Landscape Amendment Bill
LANDSCAPE SOUTH AUSTRALIA (MISCELLANEOUS) AMENDMENT BILL
Mr TRELOAR (Flinders) (16:26): Thank you, Mr Acting Speaker. I appreciate you taking the chair while I make a contribution to the Landscape South Australia (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2020. Of course, a big commitment from the Marshall Liberal government when coming to power was to revamp natural resources management in South Australia. The Minister for Environment and Water’s introduction of the Landscape South Australia Bill was significant legislation. It took a long time to draft. It made some significant changes to natural resources management, both within the administration and practically on the ground, throughout the state. I think it has been a good result and people have welcomed the changes.
Of course, the structure of our boards has changed slightly within natural resources management areas. I have to declare an interest here. For a short time—one session at least—I served on the Eyre Peninsula Natural Resources Management Board, and enjoyed that immensely. We are moving towards elections now for part of the board membership and that was part of our commitment. Certainly, from my interaction with the current board on Eyre Peninsula, they seem to be doing a particularly good job.
What this particular bill looks to do is make some amendments to the way water is managed within that Landscape South Australia Act. The Landscape South Australia Act itself, as well as being the framework for the entire natural resources management structure in the state, is the framework for the management of the state’s water resources.
As we heard through a number of contributions thus far, South Australia is considered a leader in water management and, as part of this, a leader in water compliance and enforcement. Recent advice has identified a potential anomaly within the current act that may limit the ability to adapt the period in which compliance action can be taken for any unauthorised or unlawful water use. This, for example, may have implications on our government’s increased focus on compliance within the River Murray prescribed watercourse that commenced in reality on 1 July 2019. We have heard our minister and also other members talk about the importance of compliance.
I have to say that I always listen with interest to the member for Chaffey—always, in fact—but particularly when he is talking about water because, as a former irrigator, he understands full well the importance of compliance and the importance of the sustainability of the resource within the River Murray. I will talk more fully about our resources here in South Australia as we go on.
We intend to make two minor administrative amendments to bring the act in line with its original intent. The main change will provide clarity of interpretation regarding an accounting period for the purposes of declaring a penalty charge for the unauthorised or unlawful water use and enable the government to implement the most appropriate compliance approaches across the state. This change will reflect the original intention of the act. A failure on our part to make this legislative change may have implications for the government’s quarterly compliance arrangements within the River Murray prescribed watercourse.
The amendment, which will retrospectively be applied to the start of the current water year, will not only preserve the quarterly compliance arrangements for the River Murray and the state’s reputation with other Murray-Darling Basin jurisdictions but it will also enable the government to implement more appropriate compliance approaches for the unauthorised or unlawful water use across the state to better suit the respective water resources and how they operate.
Of course, it is critical, as just one state jurisdiction as part of a broader River Murray basin and catchment distribution system—and as we know only too well we are at the bottom end of the River Murray and very little of the River Murray catchment is within South Australia, but of course its delivery into the Southern Ocean is through South Australia—that we are able to argue our case effectively against the Eastern States, those states with catchment and water flows, and also set an example with these particular arrangements.
The bill will also remove schedule 4 and section10 of the act, which has not commenced and made redundant through the new Landscape South Australia (Water Register) Regulations 2020, which provide for the state’s new contemporary water register, giving customers increased lending opportunities against their water assets. So it is a critical amendment that allows equity to be realised and the best use of assets and finances for businesses to operate and/or expand their businesses.
This will be consistent with South Australia’s longstanding commitment to water compliance and response to the Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission. Quarterly compliance was introduced in the South Australian River Murray Prescribed Watercourse in 2019-20. South Australian water users are renowned for doing the right thing, and we need to ensure that we continue with that and are seen to be continuing with that. We have been particular about remaining within our available water allocation at all times, as required by the Landscape South Australia Act and former NRM Act.
We sometimes forget that the biggest allocation of all goes to SA Water, and they in turn distribute the resource not just to metropolitan Adelaide but to vast areas of this quite dry state. The Deputy Premier, the member for Bragg, made the point that some of our inland towns in South Australia simply would not exist without this reticulated supply. But, at the same time, we have also seen our irrigators here in South Australia, primarily in the Riverland but through the Mallee and other areas as well, really modernise their irrigation systems so that water is used efficiently, effectively and without losses.
Significantly, there is also a lot of water distributed for stock and domestic purposes from the River Murray, all those sheep in the beautiful sheep country of the Mid North and the even better sheep country of the Murray Mallee, although sometimes I know that is drawn from underground, and our farming and agribusinesses are reliant on this as well.
The bill proposes a minor yet essential amendment that will ensure we maintain our strong reputation as a leader in water compliance across the Murray-Darling Basin and at the broader national level. This proposed amendment reflects the intention of the current Landscape South Australia Act and the former NRM Act by enabling compliance action be undertaken within a time frame that best suits the retrospective water resource without any doubt.
In the South Australian portion of the River Murray, this amendment will help ensure that water can be reliably delivered to all water users, including the environment. A portion of the river flow is quarantined for environmental flows, and that will ensure that we are able to best deliver environmental water as intended, manage delivery constraints, inhibit market manipulation and respond to drought conditions, especially if conditions similar to the Millennium Drought were to be revisited.
In her contribution, the member for Bragg reminded us that the member for Chaffey at the time, the Hon. Karlene Maywald, was the first ever Minister for the River Murray. That position was effectively created at the height of what has become known as the Millennium Drought way back in 2002. Of course, slowly but surely conditions improved, and at this current point in time we are seeing reasonable river flows thanks particularly to good rains in all the Eastern States—Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria—that recharge our rivers and ultimately lead to good flows here in South Australia.
