Legislative Council: Wednesday, May 18, 2022


Murray-Darling Basin

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (15:31): Today, I rise to speak about the Murray-Darling. It is a river that has been the lifeblood of our state since we settled here, of course. It is so important to everything that happens in South Australia in terms of our community, in terms of our economy and certainly in terms of our Indigenous history for many First Nations.

It is an integral part of what it is to be a South Australian to be involved in the Murray at some point in your life, whether it be an economic involvement, whether it be a tourism involvement or residential. It is fundamental to our state, and that is why it is so important to have, as best we can, a bipartisan approach when we have to go off to deal with other states who have, quite frankly, history of stealing water from the Murray, taking water without licence, overallocation of water to irrigators upstream and taking the view that South Australians' share of River Murray water just does not matter to them.

It is important that we, as a state, have a collective vision and a collective approach to bargaining at a national level. It does sadden me terribly to reflect on the last four years and the dropping away of that bipartisan approach in terms of the River Murray. I want to reflect a little bit about that chiefly, but also on what the future might hold after Saturday and a potential change of government.

I can remember writing to Minister Barnaby Joyce regarding biased appointments to the Murray Darling Basin Authority. I can remember writing to and speaking to Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce about misallocations, unlicensed water taking, illegal flood plain harvesting, and quite frankly Minister Joyce's response was, 'Who cares? We are not going to do anything about it.' When I raised with Minister Joyce the 450 gigalitres of extra water that was negotiated under the agreement for South Australia, for the environment and the health of the river, he basically looked at me and said, 'Quite frankly, I do not see any way that that can be delivered under our government.'

That is a great shame for the state, but what was an even greater shame was that the state Liberal government—under the environment minister Mr David Speirs, now Leader of the Opposition—gave away, quite willingly, for next to nothing the only ace in the deck that South Australia held which was written into the agreement and then given away subsequently at a national water ministers meeting, which required the sale of water to only require willing sellers upstream. That was a key requirement that was built into the agreement. It was a key requirement that meant whatever the attitude of the New South Wales government, or the Victorian government for that matter, to further water coming down into South Australia, all that was required was willing sellers of water licence holders and that would be sufficient to find that 450 gigs.

However, the Hon. David Speirs, Leader of the Opposition in the other place, gave it away at his first meeting as water minister. He rolled over to being monstered by the other states and the Liberal National Party government in Canberra and just gave it up for a little bit of money that he was going to get anyway because that money was part of the state's unspent allocation on certain projects. I just found that entirely unbelievable.

We now as a state do not have any power because of that action that minister for the environment, David Speirs, took at the time. Nothing much has changed. When you have a federal government hijacked by the National Party, you will not get significant water change on the River Murray. The National Party holds the federal government to ransom, and when Malcolm Turnbull gave that portfolio to Barnaby Joyce he knew exactly what he was doing in that trade. It meant damning the agreement that was reached in 2012 over the share of allocations to not just state irrigators but also to the environmental water that was supposed to flow downstream.

New South Wales and Victoria acted hand in hand with the federal government to block South Australia's fair share of water. This was an environment minister who was pilloried by a royal commissioner for his actions. The royal commissioner could not believe that a minister of the state could give up South Australia's vital interests in such a way. It is a damning reflection on this Leader of the Opposition and will ever taint his leadership of the Liberal Party in this state; he gave up our rights to water in the River Murray.