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Primary Industries - River Health

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 9 September 2021

Tags: Water, State Budget, Environment

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, I have here before me the report that you confessed on the ABC 7.30 report last night you haven't read, Temporal and Spacial Patterns in River Health across Tasmania, and the Influence of Environmental Factors.

This report, which focused on river health results over 85 long-term monitoring sites, examined river health and spacial analyses at 298 sites. It found that rivers in more extensively developed areas of catchment in Tasmania are under stress and this is causing changes in river health. In particular, the health of several rivers appears to have declined recently, 2014-18, so since your Government came to office. It talks about the degradation of habitats, poor water quality and changes in flow conditions.

Minister, this report was completed more than a year ago. Can you explain why your department did not make it public?

Mr BARNETT - Thank you for the question. I appreciate the opportunity to correct, for the record, the arrangements and the views of this Government with respect to water and, specifically, the response to that report. I am happy to refer to the department secretary as well. But water is a precious resource and needs to be used wisely. That’s why we spent nearly two years developing a Rural Water Use Strategy, which was released in March this year.

The Government has funded $1.5 million to progress the Rural Water Use Strategy and has established a round table of the wisest brains in Tasmania to respond to the challenges and concerns when it comes to water. Water is important in Tasmania. It must be used wisely. I am advised that the report you have referred to in your question and remarks has been used to inform the development of the Rural Water Use Strategy.

Ms O'CONNOR - And?

Mr BARNETT - Second question? I am happy to answer any further questions.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, there is no second question. I want you to answer the first question, which is why your department, or you, made a decision for more than a year not to release the report into river health, which was released to us under Right to Information during the caretaker period.

Mr BARNETT - You understand the Right to Information arrangements and you know that I am not involved in those.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is irrelevant.

Mr BARNETT - You asked me if I was involved in that.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, I didn't.

Mr BARNETT - I am answering your question.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, you are not.

Mr BARNETT - I am attempting to answer your question and you asked what role I played. I am responding to that part of my question and the answer is I had no role to play with regard to that RTI. The RTI process, as you well know, is an independent and objective process -

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, you are obfuscating. This is an important matter of public interest, to irrigators, anglers and every water user in Tasmania. It has been confirmed by one of the most respected water ecologists at DPIPWE that the agency made a decision not to release publicly the report titled Temporal and Spacial Patterns in River Health across Tasmania and the Influence of Environmental Factors.

For the third time, I will ask you, why did the department decide not to release this report?

Mr BARNETT - I'm advising you and answering the question, through the Chair, in a measured way to advise that we take water very seriously. It's a precious resource -

Ms O'CONNOR - Point of order, Chair. I implore you -

CHAIR - I understand. Minister, I do need to direct you to Ms O'Connor's question.

Mr BARNETT - Yes and I thank the member for her question because I'm the minister and I was not involved in the allegations and I -

Ms O'CONNOR - It's not an allegation, it's an assertion.

Mr BARNETT - It's an assertion, it's an allegation, which I reject in terms of my involvement. That's a matter clearly for the department, that particular report -

Ms O'CONNOR - Perhaps you could ask the secretary to explain why a decision was made not to release this critical report, which outlines devastating declines in river health.

Mr BARNETT - Thank you very much for the question. I want to assure the committee and others of the importance of water and how we treat it very carefully. I want to confirm on the record again that I am advised - I do appreciate the opportunity to answer the question without incessant interjections.

Ms O'CONNOR - But you're not.

Mr BARNETT - Through you, Chair, I am advised that the report to which you refer has been used to inform the development of the Rural Water Use Strategy.

Ms O'CONNOR - Irrelevant. I asked you three times why this report -

Mr BARNETT - I'm being interrupted when I'm answering the question through you, Chair.

Ms O'CONNOR - But you're not answering the question.

Mr BARNETT - You keep interrupting. That's pretty inappropriate.

Ms O'CONNOR - What is more inappropriate, minister, is for a minister of the Crown not to be honest at the table in response to direct questions in the public interest. Why was the decision made not to release that report?

Mr BARNETT - Point of order. There's an implication of the member that I'm being dishonest. I reject it wholeheartedly.

Ms O'CONNOR - Answer the question.

