Budget Review 2013–14 Index

Bill McCormick

Budget Paper No. 2 refers to a total $3.5 billion commitment over 12 years to support the implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The majority of this money ($3 billion) will be spent in the seven years after 2016–17.[1] The following are the figures until 2017:

Funding for Implementation of Murray-Darling Basin Plan 2012–13 through 2016–17






$6.2 million

$40.2 million

$60.5 million

$136.0 million

$246.5 million

Source: Budget measures 2013–2014: budget paper no. 2

Half of the $3.5 billion total is committed to a $1.8 billion special account that runs for ten years from 2014–15. This is created in the Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Act 2013.[2] The money in this Special Account will be used to recover an additional 450 Gigalitres (GL) of environmental water on top of the recovery volume of 2750 GL set out in the Plan. This additional water recovery will only be achieved through projects (efficiency measures) that have no adverse effects on social or economic outcomes.[3] The Special Account will provide $200 million to remove key operating constraints that currently limit the amount of environmental water that can be delivered through the river system.[4] The following are the annual figures to be paid into the Special Account.[5]

Figure 1: Annual Funding paid into Water for the Environment Special Account

Figure 1: Annual Funding paid into Water for the Environment Special Account

Source: Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Act 2013

The Water Amendment (Long-term Average Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment) Act 2012 allows the long-term average sustainable diversion limit (SDL) set by the Plan to be adjusted by up to 650 GL above or below the 2750 GL figure without invoking the formal Basin Plan amendment process.[6] Supply measures-such as works, river operations, or rule changes that achieve environmental outcomes with less water-could enable the Basin Plan's 2,750 GL figure to be lowered to 2,100 GL and reduce the socio-economic impact of water recovery.[7] The Government has provided up to $1.4 billion to improve the efficiency of environmental water delivery in the Basin.[8]

The Government has made available $310.0 million per annum from 2019–20 to bridge any shortfall in the recovery of environmental water, after the finish of the Water for the Future programs, to meet the requirements of the Plan.[9]

The commitment also includes $155.0 million over seven years from 2013–14 to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority for projects to restore the health of the wetlands in the Riverland of South Australia.[10]

Funding of $79.5 million over five years from 2012–13 under the National Partnership on Implementing Water Reform in the Murray-Darling Basin is aimed to help the Basin States meet the additional costs of implementing the Basin Plan.[11]

The measure includes the deferral of expenditure under the Restoring the Balance in the Murray-Darling Basin program to allow for a slower pace of water recovery until 2015–16, based on the prospect that the total volume of water entitlements to be purchased will be reduced by water offset projects.[12]

EPBC Act Water Trigger

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Amendment Bill 2013, if passed, will include a new matter of national environmental significance (MNES) to enable the Commonwealth Environment Minister to take into account significant impacts of coal seam gas and large coal-mining development on a water resource.[13] The Government will provide $38.4 million over the next four years for the implementation of the amendment, which will involve an expanded assessment, compliance and enforcement role for the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities as well as an increased role for the Independent Expert Scientific Committee.[14] These costs will be partially offset through enhanced cost recovery arrangements from July 2014 resulting in a revenue increase of $17.7 million over three years.

The Explanatory Memorandum gave no estimate of the cost of the implementation of this Bill, stating it will depend on the number of projects referred for assessment and approval.[15] Coalition senators will oppose an amendment to the Bill that would prevent the Commonwealth from reaching bilateral agreements with the states on approval of projects under this MNES, citing the costs and time involved in Commonwealth approvals.[16] If the amendment were to be defeated, and if approval bilateral agreements relating to this MNES were agreed to with all the states, there would be no need for this proposed expenditure.

Jeff Seeney, the Queensland Minister for State Development, Infrastructure and Planning, criticised this budget measure, saying that it would ‘impose more unnecessary green tape on the resources sector’ and would ‘duplicate the assessment and approvals process carried out by the Queensland Government.’[17]

[1].       Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2:2013–2014, 2013, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, pp. 259–260, accessed 16 May 2013.

[3].       A Albanese (Minister for Regional Development and Local Government) and C King (Minister for Regional Services, Local Communities and Territories), Regional Australia: strengthening communities, ministerial budget statement, 14 May 2013, p. 191, accessed 21 May 2013.

[4].       J Gillard (Prime Minister) and T Burke (Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities), ‘Returning the Murray-Darling Basin to health’, media release, 26 October 2012, accessed 22 May 2013.

[5].       B McCormick, Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012, Bills digest, 57, 2012–13, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2012, p. 17, accessed 22 May 2013.

[6].       J Tomaras and B McCormick, Water Amendment (Long-term Average Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment, Bills digest, 38, 2012–13, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, accessed 21 May 2013.

[7].       Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (SEWPaC), ‘Fact sheet: Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL) adjustment mechanism’, SEWPaC website, November 2012, accessed 21 May 2013.

[9].       Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (SEWPaC), ‘Water for the Future’, SEWPaC website, accessed 24 May 2013

[10].     T Burke (Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities), Restoring the Murray-Darling Basin to health, media release, 14 May 2013, accessed 17 may 2013.

[11].     Australian Government, Budget measures 2012–13: budget paper no. 3, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 2013, p. 96, accessed 21 May 2013.

[12].     Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2013–2014, op. cit., pp. 259–60.

[13].     Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (SEWPaC), ‘What is protected under the EPBC Act?’, SEWPaC website, accessed 24 may 2013

[15].     Explanatory Memorandum, ‘Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2013’, p. 2, accessed 20 May 2013.

[16].     S Birmingham, ‘Second reading speech: Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment Bill 2013’, Senate, Debates, 14 May 2013, pp. 4–7, accessed 20 May 2013.

[17].     J Seeney (Acting Premier, Queensland), ‘Millions wasted on more green tape’, media release, 15 May 2013, accessed 20 May 2013.

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