Australia Water ministers at odds over best way to progress Murray-Darling Basin Plan

00:15  28 november  2020
00:15  28 november  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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Water ministers have rejected a call to review the deadlines set for water recovery under the Murray - Darling Basin Plan , as New South Wales admits it will not hit the water savings target and fears grow that governments will be forced to buy back more water from farmers. Key points

Drought is not the only threat to the river system: the plan to save it is in doubt as states spar over the best way forward.

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Victoria has accused the Federal Government of riding roughshod over the states, saying it has "scuttled" the will of water ministers as New South Wales pleads for a rethink on the future of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

A meeting between state water ministers on Friday, NSW and Victoria called for a review of the basin plan to be provided by 2022.

Several significant reports — including those issued by the Water for the Environment Special Account and the Productivity Commission — found that key water savings targets were unlikely to be met by 2024.

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Water ministers are on the cusp of a "momentous" decision on the Murray Darling Basin Plan that could see the controversial rescue plan delivered in full. The imminent deal, which could be reached as soon as Friday afternoon, follows years of political bickering, with basin states often refusing to

If the deadline is not met, it could cause the Commonwealth to buy more water back from irrigators.

Following yesterday's virtual meeting, Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville lambasted the Federal Government for what she claimed was a failure to compromise.

"For the first time in my six years at the [Ministerial Council], the Commonwealth has actually scuttled what had been agreed and compromised by the states," she said.

"At nearly every meeting we've agreed to some kind of compromise to keep moving forward, to keep protecting our communities and [to keep] delivering the environmental projects as well.

"Today was the first time I've seen the Commonwealth step in and say, 'No, we're not going to accept that compromise'."

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Wentworth Group finds the Murray - Darling Basin Plan ’s environmental objectives are not being met. The fish kills at Menindee in January have sounded alarm bells about whether the Murray - Darling Basin Plan is actually working.

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Ms Neville said NSW and Victoria had the support of other states.

"We look at 2022 as a way of coming back to assess those timelines so we don't just plod along and know that by 2024 we're going to put communities at risk of buybacks or other interruptions to their allocations, which is unacceptable," she said.

'No respect'

NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey said her state had been let down.

"We don't believe … we can deliver those [water saving] projects," she said.

"We are meant to have these projects delivered by 2024 — we don't believe they can be delivered."

Ms Pavey described the water savings targets as unrealistic and said there were 4,000 farms that could potentially be flooded under current the arrangements.

She pleaded for a rethink.

"They did not respect or listen to the two biggest, most important states and contributors to the nation's wealth — Victoria and NSW," she said.

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"Environmental water is not completely protected. The 2012 changes to the Barwon-Darling Water Sharing Plan have reduced the protection of low The billion public expense to once and for all address water over -allocation and secure the long-term health of the Murray - Darling Basin is failing

Murray - Darling basin : scientists warn end to water buybacks will be a disaster for the river. How much water is being taken by floodplain harvesting and never finding its way to the river is a matter It says “a substantial portion” of inflows in the northern basin were protected from extraction and that

"We had a good pathway forward, it's been rejected.

"I think it's important the Commonwealth look at this decision again, because we can't be at threat of compulsory water buybacks in 2024."

'Reports are not the answer'

Federal Water Minister Keith Pitt said it had been a challenging meeting and that NSW and Victoria's recommendations had been blocked "with good reason".

"What was put forward was a plan for a report in 2022," he said.

"The time for reports is over — it doesn't matter what the question is around water, reports are not the answer."

He said the Commonwealth was looking to get projects underway and delivered.

"There's still $4 billion and four years to run. That is a long time and a very large bucket of money.

"There's been very strong environmental outcomes we're looking to strike the right balance, particularly for those regional communities that do rely almost solely on irrigation.

"That's why we've made changes, that's why we've committed more money, that's why we've ruled out buybacks."

Mr Pitt said he would not reveal details about "who voted which way and who was supportive and who wasn't".

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'No reason to just go home'

South Australian Water Minister David Speirs said he had "absolutely not agreed" to the proposal.

"South Australia was a firm advocate for the status quo — keeping the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which we know is working for South Australian irrigators and the environment, keeping it on track," he said.

"There are definitely aspects of the plan that are going to be challenging and some of these are big infrastructure projects up and down the river that will have an impact of improving the river's resilience.

"We know some of those will be hard to reach by 2024 but that's no reason just to back off the plan.

"If you're running a race and you think you might not get to the finish line that's no reason just to go home.

"We need to keep on easing forward with this plan."

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