18 October 2023

I move amendment (3), as circulated in my name:

11A After subsection 86AJ(3)


(3A) In conducting a review under subsection (1), a panel must also consider the effectiveness of payments made, or expected to be made, under paragraph 86AD(2)(c) in relation to a purchase referred to in paragraph 86AD(2)(b).

(3) Schedule 2, item 21, page 16 (lines 3 to 5), omit subsection 7.08A(3), substitute:

(3) The roadmap, and any substantive amendments of the roadmap, must be prepared in consultation with:

(a) the Basin States; and

(b) the Commonwealth; and

(c) affected communities and landholders; and

(d) the public.

Consultation must be active, timely and address the underpinning science for the intended measures and outcomes.

(4) Schedule 2, item 49, page 24 (lines 9 to 13), omit the item.

(5) Schedule 2, page 24 (after line 13), after item 49, insert:

The amendment requires road maps for the constraints relaxation projects to be prepared in consultation with the basin states, the Commonwealth, affected communities, landholders and the public. Consultation must be active and timely and must address the underpinning science for the intended measures and outcomes. Constraints relaxation projects are an important part of delivering environmental benefits for the basin. This bill aims to drive progress for delivery constraints projects across the southern basin by allowing the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to develop and implement constraints road maps.

When I consulted on this bill, I heard from farmers and land and water management authorities that flooding resulting from environmental flows can have negative impacts on farming properties, infrastructure and riverbanks. Just last week, I visited local farmers Jock Blakeney and Jan Beer on the Goulburn River, who showed me what can happen to farms when floods occur because of high flows from Eildon weir, one of the basin’s largest water storages. Jock, Jan and other farmers on the Goulburn and below Hume dam, the largest water storage, stand to be significantly impacted by increased environmental flows. Jock pointed out pastures under water that had been mere days away from being cut for silage; that crop is now lost. In other areas, silage bales were like islands dotted throughout flooded paddocks.

These are areas that have been flooded multiple times in the recent La Nina years, with each flood killing pasture, introducing weeds and damaging fencing. Returning the land to production after a flood takes time and money, and, with the potential for environmental flows to result in flooding in seven out of 10 years, local farmers are questioning whether it’s worth continuing to farm on these areas.

Part of the issue is the timing of water releases. For many, mid-spring to late spring is too late to be releasing high volumes of environmental water flows, as spring is the very time when farmers are trying to apply fertiliser, grow silage and put cattle on the most productive areas. Further, I’ve heard that landholders are not provided with adequate warning of when releases will occur and what the intended outcomes of the releases are. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority often does not provide specific information about locally important issues, like these constraints projects.

This amendment ensures that affected communities and landholders are adequately consulted about a constraints project affecting them, including the intended outcomes. Communities dissatisfied with basin state or Commonwealth efforts to engage with or compensate them on constraints projects should have avenues for recourse. This is not in the bill, but I urge the minister to please consider this further. Increased flows could change the way of life of these communities in the same way that buybacks could change the way of life of other communities. Therefore, all negatively impacted communities deserve to be engaged with, listened to and compensated, and that’s what this amendment seeks to achieve.

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