The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) ( 14:21 :26 ): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation a question about Limestone Coast water allocations.
The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: On 26—
The Hon. K.J. Maher interjecting:
The PRESIDENT: Order!
The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: Chuck him out, will you, Mr President? On 26 March this year, I asked the minister a question about a water licence in the Limestone Coast Water Allocation Plan where the delivery component had not been provided. We had quite a lengthy exchange, and I think you, Mr President, intervened at one stage: it had taken 11 or 12 minutes and the minister had really said nothing.
I noted in his response that he said, in relation to appeals, his own advice as of 18 March 2015 was that there had been six appeals lodged with the Environment, Resources and Development Court claiming that not all the water they were entitled to had been allocated and, in particular, a delivery supplement for flood irrigation, particularly in the Naracoorte district.
Recently, I think only at the beginning of September, the local member, (Mr Mitch Williams MP, member for MacKillop) was on radio, quite concerned that nothing had happened with those appeals, and I assume we are still talking about six appeals. He was quite concerned. I have a copy of an email sent to a DEWNR official from one of the irrigators which says:
Further to meeting yourself and Minister Hunter at the Naracoorte Town Hall, and brief discussions that we had regarding my water licence and the reduction in the allocation for my flood irrigation.
I am hopeful of a positive outcome of my appeal to yourself and the Minister to have my licence reviewed, due to your responses on the day. I felt that you were both listening to —
which I thought was a bit of an interesting observation of the minister but, nonetheless, she felt that they were both listening—
and interested in my (and others in similar) predicament due to the reduction in my water allocation and am providing information of my current situation regarding my Water Licence.
Given that we are in the beginning of spring (and it is a beautiful spring day outside and expected to be 26º on Sunday) and, sadly, unlike the rest of the state, the South-East has missed out somewhat on the wonderful rains we have had elsewhere, my question to the minister is: why is it that these people still have no clarity and certainty about the delivery component of their licences that they believe they are entitled to, especially given that we could be facing predictions in the South-East and the Limestone Coast area, as a result of a potential El Nino, of diminished rainfall over the next few months? This delivery component is of the utmost importance and concern to them and vital to the survival of their farming operations.
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 14:24 :30 ): I thank the honourable member for his most important question and his ongoing interest in this very important area. I also thank him for his compliments about how well I listen to constituents.
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Well, he was reflecting on the comments coming to him about how well I listen to constituents—
The PRESIDENT: Order! Allow the minister to finish his answer.
The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: —and take on board their interests, as I always do, of course. The water allocation plan provides, as you know, for the conversion of existing area-based water allocations to volumetric allocations. All licensees were written to in December of 2013 advising them of the implications of the plan and the key actions they may need to take to secure water entitlements, such as crop adjustments, delivery supplements and special production requirements. The period for applications closed on 26 May 2014.
Further media releases and direct engagement have also occurred with water users and commodity groups to ensure that licensees are informed and aware of any actions that may need to be taken as part of the implementation of the plan. All volumetric licences have been issued for all water users, including forestry and the South East Natural Resources Management Board, and Natural Resources South-East will continue to keep the community and stakeholders informed of the implications of the implementation of the plan.
They have worked with potato growers in the region, I am advised, to better understand implications for the potato industry, and have met with concerned irrigators to discuss strategies to meet the required water allocation reductions in the plan. I put that on the record again because it is very important that we have the facts before us. Otherwise—and I am not ascribing this to any particular member—some people may go out of their way to avoid mention of the ongoing communication that has been in place in that area for some time now. People have been communicated with regularly, frequently and reminded about the application process and what they need to do to navigate their way through that process.
To update the honourable member in terms of his information about appeals processes, I am advised that, as of 19 June 2015, there have now been 18 appeals lodged with the Environment, Resources and Development Court claiming that not all of the water that they are entitled to has been allocated. I am told the appellants either failed to apply within the prescribed time or did not apply for allocations they may have been entitled to. The Lower Limestone Coast Water Allocation Plan required irrigators to apply for a volume of water, known as a delivery supplement, for some irrigation types, including flood irrigation or a specialised production requirement for frost control in vines.
I am advised a letter and application forms were sent to the registered postal addresses for each licence holder, as held in the DEWNR water licensing system, on 6 December 2013. This was only 11 days after I adopted the Lower Limestone Coast Water Allocation Plan on 26 November 2013. Applications were due by 5pm on 26 May 2014, six months after the date of adoption. The department informs me that it is a condition on all licences that licensees notify it of any changes to contact details within 21 days. An investigation by DEWNR shows the letters were sent to the correct addresses.
In addition, irrigators were reminded of the need to apply for delivery supplements a number of times through:
various meetings, workshops and the media throughout the development and implementation of the Lower Limestone Coast Water Allocation Plan, including letters posted to all irrigators on 6 December 2013 with the forms, and on the forms themselves;
South East NRM Board consultation meetings during development and public consultation on the draft water allocation plan;
irrigator walk-in events at Mount Gambier, Naracoorte and Kingston for advice on an individual's licensing requirements;
various media releases;
Natural Resources South-East newsletters to farmers (i.e. From the Ground Up);
direct contact through phone calls and emails;
public events, such as field days;
industry group meetings and correspondence (i.e. to Dairy SA, potato growers, irrigation groups and vigneron groups); and
various radio interviews given by Frank Brennan, the Presiding Member of the South East Natural Resources Management Board.
That outlines a comprehensive approach to communication but, having said that, there are times in individual's lives when things are happening for them, which means that they put to the back of the queue some of these bureaucratic application processes, because they have to do very important things in their lives. I won't go into some of the circumstances that have been raised with me because they are very personal, but they do require, I believe, for the processes to be a little bit more flexible in how we approach this.
On 30 April 2015, the South East NRM Board wrote to me asking if the Lower Limestone Coast Water Allocation Plan could therefore be amended to allow a period for irrigators to apply for delivery supplements or specialised production requirements for those who missed out on the application period.
I understand that I will be receiving advice from my department on the suggested amendments to the Lower Limestone Coast Water Allocation Plan shortly, to help those people who for whatever reason were not able to avail themselves of the time period and the notifications that had been provided by the agency to meet the requirements for the allocation process and to provide further flexibility for them to do so into the future.