I rise to speak on Mr Quilty’s motion about the Murray-Darling Basin. I am not sure if this has been communicated to Mr Quilty or not, but I am authorised to tell him that we will not be supporting his motion today. Perhaps Mr Limbrick could tell him that. Before I deal with the substance of the motion before us, I might also thank Mr Quilty for his career counselling in his contribution just before he finished. Of course it would have been churlish of me to go back over the lunchbreak and have a look at the numbers from the last election in Northern Victoria Region, and whilst I did that, I certainly will not repeat those numbers. Ms Symes interjected. Mr GEPP: Ms Symes, you are trying to entice me to respond to that interjection, but I will not be lured in. I will not be lured into naming myself as number one in Northern Victoria. I will resist all attempts that you or anybody else makes in this chamber to point to the 140 000-odd first votes. Anyway, I digress. In all seriousness, the government does not support the motion from Mr Quilty. Victoria remains committed to delivering the basin plan in a way that balances the social, economic and environmental outcomes as agreed. Victoria does not support starting again or renegotiating the water recovery targets. Victoria’s position remains unchanged, and it is important that the house is aware of the position of the government. We do not support further buybacks in Victoria and we will not intentionally flood private land without prior agreement, nor will we compulsorily acquire land or easements. Any additional water recovery above the 2750-gigalitre target must only occur with neutral or positive socio-economic outcomes for communities. That criteria was agreed at the ministerial council in December 2018 and it will be used to assess any further attempts at additional water recovery. I am glad that Mr Quilty actually did acknowledge in his contribution the work of the Victorian government, because everywhere I go in northern Victoria Minister Lisa Neville, the Minister for Water, is held in the highest regard for the way that she has managed this portfolio. She has done it openly, transparently and in consultation with irrigators and farmers right throughout northern Victoria, and she has done a mighty job in representing this state. If you do not believe me, you only have to ask organisation such as the VFF, the Victorian Farmers Federation, who are lauding the praises of Ms Neville and the work that she has done and the leadership that she has displayed. I quote from a media release that they put out only a few short weeks ago, just around the time of the water ministerial council: Minister Neville’s leadership will improve protections for Victoria’s irrigators and the health of the Murray River … we urgently need New South Wales … and South Australia … to also limit the expansion of water licences so we can collectively reduce delivery risks for irrigators across New South Wales, Victorian and South Australia … Going back to the comments of Mr Quilty, I could well appreciate that if by moving to withdraw from this plan there was a criticism of this government in relation to this plan, you could well imagine why he has come forward. But in fact Victoria has done the heavy lifting in relation to the Murray-Darling Basin plan, and I think that is well acknowledged throughout the country—probably not conceded by those in Canberra, I dare say—and most of the problems that we see in the system today are problems that farmers and irrigators are screaming about in places like South Australia and New South Wales. The two gatherings that Mr Quilty referred to—Tocumwal and Albury—are both in New South Wales. I would suggest that farmers and irrigators in New South Wales have very good reason to be concerned with what the New South Wales government is doing and not doing in relation to the Murray-Darling Basin plan. I think it is also important to understand that we here in Victoria, through Minister Neville, have consistently stood up for communities as the plan has been rolled out. As I say, we have been doing the heavy lifting when it comes to delivering water back to the environment. Over 800 gigalitres of water have been returned to the environment, and we are well on track to meet what is our legal commitment of 1075 gigalitres. We do not have the problem on our side of the border. But renegotiating the basin plan targets would put those Victorian communities who rely on the basin—as well as the environment—at risk. If a much larger recovery target was implemented, many towns in Victoria would be under grave threat. Renegotiating the basin plan targets would put Victorian communities who rely on that basin—as well as the environment, as I said—at very grave risk. The plan is the result of lengthy negotiations between the states and the commonwealth for many years. So this just has not materialised overnight. I think the origins of the plan go back to 2007, I think—some 12 to 13 years ago—and through various iterations over the journey, even to the extent that the recent ministerial council adopted further agreements in relation to some criteria in relation to future projects. I will deal with that in a minute. As I say, it has been around for a long, long time, and the commonwealth has passed legislation to give effect to those negotiations that everybody committed to. If everybody had committed to the Murray-Darling Basin plan as they did when they sat around the negotiating table, we may not be here having this conversation, because everybody would be doing the heavy lifting that they agreed to during that process. But withdrawing from it, as has been suggested, would have dire consequences for farmers and