Mr BARNETT - I would ask her to withdraw.


Mr BARNETT - You cannot allege that I'm being dishonest and I reject it.

Ms O'CONNOR - You're not being honest.

CHAIR - Minister, you can reject the assertion. The word 'lie' wasn't used. There's no need to withdraw.

Mr BARNETT - Thank you very much, Chair. It's an absolutely defamatory remark and it's unfair.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, it's not. You haven't answered the question three times in a sequence. It's a straightforward question. Chris Bobbi, who resigned in dismay from DPIPWE, makes it clear that this report was not released on a decision from the department. Why not?

Mr BARNETT - I'm happy for the secretary to respond to that question. I've answered as far as I can as the minister.

Mr BAKER - Sure. My answer is very similar to the minister's. I'm informed that the reason the document was not released was that it was superseded by the Rural Water Use Strategy.

Ms O'CONNOR - What a load of garbage. That is a shameful answer.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, you understand as well as I do that interjections towards the minister, he can respond to. The department officials cannot respond to interjections or to assertions from you. It is unfair of you to put them in that position and you know that. Please -

Ms O'CONNOR - I understand.

CHAIR - I understand as well and I understand where you're coming from. But please do not put department officials in the position where you're making assertions across the table that you know full well they cannot respond to.

Mr BARNETT - I take a point of order, Chair. The allegation was that the secretary of the department was dishonest and I ask the member to withdraw that because that is totally out of line. It's a baseless allegation and it's unfair on the secretary of the department.

CHAIR - I do need to ask you to withdraw the assertion that the secretary was dishonest, Ms O'Connor.

Ms O'CONNOR - I reluctantly withdraw it because I don't think it was a statement of fact.

CHAIR - I appreciate you withdrawing it.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, just so the historical record is clear, this report - which we discussed in our earlier conversation - was part of a series of scientific reports called the Water Assessment Aquatic Ecology Report Series. All previous reports in this series were publicly released, until this report.

Your secretary, in answer to my third attempt to understand why this report wasn't publicly released, stated that it was superseded by the Rural Water Use Strategy. We know that the Rural Water Use Strategy does not reference the spatial and temporal river health report, and nor does it go into river health in any detail.

This report was finished in January 2020. The Rural Water Use Strategy was finished in March 2021 - and just for the record, it's about a third the width. How could a strategy that didn't exist yet, that is the Rural Water Use Strategy, have been superseded by a scientific paper that had been ready for a year?

Mr BARNETT - We take these matters seriously because water is a precious resource in Tasmania. The Rural Water Use Strategy has taken nearly two years to conclude. There was consultation and engagement with all the rural stakeholders, the water stakeholders and the public more generally.

I spoke at a range of meetings around Tasmania and that report was released in March -

Ms O'CONNOR - Could you answer the question?

Mr BARNETT - I am answering the question and without the interruption would be appreciated.

The report was released in March 2021. It is on the public record and is available for all to see. I am advised that the preparation of the Rural Water Use Strategy, certainly the report to which you refer, informed the development of that strategy. There are some important points made in both the Rural Water Use Strategy and the report you have referred to.

Having said that, I will pass to the secretary to add to the answer if it is possible.

Mr BAKER - I stand by the answer I gave, minister.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, what is your response to former water ecologist, the highly respected Chris Bobbi, who resigned from the department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment, following the decision not to release the report into temporal and spatial patterns in river health when he says:

In the period of 25 years or so that I was working there, there was a noticeable decline in the condition of rivers.

He said, about the report -

It wasn't necessarily a good news story and the department wasn't prepared to release it to the stakeholders or public.

In a nutshell, I feel like the department was not fulfilling its duty of care to maintain river systems and the health of the river systems in the face of water developments.

What is your response to Mr Bobbi's damning assessment of the department under your watch?

Mr BARNETT - The reason that the Government went through a lengthy, comprehensive and important process of consultation with all the key stakeholders and those experts and others in this space with respect to the use of rural water, is because it is important. We take this matter seriously.

The release of the Rural Water Use Strategy is one thing. We have backed it with $1.5 million in our Budget to help implement the strategies and recommendations of that strategy, of which there are many.

