Page 3495 - Week 11 - Thursday, 15 November 2007

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It has taken some time, and I acknowledge, as Mrs Dunne has, some of the attitudes that the ACT has had to deal with in relation to the Murray-Darling Basin Commission and an acceptance of the legitimate right of the ACT in this regard—to have the largest inland urban city in Australia, and certainly by far the largest urban settlement within the Murray-Darling Basin, accorded the legitimate respect of being accorded membership of this most fundamental organisation.

The significance and importance do not just relate to the new initiatives that have been pursued over the last year or two in relation to the Living Murray initiative. I refer to the new approach to water, the new legislative regime which is being facilitated by the federal government, and the transferral of power by the majority of states who are members of the council, along with the ACT, to the commonwealth, in order to give it an overarching responsibility for issues within the Murray-Darling Basin. That is important, and that is why it is important for the ACT to become a full member of the Murray-Darling Basin. Most specifically, it is very much about the future management of the Murray-Darling Basin.

The use of water entitlements within the Murray-Darling Basin will involve the trading of water. Mr Deputy Speaker, as you are aware, one of the initiatives which the government has announced it will pursue in relation to securing our future water supply is what is known as the Tantangara option. This involves the potential purchase of water from within existing entitlements, for arrangements with the Snowy Mountains authority, the commonwealth and New South Wales for that water to be stored in Tantangara Dam, and for the water ultimately to be released when required, pumped either directly into the system at Mount Stromlo or perhaps through a new pipeline to be constructed from Point Hut to Googong Dam.

For those reasons, because of the increasing complexity of arrangements, the new approach to water within the basin which we can expect will come to fruition from now on, and, most importantly, in the context of those proposed arrangements and our capacity to pursue the Tantangara option and the purchase of water entitlements, it would be required of us that we settle on a cap that we agree to, as do other jurisdictions. Queensland has not yet settled on a cap, but New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia have done so. Our capacity to engage in the new arrangements for water and the management of the Murray-Darling Basin will quite obviously and legitimately require of us that we, as a jurisdiction, within the framework of the Murray-Darling Basin, agree to a cap.

We are negotiating that. We are at a point now where we believe we have an agreed position. It has not yet been agreed. A vital step in the finalisation of a cap for the Australian Capital Territory is that we be a full member. I believe we could actually accept a cap without being a full member, but I do not believe it would be appropriate for us as a jurisdiction to do so. In submitting to a cap, essentially we would be contracting to limit ourselves to a certain amount of water, and if we exceeded that amount of water we would pay a significant amount for the excess. Because of the importance of that issue, we should at least have a voting right. We should be at the table as equals. We should have the same rights and entitlements as every other member of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission.

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