The Murray Darling Basin Plan as we know it could be finished, following the Senate’s vote tonight in Canberra to block an amendment to the laws governing the $13 billion water reform.
The Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) is responsible for overseeing the water reform designed to boost river health.
Following a four year socio-economic and environmental study the MDBA recommended that the initial recovery target in the Northern Basin be downgraded by 70 gigalitres, from 390GL to 320GL.
The MDBA’s amendment was adopted by the Coalition government, but the Greens brought a blocking motion, which tonight was backed by Labor and Nick Xenophon Team, that prevents the reduction target coming into effect.
Yesterday NSW Water Minister Niall Blair warned, with Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville beside him, that should the disallowance motion block the Northern Basin’s 70GL reduction he would withdraw NSW from the Basin Plan agreement between Queensland, NSW, Victoria and the Commonwealth.
Asked if he was blowing up the plan, Mr Blair said rejecting the amendments in the Senate would mean “the Basin Plan (did) not exist”.
Tonight Mr Blair issued a statement reiterating his comments, and accused Labor and the Greens for posturing in the lead up to South Australia’s state election on March 17.
“This move makes the Basin Plan untenable for NSW,” Mr Blair said.
However, he appeared to leave the door ajar before shutting it on the plan altogether.
“At the same time, I am urging the Federal Government to fix the Senate’s sabotage and take every step necessary to prevent the short-sighted and politically motivated action that will destroy this historic reform,” Mr Blair said.
MDBA chief executive Phillip Glyde was disappointed the Northern Basin amendment was blocked and urged the states not to withdraw.
The Northern Basin review found socio-economic impacts from reducing irrigation take could be limited, while infrastructure and regulation measures could be introduced to deliver similar outcomes with less water.
“The MDBA stands by the Northern Basin review process, which was based on the best available science and evidence, peer-reviewed by independent experts, and involved an extensive and comprehensive consultation over four years,” Mr Glyde said.
“I urge all parties to continue to work together in a spirit of consensus and cooperation to deliver the Basin Plan, this remains our nation's best pathway for securing the environmental future of this vital shared resource and the communities that depend on it.”
Ms Neville said the disallowance “derails” the plan and said the infrastructure proposed in the Northern Basin review was necessary to physically transport the 320GL extra water downstream.
“From the beginning the Plan has always involved a review of the Northern Basin,” she said.
“Without some of the measures contained in the Northern Basin Review it is impossible to actually deliver environmental water to South Australia.
“We want the Commonwealth to investigate all options to overturn this decision.”
The Greens have also put forward another disallowance motion which puts 605GL of water recovery in play. It is expected to be voted on on May 17.
They want the Senate to vote on offset projects along with the Northern Basin reduction, and it remains unclear if the government can muster support to block them, or indeed if Labor will support the Greens’ motion.
A key concern among irrigators and their communities is that each of the disallowance motions could precipitate further direct water entitlement buybacks by the Commonwealth – which they argue will damage local economies.
What they said
Greens Murray Darling Basin spokesperson Senator Sarah Hanson-Young
The Senate has stared down the bullying and scare tactics of big corporate irrigators and upstream states who for too long have turned a blind eye to water theft and corruption.
The Australian Greens will continue to fight for the Murray Darling Basin Plan, and we will always stand up for South Australia – which too often gets the raw end of the deal when it comes to the river.
National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson
With the guidance of former Water Minister Tony Burke, under whose leadership the Plan was signed off, Labor Senators have issued a vote of no confidence in the Plan and the significant work the Murray Darling Basin Authority and Basin communities undertook in order to complete the Northern Basin Review.
We risk going back to the bleak days of the water wars where it is each farmer, each state to themselves.
A situation that would most certainly be detrimental to the environment and that would see water users down-Basin suffer.
Joint statement from South Australian Liberal MPs and Senators
Today, South Australia’s future was sold down the river by the Labor Party and Nick Xenophon Team.
It is now clear that only the Turnbull Government is committed to putting the Basin Plan and health of the Murray-Darling before politics.
Save the Murray – the worthy goal of all South Australians – is in peril thanks to Labor and Xenophon.