irrigators here in Victoria. The cost of walking away would be very, very high for our communities, not to mention the environment, and walking away from the plan does not guarantee that there will not be more buybacks from the commonwealth. In fact, without the offset projects that I referred to earlier under the basin plan, Victorian communities face a risk of a further 266 gigalitres of commonwealth buybacks. We remain opposed to any further buybacks, and withdrawing from the plan would expose us to further buybacks, but we would not have a seat at the table. It would jeopardise the health of important environmental sites in our regional communities when we are facing a dryer future under climate change. So for us just to pack up and withdraw from this plan—however attractive it might be on the surface—would have significant environmental and economic consequences throughout Mr Quilty’s electorate and my electorate of Northern Victoria. It certainly would not pay homage to the tremendous work that our farming communities have already undertaken as part of the projects to put water back into the system. I am going to mention a few of the projects that we have been engaged in—the heavy lifting here in Victoria that I keep referring to, the things that we have already done as part of this plan. As I say, this plan would be working a heck of a lot better if everybody who committed to the plan delivered on the things that they said they would commit to under the plan. As I say, we also have significant concern about what effect this withdrawal would have on the health of our important environmental sites in regional communities. It would have a devastating effect and one that would see some of those environmental sites not recover for many, many years to come, if at all. We do understand that there is in some quarters a lack of confidence in the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to hold states to account. We understand that, and of course we all remember the Four Corners program around water theft and misuse of water. Victoria has an extremely high rate of compliance with our water rules, and we take serious action when people are not complying with those rules. I have travelled throughout northern Victoria with the minister from when I first started in this place—I think my first visit was to a farm with the minister up in the Goulburn Valley region—and I can tell you she takes no prisoners in relation to people who do not abide by the rules. That is where the respect from the community here in Victoria for Minister Neville and her approach to the Murray-Darling Basin plan and water in general comes from. Her bona fides are there for all to see, and she has led us well. Of course when people turn on the TV and see programs such as Four Corners and the things that are going on in other parts of the country, they are right to have concerns about them. But again we say everybody who has signed up to this plan and has made commitments under the plan should keep those commitments—should act upon them—and if they did, we would be in a much better place. There was a national inquiry after those media reports on Four Corners about water misappropriation, particularly in the northern basin, in 2017. It supported my assertions here today that here in Victoria there is a strong culture of compliance with the regulatory framework that exists in this state. So I would suggest to Mr Quilty and to others in this debate that the problem does not lie here with Victoria. Now, I understand the point that if the commonwealth are not going to be vigilant in the application of the agreement, that may well have future dire consequences for Victoria. But I do not believe that simply withdrawing from this plan—a plan that we have committed to, and to which we are fulfilling our obligations well ahead of everybody else—will not have significant and dire consequences for us. It will actually achieve a worse outcome, I would suggest, for the farmers and the communities that have done the heavy lifting, that have returned the high-reliability water for the environment. We do want the inspector-general to provide confidence that this water is being used as it was intended both here and in other parts of the basin, and we do expect the inspector-general to ensure that the plan is delivered as it was intended and that water recovery projects are providing positive socio-economic outcomes for communities as agreed. I talked a little bit a little while ago about some of the projects and the fact that we do not support further recovery of an additional 450 gigalitres of water unless those projects pass our strict socio-economic tests, backed by the broad criteria that were agreed at the ministerial meeting back in December 2018. The criteria were informed by socio-economic analysis and basin-wide community engagement, and they address the cumulative and region-wide impacts that water recovery projects may have on water prices, regional communities and economies and the future viability of irrigation districts. I want to outline a few of those criteria to the house so that they are on the record. As I said, the criteria address social, environmental and cultural impacts of projects. The criteria include that projects must be made public—they cannot be hidden, there cannot be a lack of transparency, they have got to be out there for all to see; that projects do not negatively impact on social and environmental outcomes; and that the project assessment for funding must be clear, timely, simple and transparent, and must not unduly increase red tape. Projects need to demonstrate how they contribute to the current and future viability of proponent businesses and irrigation