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2019 Government Businesses Scrutiny Committee - TasIrrigation


Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Tags: Water, Irrigation, Water Restrictions, GBE Scrutiny

CHAIR - The time now being 3.04 p.m. The scrutiny of Tasmanian Irrigation will now begin. The time scheduled for the scrutiny of Tasmanian Irrigation is to 4 p.m. I welcome the minister, Chair and CEO to the Committee.

Minister, can you please introduce the persons at the table, names and positions for the benefit of Hansard.

Mr BARNETT - Thank you, Chair and thank you for the opportunity to be here today. I introduce Sam Hogg, the Chair of Tasmanian Irrigation, and Andrew Kneebone, the CEO.

CHAIR - I remind members about the practice of seeking additional information for GBEs. The question must be agreed to be taken by the minister or the Chair of the Board and the question must be handed in writing to the committee's secretary.

Minister or Chair, do you want to give a brief opening statement. It does need to be kept brief, as we have less than an hour for scrutiny.

Mr BARNETT - Thank you, Chair. Water is liquid gold and Tasmanian Irrigation is a key enabler for the state's economy in terms of agriculture and the $10 billion farmgate value by 2050. We are on track, with more than a 9 per cent increase in the previous 12-month period, with our comprehensive agrifood plan. We are pleased to have achieved that benchmark. We have a plan for the future and we are delivering.

I am delighted to report today that in the previous financial year, Tasmanian Irrigation delivered more than 64 000 megalitres of water to irrigators, meeting demand. There are table water entitlements available in excess of 123 000 megalitres of water. Tas Irrigation also reported that all operating irrigation schemes issued entitlements, with 100 per cent allocation in the 2018-19 financial year, allowing irrigators access to full entitlement during the season. TI has an excellent track record of finding practical solutions to support our farmers and our investors in these schemes. TI has also achieved a 100 per cent compliance with all environmental permits and approvals during the reporting period.

In terms of construction, 14 projects have been successfully completed as part of tranches 1 and 2. The final tranche 2 project, the Scottsdale Irrigation Scheme, is due to be flowing in February 2020. In 2018-19, TI officially opened three schemes: the Duck, North Esk and Swan irrigation schemes.

We are partnering with the Australian Government in providing $170 million for the first phase of tranche 3, the Pipeline to the Prosperity projects. Due diligence, planning and consultation are well underway. On completion it includes 10 potential projects expected to deliver further 78 000 megalitres of irrigation water. When fully implemented they will create 2600 jobs across Tasmania, particularly in rural and regional Tasmania. They will deliver $114 million per annum when the projects are at full production with a cost-benefit ratio of 2:4. They will trigger $150 million of private farm investment.

The future is bright. Thank you to the Chair, to Andrew, the CEO, and the team at TI for the work they do and the service they provide to our rural and regional communities and the people of Tasmania.

I will ask the Chair if she would like to make some opening remarks in addition to those I have already shared with the committee.

Ms HOGG - I wanted to highlight that the board is very conscious of the engagement it had with the inquiries over the past year or so. The engagement with the irrigator community has been strong and active. The culture within Tasmanian Irrigation has also been a key focus. As well as what the minister has highlighted, we have also been engaging with the irrigator community.

Ms WHITE - Minister, issues around the south-east have been dominant recently, for both Stage 2, which is on 4 per cent of allocation, and Stage 3, which is 50 per cent. The farmers on Stage 3 were very surprised by that. Can you explain how that happened?

Mr BARNETT - I am wondering why Ms White is here, the Leader of the Labor Party, when she has announced to the public that she will be doing a press conference at 4 p.m., immediately after this hearing?

Ms O'CONNOR - That is irrelevant.

Mr BARNETT - Why would you be interested in the answer, when you are ready to bag out the Government at 4 p.m. You are not even interested in the answer.

Members interjecting.

CHAIR - Order.

Mr BARNETT - The Leader of the Opposition is scaremongering. She has been to meetings, she has been advised, she has been briefed. She knows the matter is coming under control. She knows that the matter is stabilising. She has been briefed and now she is acting as judge, jury and executioner, before she has had the opportunity to hear the answers. It is appalling behaviour by the Leader of the Opposition.

Ms WHITE - How did this happen?

Mr BARNETT - Madam Chair, let's make it very clear. What is important is that we don't need politics. What farmers want is -

Ms O'CONNOR - Says you who just started your answer with a two-minute political spray.

Mr BARNETT - What farmers want is an effort to get the result, to get everyone to secure the water that they need. Let's make it clear, stages 2 and 3 of the south-east scheme are on track. The restrictions are expected to be eased on Friday, literally two days to go. You heard from the SEO at a briefing yesterday and you were at that briefing.

Ms WHITE - Yes, I was - you weren't.

Mr BARNETT - I was here in Parliament House undergoing scrutiny in other committees. Madam Chair, you were the Chair at the time. Let's make it clear. There has been a stabilisation and a recovery of the water.

Ms WHITE - The question was how did it happen?

Mr BARNETT - The fact is that they will be eased on Friday. More work is still to be done. TI is engaging, as the Chair said in her opening remarks, very positively with the irrigators and that work is ongoing. Water must be used wisely and that is a top priority for our Government.

Ms WHITE - How much will they be eased by, minister?

