LOWER LIMESTONE COAST WATER ALLOCATION PLAN

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) ( 14:19 :43 ): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation a question about the Lower Limestone Coast Water Allocation Plan.

Leave granted.

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: I have been contacted by a constituent, and I will quickly give you an outline of his concerns in relation to the volumetric conversion. He believes the volumetric conversion calculations have been calculated in accordance with the Lower Limestone Coast Water Allocation Plan 2013, adopted on 26 November and amended on 10 December 2014. He does not have a problem with it except for one critical component: his dispute is with the exclusion of the delivery volume, while being a flood irrigator is critical to continuing to operate his farming business and finishing livestock on irrigation.

Under the Lower Limestone Coast Water Allocation Plan 2013, it states on page 170 that a flood irrigator in the Stewart's management area is entitled to a delivery component of 10.94 megalitres per hectare, hence an additional 10.94 times the 42.5 hectare irrigation equivalency, which is a total then of 465 megalitres to be added to his licence.

Upon contacting the Mount Gambier office of Customer Services South-East with his concerns, as directed by the letter, he was informed that the delivery component was not included. He had not returned a document stating he was a flood irrigator. To the best of his knowledge, he never received this critical piece of paper in the post.

He has been a flood irrigator for the past 35 years and has completed countless paperwork for government agencies during this time as a condition of being a licence holder. In recent years he has provided details on water usage through the Annual Irrigation Survey. As recently as two years ago he was asked to draw the layout of his irrigation system, which clearly shows it as flood irrigation, hence the need for a delivery volume component. Also, aerial imagery, which is also widely available, clearly shows that it is a flood irrigation layout.

My question to the minister is: given the Lower Limestone Coast Water Allocation Plan clearly states he is entitled to a delivery component of some 465 megalitres, and your agency is fully aware of his irrigation practices through 35 years of records, and notwithstanding he has no recollection of receiving the document to be returned stating he was a flood irrigator, why is he being denied his delivery component?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 14:22 :23 ): I thank the honourable member for his most important question. I should say at the outset that if the honourable member wants to prosecute issues from a constituent on detailed matters of policy or in terms of licence and conditions, he is free at any time to raise them with myself or my office.

The Hon. D.W. Ridgway: I just did.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Well, hardly, sir. He hasn't tabled any details. I don't have the gentleman's name or any contact details at all, but he can follow that up with me if he wishes to. That is the most appropriate course for him to raise a particular constituent's issues on a detailed matter of a person's licensing entitlements.

However, whilst I have the floor, I might take the opportunity to talk about some of the important aspects of the Lower Limestone Coast Water Allocation Plan. To provide certainty for water users, ensure water resources are sustained into the long term, and protect water-dependent ecosystems, the South-East Natural Resources Management Board has collaborated with the community, industry and government to develop the Lower Limestone Coast Water Allocation Plan.

Community and industry input into this water allocation plan was sought and received over an extended period and has assisted in the production of the final policies that have been applied in the region. As the minister responsible, I adopted the Lower Limestone Coast Water Allocation Plan on 26 November 2013. In what is believed to be a world first, as many members will know, the Lower Limestone Coast Water Allocation Plan will license both direct groundwater extraction and interception of groundwater recharge by commercial forestry.

This is a major step towards accounting for and managing all significant users of the resource and is part of the state's obligations under the National Water Initiative. The introduction of these forest water licences has been well supported. I was very pleased to be advised that in a radio interview the shadow minister for aquaculture and forestry has said the opposition supports the government's current position on forest water licences.

The Lower Limestone Coast Water Allocation Plan converts existing area-based water allocations to volumes and, in what is believed to be, as I said, a world first, if not a universal first, it provides for commercial plantation forests to have a water allocation for recharge interception and direct groundwater extraction.

A risk assessment also identified eight groundwater management areas where the current level of allocation presented a high or very high risk to the sustainable use of the resource. Reductions to allocations are scheduled to occur over the next eight years, ranging from 3 per cent up to 57 per cent as a result of the risk assessment results.

Further adjustments to the water allocation plan were made by the South-East Natural Resources Management Board and myself. The South-East Natural Resources Management Board made some changes to fix some small errors and omissions in the plan on 27 February 2014, and I made some changes on 10 December 2014 to reflect the legal requirements to obtain a forest water licence. The plan has been updated on the Natural Resources South-East website, where both the amended plan and a table of the changes are available to view or download. Key stakeholders, I am advised, have been informed of these changes.

