Murray Darling basin plan threatened

February 21, 2018

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is under threat after Federal Government changes seeking to distribute water differently were shot down in the Senate.

The Coalition was unable to strike a deal with Labor, which supported a Greens disallowance motion, with it passing 32 votes to 30 on Wednesday night.

NSW Water Minister Niall Blair announced his state would withdraw from the plan and Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville said the Senate move meant the plan would never be the same.

‘‘I am really angry on behalf of so many Victorians who have done the heavy lifting in regards to this plan, sold water, gone through uncertainty and then to have this thrown in their face by the Senate; it makes me angry,’’ she said.

However, Ms Neville stopped short of saying Victoria was pulling out of the plan.

She said NSW’s withdrawal meant the plan no longer existed in the form that everyone knew.

She said the Victorian Government would negotiate directly with the Federal Government on the delivery of the water savings projects making up about 600Gl of water, and that would deliver environmental outcomes.

She said some groups supporting the disallowance had said: ‘‘we will just go and buy the water now’’.

However, she said there was a cap and there were some delivery constraints that could prevent South Australia getting that water.

Asked if she was disappointed with her Victorian ALP senators who voted for the Greens motion, Ms Neville said she wrote to every senator and warned them that this decision was a critical decision and if they were to disallow this they would be bringing the plan to an end.

‘‘If they did this, they were undermining the plan and everything that had been gained along the way,’’ she said.

She also said the Victorian Government would not ‘‘cave in’’ on the delivery of 450Gl, with the qualification of delivery only without negative socio-economic effects.

Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed said the political manoeuvring was a significant blow to all basin communities — including communities in South Australia, whose government lobbied for the adjustment to be disallowed.

‘‘The Greens and Labor have been threatening to block the adjustment for some weeks, so the result comes as no surprise,’’ Ms Sheed said.

‘‘Nevertheless, it is incredibly distressing for our regional communities to be placed in a situation of even greater uncertainty about our future than ever before.’’

The developments attracted a direct comment from Murray-Darling Basin Authority, which is usually loathe to insert itself into the political debate.

Authority members, including chief executive officer Phil Glyde, released a statement asserting that the plan was in danger from self-interested groups.

‘‘While others may be able to adopt a deliberately singular view, or manipulate information to serve their own interests, the task of the MDBA in implementing the basin plan is to balance fiercely competing interests and passionately held beliefs by using strong science, evidence and expert judgement...’’

‘‘We believe we got the balance right for the environment, basin communities and industry.’’

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