Mr BARNETT - In terms of operational matters, I am happy to refer to the CEO for an answer about that but I can indicate that the water restrictions are expected to ease on Friday. I can say there has been a stabilisation, a recovery of the process, and notwithstanding the dry conditions, the increased water needs for the people of Hobart and the operational issues at TasWater, that work and the engagement with the local community, the irrigators, not just by myself, my office, but specifically by TI, has been terrific. I would like the CEO to have the opportunity to respond to that answer as well.

Ms O'CONNOR - We might get a straight answer. That's great.

Mr KNEEBONE - As of this morning the Rekuna Dam had 101 megalitres storage in it. That has improved by 5 megalitres from the previous day. As we highlighted at our meeting with irrigators yesterday, there is volatility in our supply from TasWater. We had 14.4 megalitres the previous day against usage of 9 megalitres, but the supply today has been reduced to 10 megalitres. We are hoping it will come back up towards 15 megalitres. On the basis of those forecasts we are still looking to ease restrictions to somewhere in the order of 70-80 per cent.

Ms WHITE - Is that stage 3?

Mr KNEEBONE - On stage 3. At Daisybanks stage 2, the storage level at 8 a.m. this morning was 137 megalitres. That one has improved substantially but it can have high volatility. Stage 2 isn't a traditional TI scheme in that it was constructed in the 1990s and doesn't have the same flow rate arrangements that our schemes do currently, the contemporary schemes, so it can have quite volatile usage and needs to be managed quite closely.

We have highlighted with the irrigators - and we agreed these stage levels with them last year and that is why they have been put in place - that we will probably seek to go somewhere above 4 per cent, so somewhere about the 5 per cent or 6 per cent mark. Their standard arrangement is for 8 per cent, so in any week an irrigate can take 8 per cent of their total annual water entitlement. That works out to effectively their flow rate over a season. We are flow constrained in terms of input into stage 2 in that the maximum amount that TasWater can supply on any one day is 8 megalitres.

Ms WHITE - Minister, what is the immediate solution for this irrigation season? I understand there is a contractual arrangement between TasWater and Tas Irrigation for stage 3. Are you able to share the details of that, or is it just a day-by-day proposition working with TasWater to ensure there is sufficient volume for those dams and therefore it is going to be a very volatile season ahead?

Mr BARNETT - Are you interested in the answer?

Ms WHITE - Are you interested in answering it?

Mr BARNETT - Well, you're going out at 4 p.m. to bag out the Government and our efforts on south-east irrigation.

Ms WHITE - How about you do your job?

Mr BARNETT - I'm just wondering if you're interested in the answer.

Ms WHITE - I would like very much to know what the contractual arrangement between TasWater and Tas Irrigation is and how you intend to supply the reliable water that you promised those farmers, that you sold those farmers when you opened that scheme, this season?

Mr BARNETT - You know I have answered this question in parliament and it is on the public record. I made it very clear in the parliament. What I said was that the south-east irrigation stage 2 scheme supplies water to Richmond and Cambridge. I made it very clear that stage 3 commenced in 2013 under a Labor-Greens government, the tranche 1 scheme. I also made it clear that we are working very hard knowing that there is a dry season and drought conditions, knowing there is high demand and in fact increased demand across the Hobart region and also knowing that TasWater has had operational issues with respect to some of their reservoirs. I also made it clear that Tas Irrigation is working very hard, cooperatively in a collaborative way with TasWater, to get the job done and has an arrangement with TasWater. That arrangement is in place.

I am happy for the CEO to respond to operational matters but I made it very clear publicly then and I am making it very clear publicly now that that work is going on. It is collaborative, it is cooperative, they are working with the irrigators and they have constant communication. Hence the public meeting yesterday which was well attended, including by yourself, so you are fully aware of the feedback you are getting. You are simply playing politics with this, which is very disappointing.

Ms WHITE - Do you know how many farmers didn't go because they were too upset to be in the room?

Mr BARNETT - I would like the CEO to add to that answer if he possibly could.

Ms O'CONNOR - All you do is play politics.

Mr TUCKER - What about you?

CHAIR - Order. Allow the CEO to answer without interruption.

Ms O'CONNOR - You are both so childish.

Mr KNEEBONE - The contract we have with TasWater for stage 3 is for a set volume which is the maximum volume of the scheme, 3000 megalitres. I could characterise it as being effectively a best-efforts contract. There is no guarantee of supply from TasWater and they reserve, as is appropriate, the right to service their drinking water customers prior to servicing TI customers. At the time that was negotiated they didn't have the drinking water standards that are contemporary today and their treatment plant would have effectively had sufficient excess treatment capacity to continue to supply to Tasmanian Irrigation for our demand at a relatively low risk.

The stage 2 arrangements are that there was a contract agreed in 1990s and under previous management of both TI and TasWater, or Southern Water at the time, that was unable to be renegotiated and has effectively lapsed, but TasWater has been honouring the arrangements of that contract since. We have hit a particular set of circumstances this year that has brought this into the public arena but this is effectively the balancing act that these schemes have been operating on in terms of the cooperative working arrangements between TasWater and Tasmanian Irrigation over the past five years.

