‘‘Let’s fix the basin plan’’.
That is the message that was drummed in to Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack — who was Acting Prime Minister at the time of his visit — when he met with stakeholders in Deniliquin on Friday.
Members of the Murray Regional Strategy Group said the objective of the meeting was to develop policy solutions that will underpin the region’s future.
It gave the region’s community, local government and industry organisations the opportunity to highlight the need for changes to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
The MRSG, which has become the leading advocacy group in the NSW Murray, presented Mr McCormack with its latest document, titled ‘Let’s Fix The Basin Plan’.
Chairman Alan Mathers said the importance of action to adjust the plan and protect regional communities was impressed upon the Deputy Prime Minister.
‘‘Mr McCormack listened with interest to the issues we raised and agreed to work with us towards finding solutions,’’ Mr Mathers said.
‘‘He also supported our concept of a meeting involving MRSG and the four federal Ministers involved in water policy — himself as Minister for Infrastructure, Minister for Water David Littleproud, Minister for Agriculture Bridget McKenzie and Minister for Environment Sussan Ley.’’
The MRSG highlighted key components of its ‘Let’s Fix The Basin Plan’ document, being the need to:
●Immediately implement a framework that will ensure no further water acquisition for the environment until a review is completed.
●Engage an independent consultant to undertake a comprehensive review of the Basin Plan’s 35 reviews undertaken to date. The purpose of the review is to devise an improved process for delivery of the Basin Plan that does not result in further negative social, economic or environmental impacts. The review should be undertaken with genuine consultation and collaboration with impacted communities, to re-build trust.
●A new co-operative and adaptive partnership model for future implementation of a Basin Plan which includes a capacity to incorporate flexibility, new information and adaptive management into Plan decisions.
●The current timeframes for the Basin Plan should be revised, with the Basin Plan to recommence once the comprehensive review of the plan is completed and agreed upon by basin communities and governments.
Also receiving the a copy of the document was local Nationals Senate candidate Perin Davey, who attended the meetings with Mr McCormack.
With predictions she is ‘‘very likely’’ to receive a Senate seat, Mr McCormack said she would be a useful asset in water policy decisions in the party room.
Mr McCormack said while few agree the Basin Plan is a ‘perfect’ document, he did warn against opening it up for further changes and scrutiny.
‘‘Look, it (the plan) is not perfect. But the trouble with politics in Australia is, if you open up the Basin Plan to be tweaked and pulled apart, particularly in the Senate, you might end up with a worse outcome.
‘‘I crossed the floor on the Basin Plan in 2012 to actually put a cap on water buy-backs because I felt as though buy-backs is just a lazy way of taking productive water out of the system and giving it to water icon site that, in all honesty, sometimes they weren’t always beautiful riparian area of frogs and fish and birdlife.
‘‘Whenever there was a drought they went dry. But these days they seem to think they should be flooded all the time; overbank flooding.
‘‘And then you have the South Australian Government with a Royal Commission and setting the parameters so narrow they were always going to get the outcomes they got.
‘‘So there needs to be fairness and equity in the system, but it shouldn’t always come at the expense of people who are just trying to grow food and fibre for themselves and to make a better life for their own communities as well.’’
Ms Davey said it is important for stakeholders to know that the government is working behind the scenes, while still meeting their legislative requirements, to achieve the balance that is desired.
‘‘There are things the government is doing and if we get them right will actually lessen the negative impacts of the basin plan,’’ she said.
‘‘The review of the water market is a key one. That review is being conducted by the ACCC, which has coercive powers, so they can demand water brokers and traders give them information. That review will be able to tell us, once and for all and with fact, what impact speculators might be having on the market, but also what impact these downstream developments are having on the market and where do we need to adjust the rules around that.
‘‘We have the review that was announced specifically into the social and economic impacts, and will hopefully will be announcing the panel in the near future.
‘‘So we’ve got an imperfect basin plan, and there is caution about opening that, but that doesn’t mean we’re not doing anything.
‘‘We are looking at, where we can, making adjustments that don’t put further risk on our communities that will minimise the impact.’’
The MRSG acknowledged the two recently announced Federal Government inquiries into the socio-economic impacts and water market transparency of the Basin Plan.
It advised Mr McCormack it welcomed the opportunity to be part of these reviews, however pointed out they do not excuse the need for a more comprehensive review as suggested in its ‘Fix the Basin Plan’ document.
‘‘We are seeking the opportunity to work with you and your government more closely to improve the Basin Plan,’’ the group said.
The MRSG comprises Berrigan Shire, Murray River, Edward River and Murrumbidgee Councils, Eagle Creek Pumping Syndicate, Moira Private Irrigation District, Murray Irrigation Ltd, Murray Valley Private Diverters, Ricegrowers’ Association of Australia, Southern Riverina Irrigators, Speak Up Campaign, West Corurgan Irrigation and Yarkuwa Indigenous Knowledge Centre.