managed to get back there, so I was pleased to make that stand. In hindsight, it was the right thing to do because we have the right outcomes.
As much as the northern basin is the smaller amount of water that comes into the system—I think it is only about 300-plus gigalitres a year allocated if it is there—we have seen those dry times in the Darling River, with plenty of that portrayed on social media and on the television. The McBride properties up there, Robert McBride—what is his property, Nick?
Mr McBride: Tolarno.
Mr PEDERICK: Tolarno, up there on the Darling. We have seen fish kills, and in some way it is reflective of the dire conditions that happened at our end of the river. We went into the 2010 election and everything was dry, but then in September there was nothing better than to see that muddy water coming out of the Darling system, out of the northern basin, to refresh the river and basically save our bacon. It was such a pleasure. The River Murray can be dirty enough as it is, with all the carp in it, but that was just gold. It was just amazing to see the recovery. The rains kept coming in the southern basin, down through the Murrumbidgee and the top end of the Murray and we got that relief.
That story just explains why we have to manage the river appropriately. We have to get away from this carping about whether there is theft or alleged theft in other states, or where there is overuse here and people need to get on board with the quarterly accounting. You need to get on board because we have to manage it. Yes, we do manage it through the states, but we do have to manage it as one basin for the good for all, and get away from some of the petty arguments between the states, because if that happens the plan will fall to bits.
I am a full supporter that producers get on board. I am glad to see this legislation coming into being. May it progress through the parliament quickly and our growers get used to quarterly accounting because basically they will have to.