Ms WHITE - Minister, there is a $160 million upgrade happening to Bryn Estyn. Do farmers help pay for that through the fees they pay to Tas Irrigation every year on that scheme?

CHAIR - Order. It is Ms O'Connor's call.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, we have just heard the CEO say that there is a particular set of circumstances this year that has led to water restrictions for Hobart itself, but also some restrictions on irrigators. There will be restrictions on Hobart's water use. What is your understanding of the particular set of circumstances that have brought us to this place?

Mr BARNETT - There are circumstances I have outlined that relate to the dry and drought conditions, particularly in Tasmania's south-east. Second, there has been increased demand across the Hobart region. I have made that clear and that is on the public record. TasWater is considering its options of restrictions going forward. I make it very clear that the Government will be responding to, and I expect would be supporting, any recommendations from TasWater with respect to water restrictions in and around the Hobart region. If that was the decision or recommendation they were to make, as a Government we certainly would do that.

I have said we need to be using water very wisely; it is a precious resource. Third, I've indicated that there are certainly some operational issues at the TasWater level. In terms of those particular operational matters, I have made it clear that TI is working cooperatively with TasWater, and TasWater with TI. I've met with both the Chair and the CEOs of both organisations and with other members of the Government earlier in the week, and have regular and constant conversations and communication with them on very important matters from time to time - critical matters.

With respect to the last part of your question, I will ask the Chair if she'd like to provide a bit of an overview of the relationship.

Ms O'CONNOR - Are you just trying to buy time?

Mr BARNETT - No. I think it is important. You need to know from TI's perspective.

Ms O'CONNOR - You don't need to tell me what I need to know. I'll work that out myself.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, allow the minister to finish, please.

Mr BARNETT - I would like through you, Chair, the opportunity for the Chair to respond to that part of the -

Ms O'CONNOR - He's just buying time, Chair.

Mr BARNETT - Let's allow the Chair to respond.

Ms O'CONNOR - I will listen to you gladly, Ms Hogg.

CHAIR - Thank you, Mr Tucker. Sorry, Ms Hogg. The Chair is answering.

Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order. Before you go to Mr Tucker after Ms Hogg, I have asked one question.

CHAIR - Yes.

Ms O'CONNOR - I asked one question on this issue, and you want to move it on to a Dorothy Dixer. Is that right?

CHAIR - You have actually asked two questions in this time.

Ms O'CONNOR - I did not ask two questions.

CHAIR - You asked two parts to the question.

Ms O'CONNOR - I will remember this. Thank you, Ms Hogg.

Ms HOGG - As has already been mentioned, we are working very collaboratively with TasWater in working through the relationship on the supply of water for the south-east farmers.

In terms of the operational issues that have occurred within TasWater, I think, as has previously been referred to, over the last three years they did change the process within Bryn Estyn, which I think reduced the potential output by about 30 megalitres a day. There have been the other issues around the general dry issues, and I think there has been some activity at the Risdon Vale storage, but I think they are in a better place to talk to all of these issues than we are.

Ms O'CONNOR - Can I just pull you up there, Ms Hogg? What I am trying to get to, through the minister, is that we have been told there is a particular set of circumstances this year, but what the evidence is showing us from the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology is that all down the east coast of Australia, for the past 17 years, there has been lower than average rainfall. So we are not dealing with a particular set of circumstances. We are dealing with a long-term drying of the east coast of Australia. What we need to understand in this committee is what kind of planning Tasmanian Irrigation is doing to make sure that we are accounting for the fact that Tasmania is drying out, and that the water situation is likely to become more critical in the not-too-distant future.

Mr BARNETT - Can I respond to that part of your question, through you, Chair. Thank you for the question. The climate is changing, absolutely. On the east coast we've had three tough years in terms of drought conditions, dry conditions, and I expect this coming summer to be tough, particularly on the east coast, and in the south-east. That's why, as a Government, we stepped forward with that funding support for those doing it tough in those areas.

I won't go through it all, but there was $150 000 for the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture to look at the changed environment, and how we can adapt as an agricultural community and as farmers to the changed environment. So, three years of drought conditions, and if that continues -

Ms O'CONNOR - It will. The drying will continue. That's the projection.

Mr BARNETT - that is an issue, so that's the reason for the research: to assist those farming communities, and farmers in particular, to respond to those sustained drier conditions. I hope that will assist.

Ms O'CONNOR - My final point here is, can you see how you can reach an agricultural value of $10 billion by 2050, when the east coast of Tasmania will be well dried out by then, and other parts of Tasmania including the Midlands will be a lot drier as well?

Mr BARNETT - I have a lot of hope and belief in our agricultural communities, and I also note the importance of water. Our water is liquid gold. It has delivered and will continue to deliver. One of those areas on the east coast is the Swan Valley Irrigation Scheme, which I visited soon after I became minister, with Andrew Kneebone and many other farmers. I have done work there with John Tucker, member for Lyons, meeting with the farmers, and that is really appreciated. They do a lot of good work, and they have productive farmlands, vineyards and crops as a result of access to water on that Swan Valley Irrigation Scheme.

Ms O'CONNOR - You can move on now. You are not really dealing with what I am trying to talk to you about.

Mr BARNETT - That is part of the solution. You asked, and that is part of the solution to get to that $10 billion.

