Natural Resources Management Levy

The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS ( 14:21 ): My question is directed to the Minister for Water and the River Murray. Will the minister indicate whether water planning and management programs—such as $200,000 for Lower Murray levee bank restoration, $540,000 for River Murray waste disposal stations, $300,000 for salt interception schemes, $115,000 for River Murray operations and $79,000 for drainage disposal basins—which were previously funded by the Save the River Murray levy, are now to have their costs recovered by the government through NRM water levies?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 14:22 ): I thank the honourable member for his most important question. I would imagine honourable members in this place would be able to count themselves as experts on these matters, because I have spoken about water planning, management and cost recovery a number of times in this place. The state government's costs for water planning and management—ensuring that our water resources are managed sustainably—amount to more than $40 million per year. I have used that figure previously. 

The 2015-16 state budget identified our intention to partially recover these costs, in effect, reducing our subsidy to water users by recovering $3.5 million via NRM boards in 2015-16, increasing to $6.8 million in 2016-17 and being indexed ongoing thereafter. This partial cost recovery, I am advised, amounts to about 16 per cent of what we actually spend—that figure is for the 2016-17 year—and this means government, on a rough appraisal, is still bearing about 84 per cent of the costs of water planning and management. 

NRM boards determined that these costs should reflect, of course, primarily those regions where most irrigation takes place. That is just common sense. 

The Hon. R.L. Brokenshire: It was forced upon them by you. 

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Those regions are the South-East, the SA Murray-Darling Basin and Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges. 

The Hon. R.L. Brokenshire: They don't believe any of this nonsense. You forced it on them. 

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: The honourable member who is interjecting— 

The Hon. R.L. Brokenshire: Well, you did. We've got the evidence. 

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: —is again making things up, and if he listens to me or, indeed, reads Hansard at some stage in the future, he will be a little bit clearer about what I just said.

 NRM boards determined that the costs should reflect those regions where most irrigation takes place. That's what I said and you have this tirade of people in this place thinking something else was said and making up interjections, without actually rationally analysing what I have just said and read into the Hansard. 

That's not surprising because that's all they ever do: they make things up. On the other hand, I live in hope that there will be some rational people out there who are listening to question time or, indeed, will read the Hansard and want to hear what the facts are, and they will only get them from this side because the others aren't interested in the facts. They are interested in creating a sense of crisis. That's what oppositions do; I get that. That's their job, but in fact they have never been able to back up any of their claims with any facts whatsoever. 

Six of the eight NRM boards' business plans have been revised in order to support ongoing delivery of priority NRM programs in our state. As part of their business plan reviews the boards have carefully considered their programs and projects, the fair apportionment of the NRM levies across their regions, other funding opportunities and how they continue to deliver their statutory functions required under the act. 
The boards have also had to make allowances for significant reductions in commonwealth government funding over past years, I am advised. The boards have all undertaken lengthy periods of community consultation far beyond that required in the NRM Act. They have also conducted social and economic impact assessments around proposed increases and critically reviewed their business priorities. Based on community feedback, some boards have chosen to withdraw program investment and reduce staffing whilst increasing levies to deliver on key priorities. 

Many members of the community, including primary producers, have expressed real concern about a loss of NRM funding and the negative impact this will have, particularly in regional areas. The boards have worked hard to balance funding for natural resources management against an increase in levies. Regional NRM levies are a way of sharing the cost of managing our natural resources including, of course, water. 

The state government provides funding to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to ensure South Australia's share of the water from the River Murray flows to users and provides for the ongoing health and management of basin-wide environmental water planning, delivery and monitoring. Funding also provides for water allocation plans which ensure we manage water resources sustainably to safeguard food production and agriculture into the future. 

Managing water licensing, permitting, compliance and trading schemes are all important parts of the work that the NRM boards do. In addition, funding is provided to ensure sustainable, good quality and secure River Murray water and groundwater supplies for everyone, including farmers, into the future. As I said, the boards have invested in social and economic impact assessments to help guide their decisions. 

In the South Australian Murray-Darling Basin Natural Resources Management region, these assessments showed that for most farms the NRM water levy is less than 1 per cent of the total cost of running a farm. While there was some variation between different enterprises, the South Australian Murray-Darling Basin NRM Board deemed in most cases the levy would not have a significant effect on food production or agriculture in that region or in the state generally. 

The Natural Resources Committee of parliament recently considered the NRM boards' levy proposals in accordance with the requirements of the Natural Resources Management Act 2004 and the committee, as I understand, resolved that they did not object to the levy proposals outlined in the NRM boards' business plans. NRM boards are available on board websites and from natural resource regional offices, and these demonstrate clearly where the levy funding is being spent.

The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS ( 14:27 ): I have a supplementary question. Given the pressure applied to NRM board chairs and board members by the government on this levy issue, will the minister concede that this will negatively impact on the quality of people in local regions who will now think twice about putting themselves forward for NRM board nomination? 

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 14:27 ): I hardly think so. The people who put themselves forward—and there has been no diminution in that in recent times, as I understand it—do so because they want to serve their local communities. That is why they want to do that: because they believe they have something to offer their local communities. Of course they want to do it because they want to be of service to their community instead of pulling communities down—as we see from the Liberal opposition over here whose only advantage in any of this is to actually destroy confidence in South Australia and to malign our abilities to compete with other states in terms of our clean and green agriculture from our clean and green environment. That is all they intend to do: create a sense of crisis, not support local communities and businesses. That is not the view of this government and we will continue— 

Members interjecting: 

The PRESIDENT: Order! The honourable minister, please take a seat. 

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: We will continue to support— 

The PRESIDENT: Will you please take a seat. The honourable Leader of the Opposition made a big deal to me the other day about the behaviour of people in this chamber but, by your very actions, you are doing exactly what you were complaining about. The minister is trying to answer a very important question. I can't hear him and I am sure there are some over on the government bench who can't hear him. The minister should be able to give his answer without any interjection. Minister. 

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Thank you for your protection, I desperately need it. This government will continue to support motivated members of local communities who want to serve their communities through NRM boards, and we will give them every assistance we possibly can because we know they are the only ones working with state government who are standing up for their communities. The Liberal Party never will.