In the media

Water Amendment Bill Senate Speech

Senator BURSTON (New South Wales) (13:52): I rise to speak on the Water Amendment Bill 2018. This bill allows a previously disallowed northern basin instrument to be returned without further consultation, on the basis that it is substantially the same as the former instrument. Much of the debate has been focused on the return of 70 gigalitres of the proposed northern basin water recovery target of 390 gigalitres to consumptive use. It should be noted that the MDBA modelling, as detailed in responses in Senate estimates and published by them, shows the impact of the 70 gigalitre reduction on the Murray flows to be as low as seven gigalitres on flows in the Menindee Lakes and a four gigalitre impact into South Australia. The benefit to struggling regional communities on the northern basin is large. I will be writing to local government and other community representatives in these areas and visiting them over the next few months. I suggest to senators who are expressing concerns over this and are representing their state’s interest to visit the people in the sacrifice zones of Collarenebri, Wee Waa, Dirranbandi, Moree, St George, Dubbo, and Narromine—to name just a few communities that will gain relief from this provision.

I raise concerns over other aspects of the northern basin regulation that bring into effect new machinery to assess the new role of the Commonwealth and state water resource plan accreditation. Industry and environmental groups should put far more effort into the detail of this regulation. It is too easy to argue over the 70-gigalitre number when, in reality, the maximum impact in South Australia is four gigalitres. I think focusing on the seven-gigalitre reduction has allowed measures that should be scrutinised to slip through. I’m dealing with this through Senate estimates questions and will be in more direct contact with the government and with local government, community and industry groups.

I will raise one of those concerns now. The additional recovery of the 450 gigalitres of so-called up water is subject to the caveat of zero impact on regional communities. I share the concerns of the Greater Shepparton City Council, represented by Mayor Kim O’Keeffe, who has written to me raising concerns about how this assessment will be conducted. The government needs to detail its assessment criteria and go into discussion with local government and community groups prior to finalising its assessment criteria. The United Australia Party is committed to representing all Australians, and we will not accept sacrifice zones of people who are not well represented.


The Water Amendment Bill 2018 (the Bill) will amend the Water Act 2007 (the Water Act) to enable the Commonwealth Water Minister (the Minister) to direct the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (the Authority) to prepare an amendment to the Basin Plan 2012 (the Basin Plan) that is the same in effect as a Basin Plan amendment that has previously been disallowed, or taken to have been disallowed, by either House of Parliament. The Authority will not be required to conduct the consultation process contained in Subdivision F of Division 1 of Part 2 of the Water Act when preparing an amendment in response to a Ministerial direction made under the proposed power. The Subdivision F consultation process provides for the Authority to consult with the public, the Basin States, the Basin Officials Committee, the Basin Community Committee and the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council. The Authority is also required to consult the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission where amendments may relate to the water trading rules.

Any new amendment prepared under this power must be the same in effect as a disallowed amendment. This means neither the Minister nor the Authority may prepare or adopt amendments that have not previously been subject to the detailed (including extensive consultation) process contained in Subdivision F of Division 1 of Part 2 of the Water Act. This requirement will protect the integrity of the consultation process.

Notably, any direction to prepare an amendment must be given within 12 months, that period beginning on the day the original amendment is disallowed (or taken to be disallowed).

The Bill will add a new Schedule 10 to the Water Act, which for the avoidance of doubt, clarifies that certain amendments to the Basin Plan relating to the Basin Plan Amendment Instrument 2017 (No. 1) will be the same in effect as the disallowed Basin Plan Amendment Instrument 2017 (No. 1).

Ministerial directions powers are already permitted under the Water Act in its current form. This new power is an extension of the existing power of the Minister to give a direction.

The Authority was consulted during the drafting of this Bill.

The Bill will have no financial impact on the Australian Government Budget.