Mr TUCKER - I would like to first put on the record that I am a primary producer, and I have no association or involvement with any of the irrigation schemes within the state, and neither do any of my close relatives.

Minister, the tranche 3 program is an exciting development to which the Australian and Tasmanian governments have committed $170 million, plus what would be invested by farmers. Can you provide an update on the planning and landholder interest received to date, please?

Mr BARNETT - Yes, I can. You are quite right, the $170 million is a massive commitment by the state and federal governments: $100 million from the federal government committed prior to the election, and our $70 million. And guess what, it is in the budget, it is real money and it is there. You combine that with farmer support, and it is a very exciting prospect.

Out of the tranche 3 pipeline to prosperity, you have the first five projects plus planning, including for the South-East Irrigation Scheme. Those projects are the Don; Wesley Vale; Sassafras; Lesley Vale; Fingal; the Northern Midlands; and the Tamar.

Ms WHITE - All in the north; none in the south.

Mr BARNETT - It is wonderful you have an interest. I advise that in respect to the Don, subject to that progressing positively with the work of TI and the good work that they do, there is a likelihood of those approvals progressing. That development could be well underway by the end of next year. There is expressed interest exceeding 5000 megalitres, which is three times the 1300 megalitres originally proposed.

Picking up on the interjection from the member for Lyons, the Labor Opposition, to make it very clear, we are continuing with the priority approach to the South-East Irrigation Scheme for planning purposes. That planning is ongoing, and TI has an officer working on the ground, working with the farmers, getting feedback on how that scheme could progress.

Ms WHITE - It started three years ago. It was in a report three years ago.

I will follow up on the question I asked earlier, minister. Can you confirm whether any irrigator payments for their rights to the south-east stage 3 scheme have contributed to the upgrade that is now occurring at Bryn Estyn?

Mr BARNETT - The Bryn Estyn upgrade you are referring to is being undertaken by TasWater. It is not being undertaken by Tas Irrigation.

Ms WHITE - I realise that, but irrigators pay a right, including a maintenance contribution, for the scheme and pumps.

Mr BARNETT - TasWater is a hearing tomorrow and -

Ms WHITE - It is today.

Mr BARNETT - There you go. Were you at the hearing?

Ms WHITE - It is after you. It is a bit late. You could have gone to the meeting at 10 a.m. because you were not in here until 11 a.m. Never mind, you are not good at telling the time.

Mr BARNETT - You could ask TasWater this afternoon, soon after this particular hearing, at 4 p.m., but you will be busy, won't you?

Ms WHITE - The question remains, have irrigators contributed to the upgrade of that?

Members interjecting.

CHAIR - Order. Hansard can only record one voice at a time. Minister, I ask you to please resume your speaking. Order, one person speaking at a time, please. Minister, resume.

Ms WHITE - You are not allowed to hold the Government accountable? Have irrigators contributed to any of the upgrades that are occurring on that asset?

Mr BARNETT - At Bryn Estyn?

Ms WHITE - Yes.

Mr BARNETT - That is a TasWater facility.

Ms WHITE - Surely you know where the money is going.

Ms O'CONNOR - It feeds Tas Irrigation.

Mr BARNETT - This is a matter that TI can respond to. I am quite happy to pass to the Chair or CEO in terms of where those fees are spent.

Mr KNEEBONE - In our commercial arrangements with TasWater, we pay for the water that we consume from them, and we pay an annual connection fee to connect to their drinking water system, which is effectively an annual maintenance fee. How they use that money, and whether they use it to fund capital works, we do not know. We simply pay for a product that is provided to us on a per megalitre basis.

Ms WHITE - Thank you. Minister, were you aware of this ministerial policy in 2015, which is the Water Resource Management Sharing During Extreme Dry Conditions?

Mr BARNETT - You would have to show it to me, but I am probably broadly aware of what you are talking about. Do you want to pass that to me, so I can read it?

Ms WHITE - No, I am using it. Are you aware of it?

Mr BARNETT - That is a bit challenging, isn't it, Chair, don't you think?

Ms WHITE - Are you aware of it?

Ms O'CONNOR - You are the one with the advisers behind you.

Ms WHITE - Can I just update you, minister? This was released in 2015, the then minister, Jeremy Rockliff -

… because restrictions that are in place in the South East Irrigation Scheme after an extreme dry. This policy was brought into place with the aim of minimising hardship on farmers and regional communities by ensuring that particularly in the spring, there is timelier and pragmatic decision-making before the tap is turned off.

It is a transparent set of provisions that provide for more flexibility in how and when cease-to-take restrictions are applied on a catchment.

Minister, are you aware of this document? Have you enacted the provisions within this document that enable irrigators to better understand what is happening in their scheme?

Mr BARNETT - In certain circumstances, of course those policies are enacted to ensure that we get best possible outcomes for the community and for farmers. I take advice from Tasmanian Irrigation, I am regularly updated, and likewise from the department, and it applies from time to time, as appropriate.

Ms WHITE - Can you update the committee as to whether or not it is applying right now in the south east? It is a ministerial policy.

Mr BARNETT - You are referring to it, you are quoting from it. You are reading certain extracts from it, so if you want -

Ms WHITE - I am not; I am reading the title of it. Have a look at it.

Mr BARNETT - If you want to table it before the committee, I will make it available.

