Murray-Darling Basin Plan

Mr PEDERICK (Hammond) (12:24): I am proud to acknowledge this motion that was raised by the Premier in regard to a response to the recent Productivity Commission inquiry into the River Murray and also the royal commission into the Murray-Darling Basin. Obviously the history of the Murray-Darling Basin and the changes that have been implemented mainly in the last 120 years or so, with the infill of barrages, locks and weirs, have dramatically changed the river from what it was when it was a free-flowing river system. It has been dramatically changed.

That has had to happen because of the needs of communities right throughout the river. We know that the Murray-Darling Basin begins up in Queensland, flows through New South Wales and Victoria, and then here we are at the bottom end of the system in South Australia. I represent the electorate at almost the bottom of the system—I did represent right through to Goolwa until the recent election, last year—so I am very cognisant of what we need to make this river flow and keep it alive for the health of all South Australians.

Certainly I take that from being a previous shadow minister in this role and also the Millennium Drought. If that did not light your mind on what was happening in regard to the River Murray, nothing else would. I note that on the 2006 Melbourne Cup Day there was that meeting with John Howard and basin states lead ministers on where the river system was going. We had endured a dryland drought as well that season, which obviously impacted on inflows into the Darling and the River Murray systems.

During the recent debate that has captured the nation and further afield, we have seen the fish deaths up at the Menindee lakes, and we have had the dry season, with drought throughout the Eastern States of Australia. It brings back to mind what was going on during those years between 2006 and when the river finally recovered in September 2010. It just goes to show that we still have a long way to go from that inaugural meeting in 2006 to making sure that we get those plans in place, and we get those billions of dollars that John Howard pledged—that $10 billion—to go into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to make sure we get those efficiency outcomes to make the river work.

We cannot have a system that is just there for the environment. Yes, the environment is front and centre—that is absolutely right—but there are two other critical needs and critical users of this water that is coming out of the Darling and River Murray systems. Obviously, there are the irrigators right throughout the system, and I must commend the South Australian irrigators for the work they have done over 50, 60 years plus in ensuring that they have the best irrigation systems in the world. They are using the latest technology.

They have gone from some of the areas with channels to sprinkler-based technology then through to drip technology to get that ultimate amount of production out of every drip of water because we are at the bottom of the system. In fact, in terms of consumptive use of the river there are only a few hundred gigalitres at this end of the river that we actually use for irrigation. We obviously need a lot more—thousands of gigalitres—to transport that water through and to make sure the river functions.

The other vital function of the river that people need to remember is critical human needs. Critical human needs are what really lit a lot of people up. Obviously, the environment was front and centre as well during the Millennium Drought, but there was a risk that Adelaide would run out of water. There was what I think was and what I always thought was a bizarre plan by the former government, and I note that the member for West Torrens, the member for Light and the member for Mawson were all there at the time. They wanted to build a weir at Wellington, yet here we are all these years later.

The Labor opposition are bleating about all the work they have done or think they are doing for the River Murray, yet all those years ago they were going to destroy the river. They were going to destroy it by building a $200 million rock wall between Pomanda Island and Wellington Lodge at the River Murray's outlet to Lake Alexandrina where all the silt from New South Wales and Queensland builds up. The only good thing that would have come out of building that weir was that they would have cleared all the limestone out of my district.

The issue was that it would have been a sinking structure. It would have sunk forever into that silt. It would have belted the lower half of my electorate and killed off that community. Do not get me wrong: there was severe water loss in my region. Everywhere below Lock 1 the water dropped about two metres. There were a lot of interests. Goolwa came into my electorate with the redistribution of 2010, and I really wondered how I was going to get on down there. Obviously, it was belting the community of Goolwa very hard for the recreational use of the river, for water access to their properties and for flooding dry land throughout the dairies.

The houseboat industry and other users just wanted the water at the normal level these days of 0.75 of a metre above sea level, which is how the barrages have controlled the level since they went in all those years ago in the early 1900s. There were a lot of upset people. We must remember that there were well over a million people not just in Adelaide but in the regional areas of South Australia. I am on one of the pipes, the Keith pipeline, relying on River Murray water for our farm and our livestock. That pipeline services communities all the way down at Keith.