But we can never be complacent about these things because the next drought could be just around the corner, as could the next flood. We live in a highly variable climate and, by my rough calculations, the River Murray tends to see flooding flows about every 10 or 11 years, which probably means that we are due again sometime soon. Who knows? We cannot predict these things. As a long-time primary producer, I have never held much store in long-range weather forecasts but, anyway, that was garnered over time.
The one thing I did learn and have learned over 40 years in agricultural production is that every season is different. That is the one take-home message: just when you think you have got it sorted, you get thrown a curly one. Our landscapes underpin our communities, our economy, our wellbeing and our way of life, which is why we all have the responsibility to protect and manage our state’s landscapes and water for the enjoyment of all South Australians.
The Department for Environment and Water works in partnership with the eight regional Landscape South Australia boards, which are responsible for administering the act and, as a result of the Landscape South Australia Act this parliament passed a little while ago now, a new entity known as Green Adelaide also brings an integrated approach to managing Adelaide’s urban environment.
The key priority of the landscape boards is to support local communities and landowners to be directly responsible for sustainably managing their region’s landscapes, with an emphasis on land and water management, pest, animal and plant control, and biodiversity—always challenging tasks. Communication, and the fact that these boards are an active part of our community and readily available to the community, is a really important part of this model. It will include providing greater funding and partnership opportunities with local community organisations to deliver on-ground works and projects.
I would like to take a moment, as I have on numerous occasions prior to this, to talk about the water situation on Eyre Peninsula. Given that the bill we are considering now makes changes to the way water is managed in South Australia, I think it is important to give a local perspective as well. Of course, the previous member for Flinders, Liz Penfold, who held the seat from 1993 to 2010, also spoke much about water supply on Eyre Peninsula.
A lot of our inland areas in this state were not settled until relatively late because of the lack of a reliable water supply. It was highlighted on Eyre Peninsula right back when Matthew Flinders first charted the coastline in South Australia. He stopped off at Port Lincoln, or what became known as Port Lincoln, to refresh his water supplies and found it particularly difficult to source a potable supply of water. He eventually did so and was able to continue on.
Port Lincoln was touted as one of the possible sites for the new state capital, but quite wisely it was decided against, primarily because of the lack of water. A settlement that was to grow into the capital of a colony and ultimately a state needed a water supply, so we saw the settlement on Eyre Peninsula hug the coast, particularly over the West Coast where underground water was available. The inland was not settled until the railway began to be built in 1907, ultimately reaching the top end, both on eastern Eyre Peninsula and the far west in Penong and Buckleboo in the 1920s.
What settlers found was mallee country that was admirably suited to the growing of wheat, but it had very little surface water and any underground water they might have found was of poor quality. Following hot on the heels of the development of the railway was the development of the Tod River Reservoir and distribution scheme. A reservoir was built, essentially by men with shovels and horses dragging sledges, and it captured the waters that were within the Koppio Hills and based around the Tod Reservoir.
A pipe distribution system was constructed which, after being pumped to the top of Knott’s Hill adjacent to the Tod Reservoir, gravitated north. I am not sure if that is possible, but anyway it did. It gravitated north, up the map as far as Ceduna, and at the time it was the longest gravitational water reticulation scheme in the world.
I only have a few minutes left, so I will rush along. It was an extraordinary engineering feat. By the time we got to the postwar years of the late 1940s and early 1950s, it was obvious that the Tod Reservoir was not going to be able to keep up with the demand of Eyre Peninsula. Of course, the population was increasing at that stage, industry was developing, sheep numbers were increasing, towns were growing, all those things.
There are a number of shallow underground basins to the west and south of Port Lincoln. They began to be tapped into. Some beautiful water was found. It was high in calcium, but it was certainly good quality, and that supplemented the reticulated supply on Eyre Peninsula. At the same time or within a few years, the Polda Basin west of Lock and east of Elliston and the Robinson Basin at Streaky Bay were also tapped into. Those basins ultimately collapsed. There is an ongoing debate as to whether that was through overextraction or the lack of recharge through drier seasons. Some might call it climate change. Regardless of that, it does not really matter, those particular basins are not available as a source anymore.
We were hooked into the River Murray as a supply source in the early 2000s. The latest information I have is that the River Murray supplies as much as 25 per cent of Eyre Peninsula’s water, coming from Iron Knob down to Lock and then heading west. A significant improvement that has brought about is an improvement in the water quality. There are not the calcium issues in the far west of the state that there once were.
The pressure remains on our southern basins through years of lower recharge, not that our extraction or demand is as high as it once was. It is about eight gigalitres in total a year, not counting that which is used in Whyalla. I am essentially talking about the agricultural areas of Eyre Peninsula. It is about eight gigalitres a year which is significantly less than it once was.
This government and Minister Speirs have announced a commitment to build a desalination plant on Eyre Peninsula. I, for one, welcome this. It is finally looking like it might come about. I wholeheartedly support the building of a desal plant. Obviously, there will be environmental issues to consider and there will be native title considerations as well, but ultimately we cannot have a significant area of the state running out of water, one of our major regional towns running out of water or all that productive wheat belt country on Eyre Peninsula running short of water.
The plan, as I understand it, is for the desal plant to provide about four gigalitres of water per year. That essentially is 50 per cent of our current usage. It is not ever intended to be a replacement for the underground supply, but it will certainly supplement that. That is a good thing. Once again, it will probably improve the quality of the water that is delivered across Eyre Peninsula. It will also allow a reduction in extraction from our underground basins and enable the preservation of the existing resource. All of us here in this place who are on a quest for sustainability, and I as a farmer and land manager who has been involved with Landcare, Streamcare and NRM, know how critically important that is.