Ms O'CONNOR - Don't you know about this policy?

Dr BROAD - It sounds like it is a bit of a surprise.

Ms WHITE - The challenge that irrigators have had, minister, is that in 2015, the exact scenario that they are dealing with right now occurred then. Your Government promised that they would set in place this new ministerial policy that would prevent what has occurred, occurring. You have failed to implement your own policy; you have turned the water off on farmers when, in 2015, you said this ministerial policy would prevent that from occurring.

Mr BARNETT - The Leader of the Opposition is attempting to verbal me and put words in my mouth, which is totally rejected. I reject the allegations and the assertions that you make.

Ms WHITE - Can I have that policy back, seeing as that you don't seem to have one.

Mr BARNETT - If you are referring to a document and you are asking a minister, whoever the minister is, you should actually table the document -

Ms WHITE - I read you the title, for goodness sake. If this is a crisis in this community, you should know your job.

Minister, I have another question for you.

CHAIR - Minister, other members cannot table documents in Estimates -

Ms WHITE - Well, there you go.

Ms O'CONNOR - We can if the Committee agreed to the policy.

CHAIR - No, we have to go in camera and have a separate meeting, so it is different.

Ms WHITE - You do not know your job.

Mr BARNETT - Give me a copy so I can read it.

Ms WHITE - I just gave you a copy.

Mr BARNETT - I am trying to answer the question, Madam Chair. If I have the chance, I will answer the question.

I am regularly briefed by the department on state government policies, ministerial policies, and the like, both current and past, and any possible future policies. I take all of that into account and make the decision that is in the best interests of Tasmania and that supports the irrigation community and all of the irrigators. If you want something more specific, in terms of operational matters, I am more than happy to pass to Tasmanian Irrigation.

Ms WHITE - I am very interested to know whether this policy is currently in place.

CHAIR - Order.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, is the Water Resource Management Policy of 2015 in effect? Is it in place? Is that the Government's policy?

Mr BARNETT - What is in place is that the extreme dry conditions policy that we have -

Ms O'CONNOR - Oh, there is another policy?

Dr BROAD - You know about that one.

Ms WHITE - That is this one.

Mr BARNETT - It is in place and that -

Ms WHITE - Is it? It is in place?

Mr BARNETT - No. Let us make it very clear -

Ms O'CONNOR - What is in place here?

Mr BARNETT - I take into account advice from the department. I take it into account from Tasmanian Irrigation. We obviously have water restrictions in place across a whole range of rivers across the state, the north east in particular. We get weekly updates on those rivers in terms of their condition. They change from week to week, and month to month, depending on the conditions of those water resources at the time. That is normal practice, that has been practiced in the past, it is in practice in the future.

Ms WHITE - Is it in practice in the south east?

Ms O'CONNOR - Can we confirm, minister -

Mr BARNETT - I have not declared any extreme dry conditions but I am making it clear that water restrictions -

Ms WHITE - Why not?

Mr BARNETT - They are updated from time to time on a weekly or a monthly basis.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, so is there a water resource management policy of 2015 that you have read?

Mr BARNETT - I get briefed by the department on a whole range of policies.

Ms O'CONNOR - So the short answer is no. You haven't read the water resource management policy of 2015. Do you know anything about it was the first you have heard of it?

Mr BARNETT - I have been given a piece of paper and it's been pulled back from me so I can't assist any further unless I have the opportunity to read the document.

DR BROAD - It's your policy.

Ms O'CONNOR - Perhaps we can ask this question. If you hadn't read the water resource management policy of 2015 and were apparently unaware of it until the question was asked, have you read the extreme dry conditions policy? Can you tell the committee what policy is in place now for the sustainable and equitable use of water resources, particularly in the south of the state during the drying?

That is not a question I think Ms Hogg can or should be asked to answer. It a question if you had as minister done your homework? Are you aware of this policy? Has it been abandoned? Are you running this like a sideshow circus?

Ms WHITE - What's the point of having a policy if you don't utilise it?

Mr BARNETT - I have made it very clear the I get briefed from DPIPWE from time to time on these matters. I get regular updates and likewise from TI and that occurs on a regular basis.

Ms O'CONNOR - I asked you the question: have you read the extreme dry conditions policy?

Mr BARNETT - I get briefed on all of those policies from time to time.

Ms O'CONNOR - You haven't read policy either. You are the minister responsible for Tas Irrigation and Primary Industries and you haven't yet read your own water resource management policy or the extreme dry conditions policy.

Mr BARNETT - Don't verbal me. You don't have to verbal me.

Ms O'CONNOR - Have you read them?

Mr BARNETT - I am making it very clear I get briefed on these matters from time to time.

Ms O'CONNOR - So you haven't read them.

Mr BARNETT - I am very familiar with the updates that I get every week, every month, from the department on extreme dry policy.

Ms O'CONNOR - What you have just confirmed then is that as a minister, you don't do your homework.

Mrs RYLAH - Minister, we heard in your opening comments that the amount of water provided was I think 64 000 megalitres in the last season. What are prospects for the 2019-20 season.

