Coalition’s changes to Murray-Darling basin should and will fail
Thankfully the Turnbull government’s plan to reduce the amount of environmental water recovered each year in the northern basin of the Murray-Darling river by 70 gigalitres, announced last week, will likely be blocked in the Senate after Labor announced it would vote with the Greens to disallow changes to the plan, reported the Guardian Australia.
The Murray-Darling Basin Authority proposed a reduction to the water recovery target in the north of the basin (mainly in Queensland and north-west NSW) from 390GL to 320GL. Farming communities in Queensland and north-west NSW had warned that they would suffer economic hardship if the higher water recovery targets were maintained.
Both the Greens and Labor expressed support for the views of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, which warned that the cut to the environmental water recovery target was not supported by the science on the river’s health.
In an advice in January, the Wentworth group warned the cut of 70GL would undermine the objectives of the basin plan and was inconsistent with the Commonwealth Water Act, which called on the authority to act “on the basis of the best available scientific knowledge and socioeconomic analysis”.
It said the amendment would not adequately protect important flow events (such as environmental flows or low flows) from being diverted by irrigators. It pointed to issues with current plans that allowed large legal diversions in some valleys and also pointed out that states had failed to deal with allegations of water theft.
The Wentworth Group called on the federal government to look at ways to mitigate economic impacts on communities, rather than lowering environmental standards.
Back to the politics. The shadow environment minister Tony Burke, when speaking against the proposal tried to have it both ways when he said Labor was not saying it would never support an amendment to the basin plan. However, he redeemed himself when he said there had not been proper consultation with traditional owners along the river. Good point, Tony.
The heavy political lifting on the issue came from Sarah Hanson-Young, the Greens’ spokeswoman on water, who called a spade a spade by saying the plan to save the Murray-Darling basin was failing and the river would die without an urgent refocus.
“A full, independent audit of the plan is urgently needed,” she said. “The intervention by economists and scientists today shows that there’s serious lack of trust amongst policy experts” she concluded.
Indeed, scandals of water theft, tampering of water meters and rorting of public money spent on water and irrigation subsidies with little water being returned to the river has undermined the plan and wasted billions of taxpayers’ dollars. Unfortunately this new proposal looks like another nail in the basin’s coffin.
“Despite these scandals, the Senate is being asked to agree to a further weakening of environmental allocations. The Greens will not stand by and let this happen, which is why we will move to disallow the government’s recent push to weaken the plan’s existing sustainable diversion limits” she concluded.
Scandals of water theft, tampering of water meters and rorting of public money spent on water and irrigation subsidies with little water being returned to the river has undermined the plan and wasted billions of taxpayers’ dollars. This new proposal is yet another nail in the basins coffin.