South will suffer

February 14, 2018

Southern NSW irrigators will be at risk of losing even more productive water if amendments which could relieve social and economic suffering associated with the Murray Darling Basin Plan are disallowed.

That is the message to come out a special meeting between NSW Nationals Minister for Water Niall Blair and Victorian Labor Minister for Water Lisa Neville in Sydney yesterday.

Mr Blair said a move by the Greens and the Federal Labor government to disallow a suite of amendments in the northern basin — including a reduction in productive water recovery targets and efficiencies in the use of environmental water — threatened to ‘‘unwind the historic Murray Darling Basin Plan’’.

He said it is clear that a vote to disallow is a ‘‘vote to kill off the plan’’, which he said would also trigger ‘‘a further 221 gigalitres of water buybacks in southern NSW’’.

‘‘This disallowance vote undermines important reforms that helped fix a 100-year old problem, and hurts the communities who have sacrificed and worked tirelessly to make the Basin Plan a success,’’ Mr Blair said.

‘‘It takes us back to square one and New South Wales will need to seek a new agreement directly with Victoria in order to deliver healthy rivers and one in which people, not politics, are put first.

‘‘The fact that some senators want to renege on the plan agreed to in 2012 is a slap in the face to everyone who has made significant commitments.

‘‘Our communities and the environment deserve better and most importantly, they deserve certainty.’’

Arriving in Canberra for meetings one day after Labor announced it would support the disallowance motion last week, Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Gabrielle Coupland said it set a ‘‘disturbing precedent’’ for ongoing discussions relating to the sustainable diversion limit adjustment mechanism.

She said Federal Water Minister David Littleproud told her he is committed to delivering the Basin Plan to give regional communities certainty.

Mrs Coupland said the message she received from Shadow Minister for Environment and Water Tony Burke’s advisors is Labor will support the Greens’ motion to disallow water recovery offsets unless it has more certainty that the ‘upwater’ would be recovered by 2024.

The upwater is 450 gigalitres of water to be recovered for the environment on top of the Basin Plan’s original 2750GL, which should only be recovered through on-farm efficiencies and if there is no socio-economic impact.

‘‘There is a real risk that the actions of the Greens, with Labor’s support, could see the whole Basin Plan as we know it fall over, but each side has a different opinion of what that means,’’ Mrs Coupland said.

‘‘Labor believes they can disallow the adjustment and see a Basin Plan of 2750GL worth of held entitlement, but the government is worried that the states may walk away raising legal issues as to how the Basin Plan can be fully implemented.’’

Mrs Coupland said Mr Littleproud had explained that without the support of the state governments, key environmental solutions such as constraints management and protection of environmental flows were not possible.

She said it was confusing and concerning to see Labor Water Minister Tony Burke, who is credited with forging the Basin Plan, put its full implementation at risk.

‘‘This comes down to the difference between ambition and practicality,’’ Mrs Coupland said.

‘‘We in the regions know that the easy water recovery has been done and now the focus has to be on managing the environmental portfolio to maximise outcomes. At the end of the day that is what the adjustment mechanism is about — looking for ways to get more from what they have.

‘‘We have always said the Basin Plan needs to be outcomes focused but the Greens are yet again making it simply about a number and unfortunately Labor looks like they are prioritising volume over outcomes.’’

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