Mr BARNETT - Thank you very much for the question in terms of the 64 000 megalitres delivered in this year that is meeting the demand. That is what I said in my opening remarks. Obviously, that is very encouraging. There is a total now of over 123 000 megalitres of water entitlements under TI's operations. It is a significant achievement. It is a testament to the work of TI and the service that they provide for our farmers and irrigators.

Three of the tranche 2 irrigation projects were completed and delivered. I have mentioned the Duck and North Esk and indeed the Swan. The focus of TI was improving that irrigator consultation. They do that community engagement is important, which the Chair indicated in her first opening remarks. TI sold 1100 megalitre of unsold water entitlements during that period.

The 2019-20 year ahead is looking positive. It's looking very encouraging. The irrigation seasons are formally open with full allocations with the exception of the Swan River irrigation scheme, which was only commissioned earlier this year. I attended it earlier this year to have a look at that, we know the scheme commission income over the east coast drought and drought conditions. TI has done and exceptional job maximising the first inflows into the Melrose Dam and there is currently 85 per cent of the water available this season, which is a good result for that very dry district.

TI is to complete the construction of the Scottsdale irrigation scheme. That is not too far away, with commissioning expected in and around February next year. Positive developments. It means TI is in the process of consulting with Scottsdale irrigators. That is ongoing it is happening as we speak. That initial volume of water should be available early next year. It indicates that we are trying to provide practical solutions to get outcomes for those irrigators so they can use the water wisely and for the benefit agriculture and their communities.

Ms WHITE - Minister, this policy that you haven't read and have no knowledge of - the Water Resource Management During Extreme Dry Conditions says that -

It is to be implemented whenever the Minister for Primary Industries and Water determines that extreme dry conditions are prevailing.

One of the objectives is to minimise hardship for farming enterprises and regional Tasmanians. Minister, why haven't you declared that there are extreme dry conditions for the south east?

Mr BARNETT - The collaboration between TI and TasWater was a very positive collaboration. They have worked well together; the matter has stabilised. It is now recovering. Restrictions are easing. You were advised of that yesterday personally in the meeting you attended. The irrigators and the farmers have been advised. There has been a lot of community engagement with the farmers and the irrigators in the south east. I am pleased to get to that position.

Ms WHITE - It came as a shock to them to find out they had a 50 per cent cut. You have to admit that.

Mr BARNETT - We do not want any more scaremongering from Labor members like yourself in that part of the community, whether you have an interest or not. I am sure you would declare it if you had. Let's make that clear. That will be an important point to note.

Ms WHITE - As the local member, of course I have an interest.

CHAIR - Order, one person speaking at a time please. The minister has the call.

Mr BARNETT - I am confident TI is working collaboratively with TasWater in getting to an outcome. I am happy to pass to the Chair or the CEO to add to that answer.

Mr KNEEBONE - We have reasonable expectations that we will be able to deliver everybody's full allocation within the year, even with the current restrictions. It is a matter of a period of time over which that is delivered. Our reliability isn't on a day-to-day basis. Our reliability is assessed across a season, across a period of a contract. The 95 per cent is effectively 95 years out of 100 you can expect to get your full allocation. In those other five years you can expect to get between zero and 100 per cent. That is how the reliability is expressed.

Ms WHITE - Given that since 2015 to now is four years and in two of those years the reliability has not been what they thought.

Mr KNEEBONE - The reliability on a day-to-day basis is hard to keep to. It is an ongoing balancing act which is why it has been part of the tranche 3 arrangements. It was too complicated a scheme and didn't fit the funding criteria, to get into the first five. It has always been on our agenda to continue with the planning for it because the south-east has potential to be either combined with the Southern Midlands proposal, which is a very large scheme, or go it alone. Because of these circumstances and because of being advised by TasWater of the impending upgrade to the treatment plant, which is only going to increase the volatility of their supply, we have brought forward some consideration of a phased approach, as we outlined in our meeting with the irrigators yesterday.

Ms WHITE - Minister, I would like to go to that now. There was an interim idea suggested at that meeting which would be six or eight months away. Could you detail for the committee what that might look like, how much it would cost and whether farmers would have to contribute to the cost of that?

Mr BARNETT - Thank you for the question. It is important that the Government has short-term, medium-term and long-term solutions. We have talked primarily about the short-term arrangements that are in place between TI and TasWater supporting our farmers and easing those restrictions, which are expected on Friday. On the medium-term solutions, over the next 12 months or so, a lot of work is being done. I have been briefed by TI on that. The feedback from TI and the various stakeholders has been looked at seriously and positively. There is an expectation that before the summer season next year is in place we are feeling more hopeful every day that we will - the Government and Tas Irrigation - be able to advise that we have a situation in place that will meet the needs of those irrigators in the south east. It is a priority for our Government. I have indicated that in parliament. I indicated it again today.

Ms WHITE - That did not answer any of my questions, which are, what does it look like, how much does it cost, and will farmers have to pay for it?

Mr BARNETT - I am happy for the CEO to respond to that. It is a top priority for our Government. We have a plan for short-term, medium-term and the long-term.

Ms O'CONNOR - Tedious repetition. Standing order 95 - we have heard all this before.

Mr BARNETT - The medium- and long-term obviously relate to the South East Irrigation Scheme and planning is underway. There is an officer working on that and augmenting the arrangements for the next 12 months in the lead up to the summer season next year, feeding that into the South East Irrigation Scheme so that we can meet the needs of our farmers and their demands for water.