We have established in recent months rural water round table. These are the best brains in Tasmania when it comes to the wise use of water. The advice of key stakeholders and experts in the field is appreciated and no doubt will be considered by the round table experts from time to time. Dr Coughanowr has been invited to that round table. There will be three further meetings of the round table between now and Christmas.

I met with the round table several weeks ago, chaired by my deputy secretary Deidre Wilson, who could speak more about this as required. The author of one of those reports, which was somewhat critical, has been invited to that rural water round table because we want the challenges on the table, the challenges before us with respect to rural water and its use and the opportunities.

Ms O'CONNOR - Are you not concerned that someone of the credibility and dedication of Chris Bobbi says on the national broadcaster, pointing to the way Tasmania is mismanaging its river systems, that he believes the department is not fulfilling its duty of care to maintain river systems and the health of the river systems in the face of water developments? That statement was made last night on 7.30 with millions of Australians watching. What is your response to Mr Bobbi's concerns and do you acknowledge that there's a problem here?

Mr BARNETT - I am aware of the report that was on 7.30 last night. I thought it was somewhat unbalanced but nevertheless -

Ms O'CONNOR - In what way?

Mr BARNETT - I'm just trying to answer the question.

CHAIR - Order, Ms O'Connor.

Mr BARNETT - I thought it was somewhat unbalanced. It could have been better balanced if it had a number of scientists and researchers and others. The Government takes this matter very seriously. The comments and views that were expressed on that report are taken seriously, that's why one of those key experts has been invited to the roundtable.

I'm convinced that if we can get the best brains around the table to work through those concerns and challenges, some of the issues you've raised, Ms O'Connor, we'll find a way through. It is challenging but this is one of our great natural assets, water. We have one per cent of Australia's land mass, 12 per cent of Australia's rainfall, 27 per cent of Australia's water in storage. It's a natural asset for Tasmania. It needs to be used wisely and we have every intention of doing so.

Ms O'CONNOR - What is your response, if you are talking about Dr Coughanowr who's done outstanding work through the Derwent Estuary Program and in other areas, to the finding in her report, the Tasmanian Freshwater Project, that Tasmania's freshwater resources can no longer be considered clean, green and abundant? The recent monitoring river health reviews in 2018 20 indicated that up to 43 per cent of sites were classified as impaired and nearly 70 per cent of sites have declined on your watch. Now we are being told that Tasmania's freshwater resources can no longer be considered clean, green and abundant. What is your response to that?

Mr BARNETT - As I've said we've invited Dr Coughanowr to the rural water use roundtable in coming weeks. I look forward to her contribution being shared, her views being put on the table to be responded to from those best brains in Tasmania. It's a very precious resource, it needs to be responded to and cared for in a special way. That's why we've had this Rural Water Use Strategy prepared. It's been on the table now after much consultation. It's backed with $1.5 million in the Budget to implement the strategy. In addition we have employed through the department two new officers on what's called the River Health Advisory Project to look at river health because it important. I think we're on a unity ticket to some degree in wanting to ensure the health of our rivers. That's why we're funding two new positions in the department to progress our efforts to ensure river health.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, one of the matters raised by Dr Coughanowr in her report goes to the lack of systematic and coordinated monitoring in Tasmania. She points to a reduction in monitoring, together with a near absence of reporting. What sort of monitoring is undertaken by the agency of river health, for example, to look at matters like nutrients and turbidity, if any?

Mr BARNETT - Thanks very much for the question and you've raised an important point about the importance of monitoring and management. That's why, during that consultation process for nearly three years, that was one of the key points raised, among many others. The Rural Water Use Strategy March 2021 is a very important document and it highlights the importance of continuous improvement, and further monitoring and management. That's one of the outcomes of that strategy, which is funded with $1.5 million in the Budget.

In terms of water accountability and reporting, that's referred to in the document as well. I'm pleased to advise that it's a really important matter and that's why it's referred to in the Rural Water Use Strategy.

I'm more than happy to pass to Deirdre Wilson for further comments, or the secretary, or Bryce Graham.

Ms O'CONNOR - I'd rather hear from Ms Wilson, thanks.

Mr BARNETT - That's a matter for the secretary.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, you don’t get to choose where the information comes from and you know it.

