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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 9 Hansard (28 August) . . Page.. 3363 ..

MS MacDONALD: I have a supplementary question. Minister, would the ACT have secured these policy changes had you signed up to the agreement when it was offered earlier this year?

Mr Cornwell: I take a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think the question is asking for an expression of opinion.

MR SPEAKER: I think that the minister is entitled to answer the question.

MR CORBELL: It was a good question, Ms MacDonald, and I thank you for it.

MR SPEAKER: I am just reminded that it was hypothetical. I think the supplementary question is out of order as it was hypothetical.

National water plan

MRS DUNNE: My question is to the Minister for Environment, Mr Stanhope. Minister, are you aware of the Wentworth group's Blueprint for a national water plan? What are the three most important issues that you can take from the blueprint to tomorrows COAG discussions on national water policy?

MR STANHOPE: I thank Mrs Dunne for her question. I am aware of the Wentworth group's work on the Murray-Darling Basin and the work that they have done that is so particularly relevant to the agenda item at COAG tomorrow. Indeed, I had a detailed briefing just last Friday from Professor Peter Cullen, one of the members of the Wentworth group, on the work of the group and on the details of the group's blueprint for the Murray-Darling catchment. So, yes, I am very familiar with the work.

I have had the benefit of a very detailed briefing from Professor Cullen, one of the authors of the work. I have read it and I found it particularly informative. It is an excellent document and I would recommend and commend it to all members of the Assembly as a fantastic oversight of the range and breadth of the issues that are facing all residents of the Murray-Darling Basin and, indeed, all Australians to the extent that the Murray-Darling system is quite sick.

Most particularly, the Murray River is in extremely bad shape. I think members would be aware that the Murray at the moment is flowing at only 27 per cent of its capacity; that we drag out of the Murray River each year 73 per cent of the waters that traditionally flowed down the Murray and, of course, that has had enormous impacts on the health of the system. There are particularly significant issues for the health of the whole catchment and particularly for those downstream.

The most significant of the issues that are highlighted and the most important lesson for us all to learn and to take note of, not just in relation to the work of the Wentworth group but, indeed, of anybody that has considered any of the issues around the Murray-Darling Basin, is the need for governments to now take seriously the health of our river systems; for governments to work together to address the issues around the amount of water that is taken from the system to a point where we know it is unsustainable.

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