Ms WHITE - That sounds very nice but you still haven't answered my questions.

Mr BARNETT - I will see if the CEO or the Chair can add to that.

Ms HOGG - It is very early stages. A project manager has been in place for about two months looking at this. It is not formulated enough for us to talk in detail of what it would look like. As we said before, part of tranche 3 had a south east augmentation, so it was not only the supply of water but getting standardisation between the three schemes. At the moment they are all working under very different rules and reliability. It was a broader approach than purely -

Ms WHITE - But that is not part of the interim arrangement, is it?

Ms HOGG - No, I am answering the question. It was a broader thing. At the moment we are looking at the first stage of that because of the source of the water to supply stage 3 and stage 2 of those irrigation schemes. The aim is a broad augmentation of all three schemes. We are working on that. We are not at a point where we can disclose how it will be formulated or what it is going to cost. The way we are thinking of it is it will be part of the tranche 3 schemes.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, you said you took advice from Tas Irrigation and your agency in determining not to declare extreme dry conditions. Is that correct?

Mr BARNETT - The extreme dry condition policy is reviewed by the department.

Ms O'CONNOR - Did you read that one?

Mr BARNETT - You asked the question. I will answer the question. Is that fine with you?

Extreme dry conditions policy is reviewed very carefully by the department from time to time, and during critical times on a weekly basis. There are certain triggers that are considered to determine what conditions are in place and whether that is triggered or not. I take on board the advice of the department.

Ms O'CONNOR - What does it take then?

Mr BARNETT - I take on board the advice of the department.

Ms O'CONNOR - What is the threshold for declaring extreme dry conditions? Do you take advice from the Bureau of Meteorology? Has a climate scientist ever walked through your ministerial office doors?

Mr BARNETT - That is a very good question. Climate is one of the possible triggers that is considered by the department.

Ms O'CONNOR - It is all happening now, but what is the threshold?

Mr BARNETT - I am trying to assist you. Different parts of Tasmania and different regions of Tasmania are all considered differently. The department reviews them - north east, north west. The west coast gets four to five times more water than the east coast at the moment. You can see that they need to be treated differently, sensibly, carefully. The department reviews that and provides advice to me and my office on a regular basis. I take on board that advice.

Ms O'CONNOR - Could you come back to the question: what are the triggers, the threshold, for declaring extreme dry conditions when we have irrigators currently experiencing restrictions, restrictions likely for Hobart and a hot, dry summer coming? What is the threshold? I am not trying to be cynical here. Like you, I have not been able to read the extreme dry conditions policy so I have no line of sight to what the threshold is. It is a matter of significant public interest.

Mr BARNETT - Thank you for that question. It is a fair question. As I say climate is part of that. It depends on which part of the state -

Ms O'CONNOR - Climate is everything.

Mr BARNETT - It is important. I am not denying that, so we are in agreement there. I am advised by the department that central north, upper Derwent and the Midlands are trending towards extreme dry conditions. That will need to be monitored carefully. On a weekly basis I get that feedback and advice from the department. Based on that advice I would respond accordingly. In the south east there is a stabilisation, a recovery taking place. There is an easing of restrictions. The CEO has indicated a hope that soon those will be eased even further.

Mr TUCKER - Minister, as you are aware, with my background I have a lot of discussions with the farming community. I have informed you about these issues. Electricity is one of the issues with irrigators that comes front of mind that I get constantly. The Government committed to review irrigation electricity tariffs. Was TI involved in this process and what progress has been made on the review?

Mr BARNETT - It is a really important point because those irrigators are a key part of getting to our $10 billion by 2050 in terms of farmgate value. We've committed a $6.25 million for the On-Farm Energy policy and $742 000 is already approved to assist farmers in lowering their energy costs. There is the $5.5 million Tas Irrigation Renewable Energy program so I am quite excited about that, with their mini-hydro or micro-hydro programs on some of the schemes, so that work and consultation occurs with TI.

In terms of the review, Treasury has been doing work on that review and that's ongoing. The review involved extensive engagement with key stakeholders and specifically with TI. I am happy for the CEO to respond further but I thank TI for their feedback and engagement and likewise stakeholders such as the TFGA, farmer organisations, crop organisations and associations. They all have been consulted and we also have the on-farm energy advocate at Aurora Energy which we talked about yesterday.

There are a lot of things as a Government we have in place and I'm pleased with the work that has been done. There's a lot more work to do but that review has been led well and is progressing. TI, TasNetworks, Dairy Tas, TFGA and those key stakeholders will continue to be consulted over coming months. We will be getting their feedback and ensure that we get the best possible result for our farmers to keep the cost of business as far down as possible.

Dr BROAD - Minister, will the Meander scheme irrigators get their full allocation this year?

Mr BARNETT - Let's just check. I assume so.

Mr KNEEBONE - We have no knowledge of any restriction on the Meander scheme. The dam is down slightly on where it would have been in normal years but there's no issue with levels of restriction in terms of allocations to irrigators on the Meander scheme.

Dr BROAD - Is the dam lower than what you'd hope for at this stage due to the running of the mini hydro scheme?

Mr KNEEBONE - No.

