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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 7 Hansard (29 June) . . Page.. 2891..


Murray-Darling Basin

Discussion of matter of public importance

MR SPEAKER: I have received a letter from Mrs Dunne proposing that a matter of public importance be submitted to the Assembly for discussion, namely:

The impact of Canberra, as the major urban centre, on the Murray-Darling Basin.

MRS DUNNE (3.55): The impact of Canberra as the major urban centre on the Murray-Darling Basin is something that we should all, as legislators and as citizens of this city, be taking very seriously indeed. We saw last Friday the signing-off of the National Water Initiative, and I congratulate the Prime Minister, Mr Howard, and COAG for this momentous occasion. The National Water Initiative looks at issues mainly in relation to the Murray-Darling Basin. The need to increase environmental flows in the basin is clearly urgent and cannot be done by just one government. The means proposed-market mechanisms, buying back water entitlements rather than simply acquiring them compulsorily through legislation-is the only workable approach.

We have to be careful not to understate the achievement of getting agreement on this issue. I have spoken in this place, and in others, on the history of the Murray-Darling Basin on a number of occasions. If we look back over history even before federation we find that, even at the last minute when we were deciding on federation, water was a contentious issue. In the first decade of federation we had the Murray-Darling River Agreement, which has been through various iterations until today, when it comes to the Murray-Darling Basin Commission.

Between the 1870s and 1910 when the Murray River Agreement came into force there was a vast amount of constitutional argy-bargy that almost caused federation to founder. Through that time we have seen a vast amount of inaction but heard a lot of talk about what needs to be done in addition to issues relating to the Murray-Darling Basin and the management of the Great Artesian Basin, which has been glacial in its approach to overcoming difficult problems.

The issue of problems with the Great Artesian Basin was first raised in 1912 but it took until 1939 to commission a report by the Great Artesian Waters Investigation Committee. Because of the war that report was not completed until 1945, and that is perhaps understandable. But it took another nine years before the content of that report reached the state governments who were interested in it. From the signing off of the COAG water reform framework in 1994 to the signing of the National Water Initiative last Friday, that is a sterling achievement. There has been a lot of work done in, comparatively speaking, a very short period of time.

The Murray-Darling Basin is an important part of our geology, our geography and our agriculture. It covers one-seventh of the continent of Australia-over New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory. The basin supports one-quarter of the cattle herd, half the sheep flock, half the cropping land and almost three-quarters of all irrigated land in Australia. There are 16 large cities, including Adelaide and Canberra, which draw from the resources of the basin, as well as many


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