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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 1 Hansard (12 February) . . Page.. 345..


MRS DUNNE (continuing):

as possible the building of a dam for further water supply in the ACT should be avoided."He went on to say, "Mrs Dunne stated in her speech during the debate that she supported the government's plan to develop an effective water resources management plan."I did, Mr Speaker-and I still do, but I am waiting for the effective water resources management plan; in fact, I am waiting for any water resources management plan.

It is also true that I agreed at the time-the whole opposition agreed at the time-that the building of any further water supply in the ACT should be avoided as far as possible, but it is no longer possible. What has changed? Quite simply, last January, on the Chief Minister's watch, most of the Cotter catchment burnt out. The precise causes are still subject to inquiries, but it is clear that a failure to limit fuel loads and to maintain fire trials, ironically in the name of environment conservation, were major factors. The short-term effect is, as the Chief Minister pointed out, mainly on water quality.

His claim that the drought was about quality and not quantity was a revelation to me and to many others. The long-term effect of the fires, however, is, according to the government's own data, a reduction in run-off of between 25 per cent and 50 per cent of our most productive catchments. At the top end, that is the equivalent of building another town centre in the ACT. That is what has changed: mountain ashes to ash mountains.

The Chief Minister said on Tuesday, "We do have time; we do have options. We are introducing and will introduce a range of measures,"and so on. He is not normally that unguarded. The thing is that we do not have time. We may have 10 years-if we are lucky. We are lucky if the catchment regeneration effect is at the lower range predicted: if all the current reductions in water use turn out to be due to restrictions and not to rain and that that those savings continue; if the population growth is at the lower end of the forecast rain; if we can sort out the problems identified by Professor Wasson last week in the Googong catchment and that they get better, not worse; and if climate change does not have the impact that some people think. The planning, building, construction and filling of a dam may well take all of those 10 years. It may even take longer.

There are huge margins for error in all these variables, but that does not mean it gives us the luxury of dismissing them all as a best-case planning scenario. We should be planning for a worst-case scenario. That means that we have to put aside the issue of whether we like or dislike dams and come up with a sound policy for the ACT for water security.

The Chief Minister also went on to make comments about the Welcome Reef Dam. I do not resile from the comments that I have made about the Welcome Reef dam, which the Chief Minister kindly quoted on Tuesday. All things being equal, I would prefer it if we could source our water from the Shoalhaven River rather than take more water out of the Murray-Darling Basin.

I do not have time to explain the benefits to environmental flows in words that the Chief Minister would understand. The plain fact of the matter is that, as things currently stand, there are problems in the Murray-Darling Basin. We would be better taking out of a large dam in the Shoalhaven but, as the New South Wales government is even more beholden to the Greens than is the ACT government, that will not happen in the foreseeable future.


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