Page 4823 - Week 15 - Wednesday, 14 December 2005

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MR CORBELL: I am not familiar with that level of detail in the report. I would need to take the question on notice.

Water agreement

MRS DUNNE: Mr Speaker, my question is to the Minister for the Environment. Minister, I refer to the memoranda of understanding relating to cross-border water agreements to be signed by the ACT, New South Wales and commonwealth governments. I refer also to the comment made by one of your spokeswomen last week that providing a secure water supply to the ACT will always be the government’s primary goal and to your own comment about the danger of relinquishing or whittling away the ACT’s paramount right to water, over which it has been given sovereign control by the commonwealth. What are the terms and conditions of these memoranda of understanding, specifically as they relate to what you tell us is the ACT’s paramount right to sovereign control? Will you table the terms of the memoranda of understanding?

MR STANHOPE: This is certainly a very topical and important question. One of the most important questions relevant to the future of Canberra as a sustainable city is our access to a sustainable water supply. I think there is essentially no more fundamental an issue in terms of the capacity of the city to grow and prosper and be sustainable. It is probably fair to say that there were three major reasons for the establishment of Canberra in this place, one of which was, of course, geographic. There was a squabble between Sydney and Melbourne as to where the national capital might be best located so as not to detract from their significance as major cities. Also of concern at the time were issues around security and the adequacy or sustainability of a water supply for a national capital.

To the extent that the ACT has a paramount right to water, it is a right that vests in Canberra as the national capital. This is the national capital and it was in recognition of that that land was acquired from New South Wales and along with it sovereignty, essentially, in the broad sense of the word, to water within adjacent catchments. It is in that context that we can claim sovereignty to water rights identified by the commonwealth as necessary to ensure the future of Australia’s national capital—Canberra.

The agreements will be executed shortly. When they have been executed they will, of course, be made public. At this stage they have not been made public. I am writing today to the commonwealth minister for territories, Mr Jim Lloyd, in relation to the involvement of the commonwealth. I am also writing today to Mr Frank Sartor, the relevant New South Wales minister, outlining the position—that the ACT government and cabinet have reached a preparedness to execute a cross-border water agreement and a cross-border settlement agreement.

In the context of that and as part of the negotiations, which continued until as recently as last Friday, there are some matters that were agreed between New South Wales and the ACT—in other words, between Mr Sartor and me—that are relevant to the basis on which the ACT government has agreed to enter into the memoranda. I need to confirm those in writing with Mr Sartor, which I am doing today. Essentially they go to issues of interpretation or understanding in relation to the basis on which settlement may—and I

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