Natural Resources Management Levy

The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS ( 15:08 ): Thank you, sir. I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Water a question regarding NRM water planning and management cost recovery. 

Leave granted. 

The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS: Members would be well aware of broad community concern about the proposed water planning and management cost-recovery process that, obviously, the minister has just been addressing, and that concern has been expressed by a number of groups around South Australia, including Primary Producers SA. An article on the Stock Journal website on 2 March this year, entitled 'Transparency critical to faith in NRM system', indicated that, and I quote:  PPSA has been calling on the State Government to undertake an independent review of WPM costs with the results to be made public. At a meeting last week Minister for Water Ian Hunter clearly stated to PPSA that he will not commit to the public independent review that has been requested. However he did commit to opening up the books of DEWNR to PPSA and PPSA's nominees to investigate how the WPM costs have been calculated. 

Further on, the article states also:  A commitment has now been made by DEWNR to provide PPSA with a breakdown of WPM spending on a regional level. 

Given this, my questions are: 

1.Will the minister confirm the commitments as stated in the article, that DEWNR will open up its books to PPSA and its nominees to investigate how the WPM costs have been calculated, and also that DEWNR will provide PPSA with a breakdown of WPM spending on a regional level? 

The Hon. R.L. Brokenshire interjecting: 

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Brokenshire, the Hon. Mr Dawkins has the floor. 

The Hon. R.L. Brokenshire: My apologies, sir. 

The Hon. I.K. Hunter: He doesn't care about anybody else. 

The PRESIDENT: Minister, let Mr Dawkins ask the question.

  The Hon. J.S.L. DAWKINS: I will repeat that question, I think: 

1.Will the minister confirm the commitments as stated in the article, that DEWNR will open up its books to PPSA and its nominees to investigate how the WPM costs have been calculated, and also that DEWNR will provide PPSA with a breakdown of WPM spending on a regional level? 

2.What is the time frame within which the minister expects these commitments to be fulfilled? 

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 15:11 ): I thank the Hon. Mr Dawkins for his very important and intelligent questions. I won't reflect on other questions I have been asked recently.

 Members of this place, as I have said before, particularly the Hon. Mr Brokenshire, need to be very careful about what they are advocating for and be very careful about disadvantaging the people they purport to represent. 

The state budget papers clearly set out how the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources allocates its budget. The department has calculated the total cost of water planning and management to be approximately $40 million—$43 million, I think, more accurately. Recovery of these costs from those who benefit has been on the cards—or has been in the budget papers, I should say—since 2011-12. The announcement contained in the 2015-16 budget of recovery of $3.5 million from NRM boards in 2015-16 and $6.8 million in 2016-17 represents a small fraction of the total investment in water resource planning and management. 

As I said previously in this place, in answer to another question, what is it that people are complaining about here? Are they complaining about no longer being subsidised by the taxpayer for what is a private benefit? If this is the case, they need to reflect on what is happening in other jurisdictions, on how much people are being charged by their governments, and compare it to the very small proportion of funds that we are seeking to recover in South Australia. 

As I said, we expect to recover $3.5 million in 2015-16 and $6.8 million in 2016-17, approximately 8.1 per cent and 15.8 per cent, I am advised, of these total costs. Of course, the state budget is publicly available. The Hon. Mr Brokenshire in his reading leisure might want to peruse that as well and get some factual information to base his questions in this place on. As I said, the NRM board business plans are also publicly available. More than that, there is a significant amount of consultation requirements of the NRM boards in the development of their plans. 

Coming to the point the Hon. Mr Dawkins raises, I have repeatedly invited representatives from Primary Producers SA and indeed other groups, including, I think, the livestock group, to come in and sit down with my department and my chief executive and go through the books. I did that recently in a meeting in my office with Ms Fiona Rasheed and Mr Rob Kerin.

  My answer to the Hon. Mr Dawkins is yes; I am happy to repeat that. My chief executive will sit down with those representatives and take them through the department's expenditure in these areas. My department has already, I am advised, provided a pie chart or breakdown about these costs to make it easier for people to understand where this expenditure goes to. 

The Hon. R.L. Brokenshire: Grade 6 standard. 

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Well, that's probably appropriate for the Hon. Mr Brokenshire, Mr President. To make it easier for him to understand the actual information that is in the budget papers, a pie chart at grade 6 standard might be useful for him. It certainly was useful for me. I make no negative comments about that. Pie charts are very useful tools in understanding many mathematical concepts and principles around shared expenditure. 

When all water-related charges are taken into account, the NRM water levy rates paid by irrigators in our major food and wine producing areas such as the South-East and the Murray Darling Basin are still low when compared to other interstate competitors. As I said earlier, you can compare the rates as best you can across the jurisdictions, and South Australia is the cheapest of them all. 

I can advise that the fact sheet that has been made available by my department on how it spends its allocation on water planning and management will also be further drilled down into more regional-level information for those people that I have invited to sit down with the chief executive and go through that process, so that they can relate that back to the people they talk in their regions and so they can understand, in their regions, what that expenditure is.