Through my insistence on our side of the house in opposition at that stage, we managed to fight the weir. I commend all the community groups and community people who fought that Wellington weir proposal. I had what I think was the first and last bipartisan meeting with the water minister at the time, former member for Chaffey Karlene Maywald, and the head of SA Water at the time. She said, 'What's your option, Adrian? You don't want the weir. What will we have for water for Adelaide?' It was an absolutely serious question. I said, 'Just lower the pumps.' The minister looked at me and said, 'How do we do that?' I said, 'It's an engineering solution. I'm not an engineer, but surely you can lower the pumps a few metres, and we can make sure that those vital supplies get through.'

Well, that is exactly what happened at the end of the day, after all that carry-on over building a rock wall at Wellington that would have just sunk out of sight over time. They tried driving piles down there years ago. They were going to build a lock there nearly 100 years ago, but multiple piles just disappeared into the silt. One good outcome was that they lowered the pumps so we could get that vital water. We also saw the carnage caused by the previous Labor government by putting bunds at Narrung, Clayton and Currency Creek. Hundreds and hundreds of tonnes of dirt were carted into those areas and have still not been dredged out from the bottom of the river and lakes system.

That is a bit of history. I am a little bit bemused, more than anything, to see this feigned outrage from the other side of the house on the health of the river. Similar to the current member for Chaffey and minister for agriculture, I have a bit of respect for Tony Burke, the federal shadow environment spokesman. It was interesting listening to him briefly on the radio this morning. He was focused only on water buyback to pull back the 450 gigalitres. I know that Tony Burke knows better than that. I know that he knows that infrastructure upgrades will put much-needed water back into the system.

Here we see both the state and federal Labor opposition playing games. We hear the federal opposition talking about lifting the 1,500-gigalitre cap on buybacks. I do not dispute that buybacks have not been part of the necessary things that needed to happen, one of the necessary programs to get water back into the system.

What the Labor Party have so conveniently forgotten, and I almost cannot believe it—in fact, I do not think Tony Burke has forgotten; he knows that it just does not suit his speaking notes about their policy announcement today—is that infrastructure upgrades are vital to the system and they always have been. The plan was developed in 2012 and we have been working through that plan ever since.

It was obvious that given what South Australia has done over the decades, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland would have to do the heavy lifting. I have been on trips through the southern basin and the northern basin. I was in the Coleambally district in New South Wales and they were showing me what they thought was very flash infrastructure, and all it was was an electronically opening channel gate. That was their infrastructure upgrade; I mean, seriously. We want to have some water-saving programs. There is much work that can be done in all these areas.

The Mulwala Canal at Deniliquin goes for almost 160 kilometres. It is a pretty big channel, and that channel could be lined. At the end of the channel, to deliver approximately two to three gigalitres of stock water, they have to send nine gigalitres of water. That is the amount of loss just to get that vital stock water at the end. That just shows what needs to be done to get that delivery through those inefficient channel systems.

Regarding infrastructure, I want to talk about a project that Murrumbidgee Irrigation announced on 7 December 2018. Their media release, entitled 'Gunbar Water Pipeline locks in future for next generation of farmers', talked about what infrastructure upgrades can do in the system. To quote from the media release:

[The] Pipeline was officially launched near Hay this week, locking in a bright future for the next generation of farmers in the Wah Wah district.

This was the final step before Murrumbidgee Irrigation…hands over ownership of the pipeline to Gunbar Private Water Supply District on 31 December.

The new 270km pipeline will supply filtered pressurised water to 62 properties in the Wah Wah district, which covers 310,000 hectares from Carrathool to Hay in the south, and from Gunbar to Booligal in the north.

[Murrumbidgee Irrigation] Chief Executive Officer, Brett Jones, said that there was no future in the previous gravity fed system.

