18 October 2023
(2) Schedule 1, page 7, after line 16, after item 11, insert:
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).
This amendment relates to the terms of reference for the statutory review of the Water for the Environment Special Account, otherwise known as the WESA. The Water Amendment (Restoring Our Rivers) Bill opens the possibility of the WESA being used to support communities affected by water purchases. However, the bill does not go far enough towards ensuring the adequacy of support for impacted communities. It’s here that I want to acknowledge the words of the member for Nicholls in the prior debate about this. We need to make sure, with this new element of the bill, that at every stage we put communities at the centre of compensation.
My amendment would provide a review of government support to affected communities. It would absolutely scrutinise the government’s support of communities, ensuring that it’s commensurate with impacts experienced, and meaningfully address their needs. The amendment would achieve this by ensuring that the statutory review of WESA considers the effectiveness of payments made using WESA funds to adequately address any social or economic detriment that is associated with purchasing water access rights.
I propose this amendment in the context of the Water Amendment (Restoring Our Rivers) Bill 2023, expanding the scope of options available to the government to deliver the target of the 450 gigalitres to include purchases of water allocations and also, in the context of the removal of the requirement for any projects contributing towards the recovery of 450 gigalitres, to demonstrate a positive or neutral socioeconomic impact. We know that water purchases can have socioeconomic detriment. While the exact extent of the impacts of buybacks on agricultural production, jobs and rural economies can be contested, the reality is that basin communities do hold grave fears about future water buybacks. These communities deserve to be supported, and support shouldn’t just be a tokenistic one-off payment for a bit of community beautification or a sports facility, for example.
Support provided to affected communities needs to be a meaningful, long-term driver of community development. It needs to adequately offset the impact of the buybacks and it needs to empower communities to make their own choices as to how they invest in their future. The bottom line is that affected communities should be at the front and centre of government considerations when planning and implementing buybacks. The onus is also on the government to further explore the specific impacts of buybacks on agricultural production, on local jobs and on local economies. I note the important work of Professor Sarah Wheeler in this space. Detailed impact studies will be required to ensure support to communities is commensurate with the effects of buybacks. Thanks to my amendment, the success or failure of Commonwealth efforts to adequately support communities will be held up for the public to see following each review of the WESA.
I thank the Minister for the Environment and Water and the minister’s office for working in good faith with me to improve this bill and to improve outcomes for communities by supporting this amendment—if she so does.
Finally, with the enlargement of the measures that can be funded by the WESA, it’s my hope that the special account will also be used to provide First Nations groups with meaningful opportunities to protect and enhance cultural values associated with environmental flows. We’re hearing today that rivers throughout the Murray-Darling Basin system are the lifeblood of so many communities, including First Nations communities. This bill opens the door to support all impacted basin communities.
I encourage the minister to accept this amendment.