Legislative Council: Wednesday, March 22, 2023



World Water Day

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI (Leader of the Opposition) (17:26): I move:

That this council—

1. Acknowledges that on 22 March 2023 we celebrate international World Water Day;

2. Acknowledges that managing our water requires a balancing act of maintaining sustainable water ecosystems, while providing enough to efficiently support agricultural, industry, social and cultural needs;

3. Congratulates South Australian businesses, industry and households on their performance to date when it comes to responsible water use;

4. Calls on the Malinauskas Labor government to urgently disclose the site and cost of the Eyre Peninsula desalination plant to provide the much-needed water security in that region; and

5. Calls on the Malinauskas Labor government to restore efforts to progress agricultural water efficiency projects as a means of achieving environmental water recovery in the Murray-Darling Basin.

World Water Day 2023 is about accelerating change to solve the water and sanitation crisis. Dysfunction throughout the water cycle undermines progress on all major global issues, from health to hunger, gender equality to jobs, education to industry, and disasters to peace. In 2015, the world committed to Sustainable Development Goal 6 as part of the 2030 Agenda, the promise that everyone would have safely managed water and sanitation by 2030.

Billions of people and countless schools, businesses, healthcare centres, farms and factories are being held back because their access to safe water and sanitation still needs to be fulfilled. Water is a critical resource for South Australia due to the state's arid climate, limited rainfall and reliance on agriculture. The region's economy, environment and communities depend heavily on the availability of water. South Australia has a diverse range of water sources, including surface water, groundwater and desalinated water, which are used for irrigation, industry, urban supply and environmental purposes.

One of the most significant water resources, and one that I personally have a strong connection to, is the River Murray. It is the state's most significant source of surface water, supporting irrigated agriculture and providing drinking water to Adelaide and other towns. However, the river is under pressure from climate change, drought, overuse and upstream developments. The effective management of the River Murray resource is an important and difficult one. With competing uses, a river that cuts across different states and a plethora of stakeholders, managing the River Murray takes strong leadership.

Unfortunately, since Labor took office almost a year ago, we have seen anything but this. Despite being told that only Labor could fight for the river, we have seen nothing but rhetoric and concerning remarks from the water minister, who has done nothing in the space apart from dish out $2 million for a River Murray commissioner. What do taxpayers get for that? A good question. I will come back to the chamber when the minister finally releases the documentation that all taxpayers deserve to see.

One of the most concerning matters is her lack of effort on progressing agricultural water efficiency projects as a means of achieving environmental water recovery in the Murray-Darling Basin. Even her own bureaucrats have acknowledged the lack of progress since state and federal Labor took office. This is in stark contrast to the previous Liberal government, which oversaw the contracting of around 23 gigalitres of water through these projects in its last 12 months of government, and there were several other projects identified.

Instead, the current minister takes the lazy option and calls for mass water buybacks. She clearly does not understand the water market or regional communities, but this is to be expected from a city-centric minister who is not across her portfolio. Water security and management was a key focus of the previous Liberal government.

The Hon. C.M. Scriven interjecting:

The ACTING PRESIDENT (The Hon. L.A. Henderson): Minister, interjections are out of order.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: Unfortunately, a lot of that momentum appears to have been lost under the Malinauskas Labor government.

Members interjecting:

The ACTING PRESIDENT (The Hon. L.A. Henderson): Members, interjections are out of order.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: Another example is the water minister, who recently disclosed the locations of the Eyre Peninsula desalination plant after quite simply dithering for months. Water security is critical for Eyre Peninsula. The community have been working towards supplementing the Uley South groundwater supply with seawater desalination to ensure water security for the region into the future.

In February 2022, the Marshall Liberal government formed the site selection committee to engage the community in consultation on the proposed site of the desalination plant. In August 2022, the site selection committee made a recommendation to SA Water and the government of South Australia, identifying a new Sleaford West site as a suitable location to host the desalination plant.

Since that decision, the project appears to have stalled under the water minister. It was announced on 9 March 2023 that she will ignore local expertise on a preferred site for a critical desalination project on Eyre Peninsula, instead selecting Billy Lights Point, a location that attracted significant concern from the seafood and agricultural sector, local businesses and the community.

Her decision is a kick in the guts for the Eyre Peninsula desalination plant project site selection committee, which includes members from business, community leaders, fishing and agriculture industries, local government and other key stakeholders, and handed down its recommendations seven months ago.

Water affects everyone. I am proud of the innovative and sustainable solutions my fellow South Australians are initiating, even under the poor leadership of the state's water minister. I want to congratulate these South Australians—the businesses, industry and households—on their performance to date when it comes to responsible water use and recognise that South Australia is a leader in water management and innovation when it comes to ensuring sustainable water use and resilience in the face of future challenges.

For example, grapegrowers in the Adelaide Hills wine region are experiencing the benefits of soil moisture and temperature monitoring technology. Promotion of the technology across the sector is encouraging growers to find new ways to manage their water use sustainably. Students on Eyre Peninsula are growing native plants in their school nursery for the local Coastcare group. The area has been struggling with the effects of increasingly saline groundwater. Installing a tank, pump and new irrigation has improved water efficiency and quality and expanded the growing capability of their onsite nursery. It is this type of innovation, efficiency and dedication that will continue to steer our state to prosperity in a changing climate.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. I.K. Hunter.