Listen to that: 'No future in the previous gravity fed system.' He continues:

'The key driver for this project was to lock in the future of the stock and domestic area with a sustainable, modern and reliable water supply capability,' he said.

And this is the telling point:

'The gravity fed system required 12,000 megalitres of water to deliver around 2,000 megalitres of allocation and you cannot justify the waste of such a precious resource. In the current climate of water efficiency and productivity the change to the pump and pipeline solution was an absolute must do.'

With the new pipeline Wah Wah farmers will benefit through improved levels of service, with year-round access to the river and bores, pressurised water supply and measured water use, which can be remotely monitored.

This is exactly what we want right throughout the Murray-Darling Basin. We want monitoring, we want piping and we want pressurised systems to save these massive amounts—over 80 per cent efficiency just in this pipeline as well. The media release goes on:

Chairman of the Gunbar Water Steering Committee…was excited about what the new pipeline meant for the district.

'The Gunbar Water pipeline was never about individuals it was always about what was best for the whole area,' he said.

That just shows what can be done if you are serious about putting water back into the system. The 450 gigalitres gets talked about a lot. We saw none of that put back in by the former Labor government. All we saw was the outrage, the hate and the angst. In fact, the former member for Cheltenham of precious memory, the former premier Jay Weatherill, what could he care about the regions? He quoted that there were no votes in the regions. Sorry about that for the few hundred Labor voters in Hammond or anywhere else in the state: you do not count for the other side.

The Hon. D.C. van Holst Pellekaan: It's good for you, though. You work for them.

Mr PEDERICK: Yes, it's great, absolutely. I work for every constituent in my electorate. Really, for all the feigned outrage, the Labor Party just do not care. They do not care if they suck water out of regional communities. It would not just be New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria that would be hit if we did not have a reasonable program, which minister Speirs has negotiated to put that water back into the system.

If we have to give up more water in South Australia, that will absolutely destroy our irrigation right throughout the state. We already have some of the most efficient systems in the world. How much water can you squeeze out of South Australia? Sure, we can always improve and incremental improvements can be made. I have just indicated from one program in the Murrumbidgee how you can save 10,000 megalitres out of a 12,000-megalitre program, and that is just amazing. It is not so much amazing but just shows the practicality of what can be done to get things right.

We talk about the Coorong and $70 million going there, which minister Speirs negotiated. This will be a fantastic win for South Australia because we do need to have a look to see if the interconnector between Lake Albert and the Coorong stacks up environmentally. I think it will be great. I am not a scientist, as I said before, and I am not an engineer, but I think that is a far better solution than the one the previous Labor government peddled for years, pulsing hundreds of gigalitres of water—and I say hundreds—through the neck at Narrung to try to lower the salinity in Lake Albert. It just does not work. To me, it is a complete waste of hundreds of gigalitres of water for so little result and such a small reduction in salinity in Lake Albert. It took years for Lake Albert to recover after the Millennium Drought, and it is still recovering. This project needs a really good, hard look so that we get the right outcome.

South Australia has been on the right track for a long time, but we have a lot to do. We have other issues in the lakes. We obviously have the long-nosed fur seals or, as some would call them, the New Zealand fur seals that have invaded the lakes and the Coorong. They are decimating the fishing populations and upsetting that industry, and people need to have a good look at the decimation they are causing of the native animals, the fairy terns and the pelicans, where they just rip them to bits to get a feed, but most of the time they do it just for fun. I know that we have a committee inquiring into them, and we need to take a good hard look at this. It has always been my firm belief—and this is no surprise to this house or the state—that, as part of an overabundant native species management plan for seals in the Coorong and lakes, there needs to be a cull, just as for the corellas.

What we must do as far as water is concerned is make sure that we work towards projects, like the Gunbar irrigation district did in the Murrumbidgee, and get them online so that we can put water back in the river. It assists not only our irrigators but also our critical human need supplies, which we vitally need for all our community needs down here. But the most treasured piece of all is to make sure that we get those environmental outcomes right through South Australia, right down through lakes Albert and Alexandrina and into the Coorong.