Mr BAKER - Thank you, minister. Since 1994 DPIPWE has conducted broad scale monitoring on river health. Since that time, the numbers have gone up and down, depending on Commonwealth funding and other programs. However, they have stayed around between 50 and 60 sites.

We have recently completed a review of river health monitoring, which we made public, and as a result, we've moved to 53 sites. We take a risk based approach to ensure that we are monitoring smartly. I am happy to pass to Mr Graham if he wants to add anything further.

Mr GRAHAM - The review looked at all aspects of the river health monitoring that we have undertaken. While we did review the number of sites, we have gone from 60 sites down to 53 sites. We've gone from 31 test sites and 29 reference sites, and that has now changed around. There are 10 reference sites of the 53 sites and 43 test sites. Part of that review also looked at what we actually monitor, so increasing our sediment and algae monitoring as well, and turbidity is also undertaken at every one of those Ouse river sites as well.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you. Minister, TasWater said in their submission to the Rural Water Use Strategy position paper -

Proposals to change how water is taken and traded, along with anticipated land use impacts as a result of the AgriVision 2050 goal, have the potential to greatly affect the water quality of the state's water resources. Declining water quality will impose significant costs on the Tasmanian community as urban supplies are forced to upgrade treatment processors in order to meet health and aesthetic drinking water standards. Water in most important agriculture production regions is also used to supply Tasmania's large urban centres, and if water quality is not protected, TasWater customers will bear the cost of upgrading water treatment plants.

Minister, has there been any assessment done of the impact of the AgriVision 2050 strategy on river health or water quality?

Mr BARNETT - Thank you for the question. The Rural Water Use Strategy, which took nearly two years to prepare, was consulted on with input from TasWater and many other stakeholders. We appreciated TasWater's input, and that input in that submission supported and informed the development of the Rural Water Use Strategy, which is being released in March. The Rural Water Roundtable is actually now represented by a range of key stakeholders, including TasWater, so we really appreciate TasWater's input and contribution.

If you are asking further about urban use of water, of course that’s very important. As a Government we have a plan for a $10 billion farmgate value by 2050. That has been a target for some time. We are working towards that target. In fact, we are on track, and I say congratulations and well done to the agricultural sector in Tasmania. We are backing it to the hilt with a $50 million support package in our Budget.

So, yes, key rural stakeholders and agricultural stakeholders have had input to the Rural Water Use Strategy. My department is fully aware of the target of $10 billion by 2050 for farmgate value, and the development of the Rural Water Use Strategy has absolutely taken that into account.

Ms O'CONNOR - I will take that as a 'no' on whether there has been any assessment of the impact of the AgriVision strategy on river health or water quality.

Minister, earlier this year after being disappointed by the Government not taking on their concerns as part of the Rural Water Use Strategy process, the chairman of TasWater wrote to you. We obtained that letter under right to information. The chairman, said -

The strategy does not adequately address a number of issues that are important to regional, rural and urban communities.

These issues included protection of drinking water catchments and water quality, the availability of water for industry, costs associated with securing access to water resources, and climate change adaptation.

What is your response to this letter from TasWater, who felt ignored following their first representation to you during the development of the flawed Rural Water Use Strategy?

Mr BARNETT - Thank you for the question. I won't be verballed by your comments with respect to what I, on behalf of the Government, say or do in that regard.

Let's be very clear. TasWater made a very important contribution. That contribution has been taken into account in the Rural Water Use Strategy. It has been backed by $1.5 million in the Budget because we take these matters very seriously - so seriously that we have TasWater at the Rural Water Roundtable, which I established in August. We really appreciate the contribution of TasWater.

The Rural Water Use Strategy has a particular interest and concern for urban water use as well as rural water use, and we look forward to working with them. The Department will have ongoing engagement with TasWater as well as other key stakeholders at the roundtable.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, I note that the Don River at the Sheffield Road monitoring site is in significant decline, according to the Temporal and Spatial Patterns in River Health Across Tasmania report. Minister, I now go to -

Mr BARNETT - I'm happy to take that question.

Ms O'CONNOR - That's not a question.

Mr BARNETT - Well you just made a speech.