In terms of the implementation process, the water allocation plan provides for the conversion of existing area-based water allocations to volumetric allocations. All licensees, I am advised, were written to in December 2013, advising them of the implications of the plan and the key actions they may need to take to secure water entitlement, 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 they may need to take as part of the implementation of the plan. Approximately 70 per cent of volumetric licences have been issued, I am advised, and this task is expected to be completed by the end of the financial year.

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 worked with potato growers, for example, in the region 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.

In relation to appeals, I am advised that, as of 18 March 2015, there have been six appeals lodged with the Environment, Resources and Development Court, claiming that not all the water they are entitled to has been allocated, in particular, delivery supplements for flood irrigation, particularly in the Naracoorte district.

The Lower Limestone Coast Water Allocation Plan required irrigators to apply for a volume of water known as the delivery supplement for some irrigation types, including flood irrigation. I am advised a letter and application forms were sent to the registered postal address for each licence holder, as held in the DEWNR water licensing system, on 6 December 2013. I am advised also that this was only 11 days after I adopted the Lower Limestone Coast Water Allocation Plan on 26 November, so it was a very efficient and fast service delivery.

The applications were due by 5 pm 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 (pretty standard, I would image), and investigation by DEWNR shows that the letters were sent to the correct address. In addition, irrigators were reminded of the need to apply for delivery supplements a number of times at various meetings, workshops and 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 Natural Resource Management Board consultation meetings during development and public consultations on the draft WAP;

irrigator walk-in events at Mt Gambier, Naracoorte and Kingston for advice on an individual's licensing requirements;

a number of various media releases;

Natural Resources South-East newsletters to farmers (as one is called, I think, From the Ground Up);

direct contact through phone calls and emails;

public events, such as the Lucindale field day;

via industry group meetings and correspondence, for example, Diary SA, potato growers, irrigation groups, vigneron groups; and,

radio interviews given by such people as the presiding member, Mr Frank Brennan, of the South-East Natural Resources Management Board.

So, we are making every effort to convey to the licensees what their requirements are. We have followed up on many occasions, through various media and public forums, but if the honourable member cares to raise an individual case with me, as honourable members in this place do, by all means write to me or pass on the correspondence and I will make sure my department contacts that individual.

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) ( 14:29 :05 ): By way of supplementary question, will the minister clarify: clearly from his answer he is not disputing that somebody who is an irrigator is entitled to the delivery component, but he has said that they must have completed the form. Clearly your records will show that this particular irrigator has been an irrigator for some 30‑odd years and has filled out a range of forms. Will there be any—

The Hon. G.E. Gago: If you knew his name!

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: I will give you his name: it is Mr Malcolm Miller of Naracoorte.

The Hon. G.E. Gago: He'd have a form that he filled out.

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Ridgway has the floor.

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: It's very serious indeed. If he has no record or no recollection—and is clearly an irrigator and isn't disputing the actual allocation or the allocation of delivery supplement, but clearly he requires that delivery supplement. Will the minister make sure that the agency or his department shows some respect for the fact that Mr Miller has been an irrigator for some 35 years and hasn't tried to use the system to get an unfair advantage, but to get what he is entitled to?

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change) ( 14:30 :14 ): I thank the honourable member for the supplementary question. I've made it very plain to him that I am very happy to follow up on Mr Miller's situation. Now that I have the name, I will ask my department to contact him. If there's any other correspondence the honourable member would like to give me in relation to this issue, I will take that as well and pass it on to my department.

The honourable member was not born yesterday. He knows that in situations where there may be legal contracts, licences to be issued, these things have to be applied for, they have to be witnessed sometimes, they have to be signed for, and the department cannot—

The Hon. D.W. Ridgway interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Ridgway, listen to the answer.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: —of its own volition go off and say, 'Well, I know Mr Bloggs down the street. He's been irrigating here for 25 years. I'll just fill that out for him.' They cannot do that; of course they can't do that. As I said, we have gone to great lengths to contact the community, the licensees, establish what they need to do, provide them with the information they need and provide them with the documentation. If there's been any breakdown at all in that system from Mr Miller's situation, from his perspective, I will ask my department to follow it up with the individual concerned.

The PRESIDENT: Before we proceed, can I say that question time is a very important function of our democracy, and I don't think Mr Miller has really been done much justice. Even though you can ask whatever question you want, the issue was so complex and probably needed some consideration, that to waste 11, almost 12, minutes of question time, when it really demanded much more attention than that, I think is just a waste. But as I said, you all have the right to ask the questions you want.

 

 

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