Labor and Xenophon must immediately state their willingness to back science before politics in responding to the Northern Basin Review. We also ask upstream states to not throw their Basin communities into endless uncertainty but to stay at the table while these issues are resolved.
The Turnbull Government and South Australian Liberals remain committed to the Basin Plan and anyone who is serious about a healthy Basin should join us in delivering the Plan not destroying it.
NSW Irrigators Council chief executive Mark McKenzie
South Australia must also know that such an implosion of the Basin Plan hurts them the most because they will end up with less, not more, water.
NSW irrigators and their communities would prefer that the Plan implodes and NSW and Victoria walk away before we would stand idly by as Labor, the Greens and NXT politicians try to blackmail our Government into allowing additional water to be extracted from primary production that will only hurt our regional economies and our people.
Mr McKenzie called for Basin states after the South Australian election “when cooler heads may prevail” and Basin governments have a final opportunity to reaffirm or withdraw their support for the Plan in its current form.
Victorian Greens Senator Janet Rice
The Murray Darling Basin Plan has been seriously undermined by scandals of water theft, tampering of water meters, and rorting of public money spent on water and irrigation subsidies with little transparency on how much water is being returned to the river
Given these serious issues, it beggars belief that the Government would propose to divert more water in the northern basin to big irrigators - water to greedy corporate irrigators only helps greedy corporate irrigators.
We need to remember a strong, healthy river system benefits the entire basin. The health of the river and the interests of downstream communities like ours in Victoria must be placed before those of greedy corporate irrigators.
NSW Water Minister Niall Blair full statement:
The Greens and Labor have hijacked the Murray Darling Basin Plan in the Senate this evening.
It is a sad day for NSW when a plan that everyone has been working on for six long years, a plan that delivers healthy rivers and viable regional communities, is thrown on the scrap heap by the Greens and Labor in a race for votes in South Australia.
The northern basin review was always part of the Basin Plan package and rejecting it now undermines the ability of Basin Ministers to make binding decisions at the Murray Darling Basin Ministerial Council.
This move makes the Basin Plan untenable for NSW.
At the same time, I am urging the Federal Government to fix the Senate’s sabotage and take every step necessary to prevent the short-sighted and politically motivated action that will destroy this historic reform.
The NSW Government was committed to delivering the plan, but Federal Labor and the Greens have decided to put people last and politics first.
Our communities and the environment deserve better and most importantly, they deserve certainty.
Cotton Australia general manager Michael Murray
Tonight the Senate threw common sense out the window and gave in to environmental extremism, while at the same time delivering economic and social uncertainty to communities in the Murray Darling Basin,” says Cotton Australian General Manager, Michael Murray.
And Labor, the architects of the review - inserted when Tony Burke was Minister - has supported the Greens and thrown the bipartisan nature of the Plan out the window.
The Greens’ Disallowance Motion has sealed a bleak fate for the Murray Darling Basin, its people and communities, who have every reason to be outraged and dismayed at the politics that have led to this point.
Based on the modelling by the Murray Darling Basin Authority, communities in the Northern Basin can expect to suffer the loss of 180 jobs as a result of this Motion, a devastating blow for small towns
Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville full statement:
Today the Senate has decided to put the delivery of the Basin Plan at risk.
The decision to disallow the Northern Basin Review - a review approved by all states and allowed for in the Plan - is a slap in the face to communities and a slap in the face to the environment.
Victoria has been implementing the plan as required by the agreement since 2012 - and we are committed to the Plan and the outcomes for the environment.
This decision is an attempt to re-prosecute a plan we all signed up to - including South Australia.
From the beginning the Plan has always involved a review of the Northern Basin and included provisions for the SDL adjustment mechanism. This decision derails that plan.
Without some of the measures contained in the Northern Basin Review it is impossible to actually deliver environmental water to South Australia.
We want the Commonwealth to investigate all options to overturn this decision.
If that is not possible the Plan cannot be delivered.
We have always put the interests of the Victorian community and the environment first.
Unfortunately the Senate has decided that the politics of this issue is more important.