Ms O'CONNOR - I didn't ask a question.

Mr BARNETT - But you made a speech and I'm happy to respond.

Ms O'CONNOR - I don't want you to respond to that. I want you to respond to my question which is asked on behalf of the Anglers Alliance of Tasmania.

CHAIR - Can I suggest that if you don't want to minister to respond that you probably stop making statements at the start of your questions, Ms O'Connor.

Ms O'CONNOR - The minister chooses to respond to what he wishes to and hasn't given a single straight answer yet.

Now, I go to the Anglers Alliance of Tasmania response to the Rural Water Use Strategy position paper. I've met with members of the Anglers Alliance, Mr Barnett's friends and colleagues, and they are extremely concerned even by the finalised Rural Water Use Strategy. They say in their submission:

The over allocation and extraction of water has caused incredible environmental harm on the mainland. The Anglers Alliance has received numerous anecdotal reports of similar but lesser impacts in Tasmania highlighting diminishing community confidence in water management planning and compliance. Water theft and ensuring environmental degradation repeatedly highlighted in the media has severely undermined the trust in the wider community places in water planning and management.

The Anglers Alliance has called for broader monitoring to collect environmental information but, as we heard on 7.30 last night in 2014, the statewide water quality monitoring program was shut down and never properly reinstated. What's your response to the concerns raised by the Anglers Alliance?

Mr BARNETT - First, I indicate my thanks to the member for her question and advise of my strong support for the Anglers Alliance Tasmania. I thank them for their work. We recognise them as a peak body representing 24 000 licenced anglers in Tasmania. They recognise the importance of our trout fishers - as a world class destination and world class trout fishery that needs to be carefully managed. So, we're on a unity ticket in that regard.

Ms O'CONNOR - I don't think so.

Mr BARNETT - I am answering the question through you, Chair. I appreciate their input and contribution to the management of our water which is a very important process. I'd say two things: I’m very pleased to advise that following their interest in meeting more regularly with Hydro Tasmania and the Inland Fishery Service, I was able to facilitate regular meetings of up to three times a year or more as mutually agreed among Anglers Alliance Tasmania, Inland Fishery Service and Hydro Tasmania. Why is that? Because they all need to be valued and given support and encouragement. Putting them at the table to work through their issues -

Ms O'CONNOR - What they'd like is rivers they can fish in.

CHAIR - Order, Ms O'Connor.

Mr BARNETT - I am answering the question. The first thing is that it's really good that we've been able to get them together to meet three times a year or as mutually agreed and to put their challenges, their opportunities, on the table to work through those issues.

Second, Anglers Alliance Tasmania has been invited to the Rural Health Stakeholder Water Roundtable. We recognise the importance of angling, we want them at the table. I'll pass to Deidre Wilson to outline if that's occurred or when it's likely to occur and any further response to the answer I've already provided.

Ms O'CONNOR - Very briefly, please, Ms Wilson.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, please don’t direct the department staff on how to answer questions.

Ms O'CONNOR - I said, please.

CHAIR - I don't care whether you asked politely or not. You don't get to direct the department officials, whether politely or rudely.

Ms WILSON - I can confirm that we've had the first meeting of the rural roundtable. We have representatives on the roundtable from a variety of groups. One of them is Inland Fishery Service, in recognition of the importance of anglers as an end user. I have had a meeting with Anglers Alliance. I have invited, as the chair of the roundtable, Anglers Alliance to attend its next meeting, which Ms Coughanowr has been also invited to. The focus of the roundtable meeting will be on the river health and the River Health Advisory Project. I have also agreed to meet with Anglers Alliance, I believe it was quarterly, but also as required because we value the input that they will be able to put into the River Health Advisory Project, which is at its inception stage.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, given that we know the statewide water quality monitoring program was shut down, how much water quality monitoring is there of the levels of phosphorous and nitrogen in our river systems?

Mr BARNETT - Thanks very much to the member for her question. Because it's clearly an operational matter, I will pass to Bryce Graham.

Mr GRAHAM - Ms O'Connor, we monitor 81 stream-gauging stations across the state at which there are spot physicochemical samples of water quality taken. No nutrients per se are at those sites. We also monitor continuous water quality at 13 of those sites.

