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Electricity Supply Industry Restructuring (Savings And Transitional Provisions) Amendment Bill 2018

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 2 May 2019

Tags: Tassal, Water

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, we support this bill. We are always happy to fix a legislative loophole once identified. These things happened.

Anything to do with water rights and the allocation of water is within the frame of this resource is becoming scarce on the ground but falling with greater volatility. It is more difficult to predict when water is going to fall and how much water will be in these rivers. It should be noted that any water rights for agrarian landowners in the Ouse and Lake Rivers ought to be reassessed, as ought all water rights in Tasmania, under the lens of the new predictions for water fall in Tasmania, which are evolving. We need to be abreast of the changes.

The Tasmania Fire Service has updated and undertaken a substantial reassessment of the risk of bushfires and has made some big changes in their knowledge, understanding and practice of fire management and firefighting because the seasons are changing and the period for bushfire is lengthening, unfortunately. The Tasmania Fire Service has made some big adjustments and is on board with the reality of the changing climate.

Similarly, Hydro Tasmania, in a briefing I had with Hydro probably three years ago after the energy crisis, made it pretty clear they are also fully abreast of the changing climate. How can they not be? It has a direct impact to the amount of water that flows into the catchments. The pattern of water fall across Tasmania is changing enormously and it is no longer the case that Hydro could be confident these dams will fill at certain times and to certain levels, as they have done in the historical period. Hydro has made a 10 per cent downgrade in their estimate of water that will flow into the catchments and that is a big adjustment. I expect the minister, as the minister responsible for water rights, is looking at the long-term planning for reassessing water rights, reassessing the amount of water flowing into the catchments and making sure that environmental flows are being properly addressed. I would like to hear the minister's views about the allocation of this important and scarce resource.

The situation in south-eastern Australia demonstrates how we can reach that very dire place where we do not have the environmental flows. The consequent changes to plant life around the edge of rivers, to the fish and other animals in the rivers can be massive. In the case of the Murray/Darling River it has been totally devastating with the loss of species and to people's cultural heritage and farmers who rely on the water, who rely on the trees that live on the banks of the water to survive; water is life. Without water, we are nothing. It is important that we plan for the future and changing water allocations. 

I cannot go past this opportunity to ask the minister to explain whether that concern about water rights, transparency and the just allocation of water that underpins the purpose of this, which is to fix the process to ensure it happens in that way, is also is being applied to the Prosser River. The east coast of Tasmania is in extremely low rainfall. It is very dry. Water restrictions are happening. Mr Deputy Speaker, you know that very well as a member for Lyons. 

At the same time, we have an application made on behalf of Tassal Operations Pty Ltd, Glamorgan Spring Bay Council and D F Turvey, the property owner, to vary a water licence, which was approved by the previous minister. The purpose of that application for a new water licence was, as the applicants described, 'to apply for a water allocation from Tea Tree Rivulet for the taking of water into a proposed 3000 megalitre storage dam'. The applicants said -

Tassal are currently undertaking an expansion of their salmon fish farming activities into the Triabunna region. Tassal are proposing to construct 3000 megalitre storage on Derek Turvey's property on Tea Tree Rivulet near Buckland. It is likely that the development proposed by Solace at Louisville Point near Triabunna will also take water from this water resource for their requirements. At this stage, Tassal are applying for the full water allocation but a percentage of that allocation may be transferred to Solace in future. The likely annual usage demand from the dam will be around 1000 megalitres. However, due to the need to have a very high reliability of supply, 97 per cent of water will need to be carried over from one year to the next so a modelled dam capacity of 3000 megalitres is likely to be required. A dam assessment is currently being undertaken and all necessary requirements will be submitted.

This goes to the heart of the issue about water allocations, who gets who have rights and who gets them first. On what basis could that possibly be approved by the minister? Right now, residents are on water restrictions and farmers are struggling to find enough water on the east coast of Tasmania. On what basis do we in this state make decisions about water allocations? TasWater provided a briefing note about the proposed Tea Tree Rivulet dam at Buckland, principally the one that Tassal has put the application in for, and they raised some serious concerns about the conflict, the inherent tension between being able to ensure residents would have access to water and the ability for that private commercial operator to have access, to give them surety of access. 

There is no problem with having private operators having access to water. That is the basis of productivity in the agricultural sector and everywhere else, but we have to triage the priority of where water goes. Can the minister tell us how is it possible that the concerns of TasWater have been properly dealt with in relation to the Prosser River water, which is coming from the catchment at the top? The dam will be at the top. 

TasWater was concerned at the loss of catchment yield and concerned that they would need to separately provide for more bulk water storage for long-term water security to Orford and Triabunna. They made the point that because no pipeline is proposed from the Tea Tree Rivulet Dam to the Lower Prosser Dam, the water losses in the river-run transmission will result in significant uncertainty and inaccuracy in water quantity measurement and consequent inaccuracies in user-pay charges. 

These are serious concerns. These are the sorts of things that people who are on water allocation get very litigious about. There are tensions with other users who are already there who are already drawing from the Prosser River but they will now be downstream of this dam.

TasWater was also concerned that because no pipeline was proposed for the Tea Tree Rivulet Dam to the Lower Prosser Dam the water level had dropped to critical levels during the 2006 to 2009 drought. Any further third-party extractions from Lower Prosser Dam storage will only exacerbate an already critical drought situation. They stated that because the consortium appears to have not used life-cycle costing, the costs of the Tea Tree Rivulet Project will significantly increase when changing to life-cycle costing and it may change the feasibility of the project. 

That particular project stinks on so many levels. It has yet to get a final approval from the federal government under the federal environment minister in relation to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, and the major loss of swift parrot habitat trees that are involved in clearing land, to put the dam in the Thomley's  property at Tea Tree Rivulet near Buckland. Were it to go ahead it opens up a huge can of worms for people on the east coast who are already staring down the potential of an incredibly high drought summer with an El Niño this year. We are already in a dry place; little rainfall is expected. We need to have confidence that the Government is looking ahead and is doing the modelling to investigate. 

We know that water will not flow with the same patterns so we need to understand how the patterns are going to change and where. The work that Hydro Tasmania has already done in this area shows quite clearly that the patterns of rainfall across Tasmania will change. The work the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology have done also shows clearly that there will be winners and losers in the changing climate across Tasmania. 

When it comes to water allocations, what is the Government doing to assess them on a river-by-river, catchment-by-catchment basis, so they can prioritise the needs of existing residents and water users over new players who want an allocation of water?