House of Assembly: Thursday, March 09, 2023


Grievance Debate

Eyre Peninsula Desalination Plant

Mr TELFER (Flinders) (15:06): Well, today we had an announcement from the Minister for Climate, Environment and Water on a subject that my electorate has been watching for a long time, a desalination plant for Eyre Peninsula. The announcement was that this SA government had disappointingly decided to disregard the perspective of the EP Desal Site Selection Committee and their preferred location at Sleaford West and instead forge ahead with the location at Billy Lights Point at Port Lincoln.

Now, there is a long history on this subject and one which my community knows very well. They have been advocating for years for a desal plant with concerns about the longevity of the underground water aquifers that supply the peninsula, specifically the Uley South Basin, with the latest advice being that that supply is at risk of being too diminished by the end of 2025. The previous Liberal government had been the first in that time to make any indication on advancing the project, with a $99 million announcement during the previous term.

As the project advanced, SA Water came up with a recommendation on their preference for a location at Billy Lights Point, which, for those who know, is in the middle of the bay area at Port Lincoln, around the meeting point of Proper Bay and Boston Bay.

Port Lincoln is known as the seafood capital of the state, with fishing and aquaculture being a significant component of the local and state economy. Many of these aquaculture industries are based within this bay area, notably tuna, kingfish and mussels. The locals know the fine balance that these industries must make with their interactions with the local marine environment, as they rely on this for their clean, green produce for which they are renowned.

With this in mind, the community and industries at the time came out strongly opposing SA Water's proposal and in response to this, the former minister put in place a site selection committee, made up of community leaders, fishing and aquaculture industries and local government, tasked with putting the work together to put forward an alternative.

I must commend this committee for its work, chaired by Peter Treloar. They were thorough, thoughtful, evidence-based, collaborative and consultative. After much deliberation and evidence-gathering they made a recommendation of their preferred site at Sleaford West.

I know that the committee considered all different aspects: environmental impact, economic impact, cost and constructability. They got expert advice, scientific advice—they were thorough—but, disappointingly, that has been ignored. Now the community once again is faced with the potential of a desalination plant within the bay area of Port Lincoln at Billy Lights Point.

What will be the impact on our fishing and aquaculture industries? The minister says she has a report that found that it can be built without negatively impacting the local marine environment, with oceanographic modelling showing that once the plant is operational, long-term salinity levels in the bay will remain within natural background levels.

Does she have confidence in this? Will she financially guarantee those aquaculture and fishing businesses in the bay, which could be at risk if that modelling proves to be inaccurate? Does it take into account plumes of saltwater moving through the levels of water? Will there be an impact on the natural movement of mussel spat—or 'sprat', as the minister said—which happens in the area, which is relied on by mussel producers? Will there be risks of areas of high nutrient levels, which could potentially impact the tuna or kingfish industries? Is the science clear enough? Or is the decision purely one about capital costs without taking into account long-term financial risks? Did the minister herself personally approach the federal Labor counterpart about opportunities for co-funding? Seemingly not. These are all questions that my community and businesses are asking and this is why they preferred a site at Sleaford West, where there is direct access to high-energy water.

As I said, this has been a disappointing outcome for those who have been directly involved or those who could be directly impacted. To add to a level of dithering the minister stated, 'The final decision on the plant by will'—it doesn't make sense in itself—'be informed by a separate business case being prepared by Infrastructure SA into the Northern Water Supply Project.' That just means the uncertainty around the project continues. It is added to by this layer. Even if it is possibly delivered, the Northern Water Supply Project is many years away and hundreds of kilometres away, not connected by existing pipework at all. Surely the minister would know this, surely her department would know this, so why are they trying to confound the community by adding this? What is her motivation? It is not good enough, it is lazy process, the perspective of my community has been put aside—and that is incredibly disappointing.