We also have 88 groundwater sites where basic water quality is taken as well. The water quality program you refer to was reduced in 2009. There was a six- or seven year period for that funding and that information was used to inform the development of the water quality objectives.

Ms O'CONNOR - I am trying to get some clarity around at how many sites are nutrients levels are phosphorous and nitrogen measured.

Mr BARNETT - If I can take that on notice, Chair.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, one of the people who was interviewed last night for the 7.30 story was angler Rick Lohrey who expressed his heartbreak over the state of Tasmania's longest river, the South Esk where he says, you pretty much can no longer catch a fish.

As you know through the summer of 2019-20, flow data from the Perth stream flow gauging station shows the South Esk river, a vital river for both recreational fishers and agriculture, dried up for the first time. A truly unprecedented event. Yet at the time water was being delivered down the river by Tasmanian Irrigation for extraction by irrigators. Before you say that's a matter for Tas Irrigation, it's actually a matter of water policy for which you are responsible.

Can you explain how water can be extracted from a river that should have been under water restrictions because it had literally run dry? And, how using the river to transport water for an irrigation scheme can continue to be seen as a best practice approach?

Mr BARNETT - River health is an important matter, that’s why we are funding it in our Budget through the support of the Rural Water Use Strategy. Since the mid-1990s there have been significant concerns for the South Esk River. That's why we are putting in more effort into the river health project. We have two new people working in the department on the River Health Advisory Project. I will pass to Bryce Graham to provide an additional answer to that question.

Ms O'CONNOR - As to how it is best practice for the South Esk to continue to be irrigated after it has run dry.

Mr GRAHAM - Much of Tasmania, as you have mentioned Ms O'Connor, experienced a dry winter in 2019 followed by extremely dry conditions throughout the summer of 2019-20.

In particular the South Esk catchment and tributaries to St Pauls, Break 'O Day, upper of South Esk catchments experienced some of the lowest winter yields on record during 2019, followed by the lowest or second lowest, October to November and October to December yields on record. The Bureau of Meteorology rainfall information indicates very much below average rainfall for most of the 2019 months, with only 375 millimetres recorded at Fingal in 2019 compared to the annual average of 618 millimetres. In particular December 2019 total rainfall was 3.6 millimetres compared to the December average of 49.7 millimetres.

The department gauging station at the upper South Esk catchment, which is not influenced by water allocation extractions, experienced the third lowest winter yield, lowest October to November and October to December yields on record, indicating the climatic conditions were very dry. During this period water use restrictions mandated in the South Esk Water Management Plan were implemented rigorously and followed up with on-ground presence to monitor compliance with the restriction orders.

Managing restrictions is recognised as a key management action for protecting water regimes for environmental values and water users.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you. I am no clearer but I'll just move on. Minister, you would be aware that the conditions that were just described are likely to become more frequent and more intense as a result of global heating. In their submission to the Rural Water Use Strategy Position Paper, Tasmanian Irrigation said:

Tasmanian Irrigation contributed to the climate future study in 2009-10 and adopted the drying climate scenario for our future planning.

That data is now 10 years old and evidence suggest that we are currently tracking to the dry scenario. If this is true, then this means we are no longer using a conservative setting and planning for future investments which increases the risks associated with future development. Tasmanian Irrigation has asked for a coordinated state-wide investment in ongoing research that specific and applicable to the Tasmanian context.

Is the department undertaking this important work to understand the impact of an extreme dry scenario, which is where we are tracking according to the IPCC on Tasmania's river systems?

Mr BARNETT - I think you raise a good point in terms of the impact of climate change and seasonal changes in the weather, and its impact on the use of water in our rural communities. That is exactly why the Rural Water Use Strategy, as one of the goals, refers to sustainable management of Tasmania's water resources. I'll read 1.1. It says:

Seek partnerships and collaborate with other organisations to share, collate and develop information tools to better understand water availability in a changing climate.

Climate change is relevant. It is part of the Rural Water Use Strategy. There's more in the Rural Water Use Strategy with reference to climate change and I will pass to the secretary to add to my response.

Mr BAKER - Through you, minister. The answer is yes. The intent is to work with a range of stakeholders in order to update them all.

