House of Assembly: Thursday, March 09, 2023


Eyre Peninsula Desalination Plant

Mr TELFER (Flinders) (14:23): My question is again to the Minister for Climate, Environment and Water. Has the minister made any direct personal representations to the federal Labor government regarding the funding of the desalination plant on Eyre Peninsula and, if not, why not?

The Hon. S.E. CLOSE (Port Adelaide—Deputy Premier, Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Minister for Defence and Space Industries, Minister for Climate, Environment and Water) (14:24): What we did in seeking to address fairly what the site selection committee intended, which was to have a serious look at an alternative site to Billy Lights Point, was say that we would support a process of inquiring of the federal government if there might be some funding available to bridge the gap.

Of course, the federal government itself would need to be satisfied that it was necessary to have a more expensive plant than the one which has always been used as the base case, being Billy Lights Point. What we did, therefore, was to send someone from the Department for Environment and Water, from the water section, along with the chair of the site selection committee, Peter Treloar, to go—

Members interjecting:

The SPEAKER: Order! The Deputy Premier has the call.

The Hon. S.E. CLOSE: I am trying to be as factual and helpful as I can be, sir—to Canberra—

Members interjecting:

The SPEAKER: Order, member for Badcoe! Member for Light!

Members interjecting:

The SPEAKER: Member for Badcoe! The Deputy Premier has the call. Order!

The Hon. S.E. CLOSE: —to go to Canberra to meet with the people who are responsible for the National Water Initiative and to seek to understand where there might be some funding available. What they were informed was that there is a process that can be gone through but it requires a fully-costed business case prior to their consideration and it would then go into a budget round.

It was, therefore, already impossible for this year's federal budget to be able to submit on a case for a site which didn't have a fully costed, fully detailed business case. What it had was a reasonable estimation undertaken by SA Water as part of their diligent proving up or testing out of the various alternative sites.

That means that had we elected to put the project on pause in order to enable the business case to be developed to a point that would be required by Canberra, we would be waiting for more than a year to discover whether there might be some funding available. In any case, that funding would be no more than 50 per cent of the amount that we were seeking. They would only do it in partnership.

That presented an immediate problem. Even if one thought they might provide half of the approximately $150 million, and even if it might be that we thought it was reasonable to spend the other half on it, given that there is no evidence that the relocation away from Billy Lights Point was necessary, then we would be waiting at least a year to find out and then we are a year closer to Port Lincoln not having secure water.

It seemed that not only from the very great doubt that one would have to have about whether that would be acceptable by Canberra and acceptable from the South Australian public's perspective also in spending so much additional money, the fact that we simply can't afford to wait any longer, having waited already a significant period of time to allow the site selection committee to undertake its work, that was no longer an option that could be explored. And, as I say, nor was it necessary given that we have had the SARDI advice about the security of using Billy Lights Point.