districts, and they must support regional communities. Programs or projects must not have negative third-party impacts on the irrigation system, water market or regional communities. Projects need to be assessed for their potential to impact on the price of water. And, importantly, any cultural impacts must be identified, protected or improved. Program design should include close engagement with community and industry leaders. Where practical they should seek to develop and implement integrated implementation of efficiency measures to maximise benefits to the irrigation network and local enterprises. Monitoring and evaluation, including of socio-economic outcomes, should be built into the programs and used to regularly revise and adapt programs as required. And projects must deliver—this is important—real water savings and not result in profiteering and rorting. Those things were led by this government. We take this very, very seriously. We are committed to making this plan work, and it has to work. The Murray-Darling Basin is an enormous part of the landscape. I think some 2.5 million Australians live in and around the Murray-Darling Basin and are affected in some way, shape or form by this plan, so to simply withdraw, some would argue, would be reckless. I would be on that side, I have got to say, because there are some things that we are doing now that will have an enormous impact. For example, if we were to withdraw, what would happen to the Victorian Murray floodplain restoration project? That project is about achieving some tangible, on-the-ground outcomes, such as watering 14 000 hectares of high-value Murray River flood plain; achieving environmental benefits to wetlands and forests, such as protecting and improving habitat for birds, plants, frogs and native fish; supporting tourism and recreational opportunities for the community; achieving environmental benefits with less water than required for over-bank flooding; building drought and climate change resilience by enabling critical refuge habitat for fish, birds, frogs and plants to be maintained when the river would have very low flows—and it goes on. The project also would allow the basin plan objectives to be met without further water purchases—a very important aspect of what we are talking about today. The project sites are part of the package of sustainable diversion limit adjustment measures agreed by basin water ministers in 2017, and they contribute to meeting Victoria’s water recovery obligations under the basin plan and are of significant strategic importance. So to pull out would put those things at risk. Consider the cost of just that project alone, which is going to be delivered by Lower Murray Water in partnership with Goulburn Murray Water, Mallee Catchment Management Authority, the North Central CMA and Parks Victoria. It is going to be delivered in two stages. Stage 1, at $29 million, includes preconstruction activities, including detailed designs, cost refinements, statutory approvals, risk mitigation and stakeholder engagement. Stage 2, at $291 million—which would be flushed down the toilet—is earmarked to cover construction activities subject to satisfying a gateway assurance once stage 1 has been completed and other commonwealth requirements. There are 36 agreed projects that in total will deliver outcomes equivalent to 605 gigalitres of water. Why we would place that at risk is beyond me. It is one thing to come in here and raise issues in relation to a plan and whether or not it is working, and I accept that, but there has got to be a degree of responsibility that also comes with putting these things on the agenda and having them debated. Simply proposing that we withdraw from this plan but not do the research about the impacts of that withdrawal would be, as I said earlier, reckless. I know that there are a couple more speakers still to come, so I want to perhaps leave my contribution there. In doing so I do want to just ensure that this is on the record in Hansard. As I started my contribution with the respect and the recognition that Minister Neville has received for the work that she has done in this important area, I want to end on that note. As I said, you do not need to take my word for it, but perhaps we can take the word of orchardist Mr Peter Hall: Our communities have never felt so abandoned by those who traditionally should see us as their heartland. Ironically Lisa Neville, a state Labor Minister, seems to be a lone voice standing up for Victorian irrigators. Ms Neville appreciates the heavy lifting Victorian irrigators have done on environmental flows. That was in the Weekly Times on 7 February 2018. Then Mr Richard Anderson from the Victorian Farmers Federation Water Council, on 13 February 2018, was quoted in a VFF press release as saying: … Lisa Neville, understands the need to continue with the Basin Plan as intended, and we applaud her on her strong stance on this issue. So all of the people who have genuine skin in the game on this very important piece of public policy are supporting the approach of the Victorian government, absolutely backing in the minister for the fantastic amount of work that she is doing in this area: supporting our farmers, supporting our irrigators, supporting our communities. I would urge the house to think carefully, when considering Mr Quilty’s motion, about some of the impacts that I have outlined—and I am sure other speakers will go further in their contributions. But let us think very, very carefully about the impacts should we withdraw from this plan as per Mr Quilty’s suggestion and what that would do to our environment, to our communities, to our farmers and to our irrigators who are relying so heavily on this plan working.