Ms O'CONNOR - Could I just have one - because I only asked two questions. Thank you. Minister, the Rural Water Use Strategy process included an initial phase where the scope of the strategy was decided. In the end, it was decided the scope of the strategy would not include urban water supply or river health as considerations, but that it would include the hydrogen industry. How and why were these decisions made? And why are the rights of urban water users to fresh quality water being so utterly deprioritised by your Government?

Mr BARNETT - Thank you very much, Chair, just to deny the characterisation of the Government's position - and I seem to be doing that in responding to every single question just about from the member. Having denied that characterisation, our Government absolutely prioritises and has a special focus on the use of water in urban environments. But the reason we drafted, worked on and released a Rural Water Use Strategy is because of the importance of water in rural areas.

Ms O'CONNOR - But hydrogen isn't a rural use.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, allow the minister to answer the question.

Ms O'CONNOR - He's distorting, Chair.

Mr BARNETT - I am attempting to answer the questions, through you, Chair, for the benefit of the committee. Rural water use in those rural areas is a priority, hence the establishment of the round table with the wisest brains around the table in terms of the wise use of water. With respect to hydrogen, yes, it reflects the Government's priority with respect to establishing a renewable hydrogen industry in Tasmania. And of course -

Ms O'CONNOR - But that's not a rural industry.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, allow the minister - please allow -

Ms O'CONNOR - It's about people's drinking water.

CHAIR - I understand that. Please allow the minister to answer the question.

Mr BARNETT - Of course, it's relevant to rural water use because the wise use of water is about the best use of water and ensuring that, if we have a renewable hydrogen industry, which we plan to under our Renewable Hydrogen Action Plan, which is on the public record for all to see, it is entirely relevant -

Ms O'CONNOR - Could you answer the question. Why was urban water use excluded?

CHAIR - Order, Ms O'Connor.

Mr BARNETT - It's entirely relevant. A renewable hydrogen industry, which we strongly support. We haven't heard much from the Greens about its support for that industry -

Ms O'CONNOR - Of course we support that industry, if it's genuinely green.

Mr BARNETT - Nevertheless, it's relevant -

Ms O'CONNOR - But why was urban water use excluded?

Mr BARNETT - It's entirely relevant. The use of water in rural communities, to renewable hydrogen industry. It is relevant to that and it needs to be taken into account.

Ms O'CONNOR - Why did you shut out urban water users?

Ms O'CONNOR - I've been interested to hear you last night and here today repeatedly use the word 'wise' in relation to the management of water in Tasmania.

I wonder if you've heard of the Wise Use movement, which is a US non-profit anti-environmental front group comprising a loosely affiliated network of people and organisations - including ranchers, loggers, miners, industrialists, hunters, off road vehicle users and land developers - who favour widespread privatisation and oppose environmental regulation, particularly any which restricts access to natural resources and public lands.

Given that the Rural Water Use Strategy moves away from a more regulated approach, are you an adherent to the Wise Use movement?

Mr BARNETT - I've never heard of them. Since a little kid I've been referred to and learned of the word 'wise' when I read about Solomon in the good book. I think 'wise' is a really good word when it comes to the use of water. The wise use of water is absolutely a priority for the Government, hence our effort to put together and release the Rural Water Use Strategy and establish a Rural Water Roundtable and fund it with $1.5 million of taxpayer's money, because water is precious. It should be used carefully and wisely.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, minister. It's probably just pure coincidence, but I reckon they'd like you.

Minister, on average, how much water licence fee revenue did the Government collect per megalitre on entitlements issued by DPIPWE in 2020 21?

Mr BARNETT - We have some departmental officials at the table and we'll see if we can respond to that question. They don't have the information here at the moment. Thank you very much, we'll take it on notice.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, figuring out what's being paid for water licences is quite convoluted and complex, we've discovered. However, we understand that Van Dairy pay a little under $6000 a year for their 21 000 million litre water allocation from the Wye River. In other words, this Dairy farm pays about one cent per 38 000 litres. Can you confirm this is correct?

Mr BARNETT - I think you made reference to it being somewhat complex and that's exactly right. The department would like to take that question on notice.

Ms O'CONNOR - Okay.