Mr BARNETT - You are talking about Huntsmans Lake at Meander dam?

Dr BROAD - Yes, and running the mini hydro scheme has reduced the dam level.

Mr BARNETT - Let's just check. My understanding is that it's been taken into account.

Mr KNEEBONE - I can take that if you want. The operation of the mini hydro is coincidental with the delivery of irrigation water. It's not run as a speculative arrangement so we either release water from there for environmental flow and it goes through the mini hydro or we release irrigation water and it goes through the mini hydro. There's no speculative release of water of additional water just to generate electricity, if that's your question.

Ms WHITE - Minister, in May 2016 the Tasmanian Future Irrigation Project report to the Tasmanian Government by Tasmania Irrigation said that after extensive investigation and consultation TI had identified 11 concepts and they had begun progressing three of these concepts internally as they will create more efficient delivery to existing irrigation schemes. One of those was the south-east integration. It was three years ago that Tas Irrigation started progressing that internally. Why is it the case that that project is now no further advanced? The Chair just said that only in the last two months work has been happening on the ground with irrigators about how that might be delivered.

Mr BARNETT - I'm not sure that's entirely accurate but I'll let the Chair respond to that part of your question. TI has been working cooperatively and collaboratively with TasWater. TasWater has had some operational issues they have been dealing with and you will no doubt be able to ask the questions if you're here very shortly. If you're not here you won't, but perhaps the Chair might wish to respond to the first part of that question.

Ms HOGG - The work that was referred to in the document you are looking at was desktop studies. In that process one of the potential sources of water came through what was discussed earlier, which was the Southern Midlands scheme, which involves bringing water a long way, but potentially ending up in Craigbourne Dam. In the work that has happened more recently, it has been highlighted that it would be better to decouple the three south-east schemes from the Southern Midlands scheme, which is extraordinarily complex in its engineering and from an economic point as view as well.

The work I am referring to now is much more on-the-ground work, much more detailed work into working out the first stage of the source of water but also starting to engage with how we can align all the different rules and regulations through those three different systems, because they make it extraordinarily complex. It is trying to align the sources of water and the way the water is taken. The work going on over the last couple of months is much more on the ground. Obviously the focus over the last couple of weeks has become much more on the water source and seeking to identify that as the first stage and seeking to get that in place as soon as we can, so there is a lot of work going on that now.

Ms WHITE - Thank you. Would it be fair to say the work that started three years ago has really been set aside, then?

Ms HOGG - No, there are elements of it that will continue on, but I think the linking of it to a much bigger scheme is being set aside at this point.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, how much modelling has Tas Irrigation done of the climate impacts that have been identified as a result of work that has been done here by IMAS, CSIRO, Antarctic Division, and UTAS through Climate Futures? How confident are you that Tas Irrigation has the infrastructure, the processes and the contractual flexibility, if you like, to respond to what will be a long-term drying of the east coast of Australia, Tasmania, and the Midlands?

Mr BARNETT - As I said earlier, the climate is changing, so yes, that is correct. We have indicated the impact on the east coast and the south-east for the last three years. I can assure you that the department takes advice in terms of climate and change in the climate. With respect to TI, I will pass to the Chair and/or the CEO to respond on behalf of Tas Irrigation.

Ms HOGG - In the development of the irrigation schemes, detailed hydrological studies are done that take into account the more recent movement in the drying, the climate change. Work is done. It is modelled to ensure that we can have reliable water sources for the irrigation schemes. There is a lot of work done. It is very up to date when the schemes are built and we will go back and review if we at all get concerned about the water sources.

Mr KNEEBONE - If I might just add a bit to that, it is a very conservative model that is taken and the drying climate model is the level that is applied when we are assessing hydrological capability.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, Mr Kneebone. Minister, you would be well aware of what has happened on the Murray-Darling and Menindee Lakes where big irrigators - and we are talking corporate irrigators here - have been allocated water, including your former colleague, Angus Taylor, the minister for no emissions reductions. We are seeing towns like Dubbo down river out of water. We are seeing mass fish deaths along the Murray-Darling and Menindee Lakes. How do you see that tension between the needs of irrigators and every Tasmanian to have safe clean drinking water?

Mr BARNETT - I think Angus Taylor is doing a great job as Minister for Energy and Emissions Reductions.

Ms O'CONNOR - He's clearly dodgy as all get-up. Anyway, time will tell.

Mr BARNETT - I disagree with your characterisation of Angus Taylor. He has been a great supporter of Tasmania with our plans to be the Battery of the Nation.

With respect to your question, absolutely we have to take those things into account. I get advice from the department and TI. It is important. Certainly in the Murray-Darling it is a huge issue and a massive challenge -

Ms O'CONNOR - Where irrigators were prioritised over towns.

Mr BARNETT - I get feedback from a range of sources on the mainland, including my counterparts in other states. I have been to the Agriculture ministerial meetings, and there will be a further meeting in the near future on that.

Ms O'CONNOR - The question is, how do you resolve that tension, and how you develop policy that means that you are not depriving people of drinking water in a drying climate?

Mr BARNETT - Certainly people's drinking water is a priority.

CHAIR - The time for scrutiny has now expired. The next to appear before us will be the Tasmanian Water and Sewerage Corporation.

 

The committee suspended at 4 p.m.