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12 Sep 2023

South Australian Liberal MPs revolt against Nationals’ stance on Murray-Darling Basin plan │The Australian

By Jess Malcolm 

South Australian moderate MPs are pushing back against the ­Nationals’ refusal to back 450 gigalitres of environmental water to be delivered under the Murray Darling Basin Plan, paving the way for a fiery partyroom debate as the Coalition finalises its position on Labor’s attempt to use buybacks to deliver environ­mental water promised for the southern state.

Liberal MPs James Stevens and Andrew McLachlan say buybacks that do not harm regional communities must be on the table and that 450 gigalitres of environmental water should be delivered to protect the health of the river system.

“It is vitally important, particularly for my home state of South Australia, that we do everything necessary to secure the environmental sustainability of the system,” Mr Stevens said.

“Buybacks under the socio-economic test that don’t disadvantage the communities that affect them should be considered.

“There are some lateral things that I would like to see considered, including desalination plants in South Australia, and I’d like to know what options like that aren't being considered.”

Senator McLachlan said it was “imperative that we prioritise the welfare of our natural world for the generations to come” and that he remained committed to ensuring South Australia “secure the water it needs”.

“Our determination to achieve the crucial 450GL target must stand unwavering, and I am steadfastly committed to championing recovery projects that not only maximise environmental benefits, but also do so in a manner that avoids negative economic or social repercussions for our Basin communities,” Senator McLachlan said.

The pushback from moderate MPs comes as the Nationals dig in against Labor’s plan to use water buybacks to recover 450 gigalitres of environmental water.

Labor is attempting to extend the Murray-Darling Basin Plan’s deadline for water savings targets to 2026 and push a deadline to ­recover 450 gigalitres of environmental water out to 2027.

The government also wants to change the legislation to enable the commonwealth to use controversial buybacks to recover the last of the remaining water ­required under the plan.

The Australian understands opposition water spokeswoman Perin Davey will recommend the party vote against Labor’s move to amend the plan, with the ­Nationals strongly opposed to water buybacks.

Nationals MP Michael McCormack said the Coalition should not support Labor’s plan to recover 450 gigalitres.

The government’s push to recover environmental water was “to appease green votes in inner-city lefty suburbs, and the sorts of people who have never been past the Blue Mountains”, he said.

Liberal MP Tony Pasin, a member of the right faction, took a swipe at his colleagues saying “farmers are getting sick and tired of people who live in the cities telling us how to farm”.

Opposition health and aged care spokeswoman Anne Ruston said she was a strong supporter of the plan being delivered in full, including the 450 gigalitres, but did not endorse the lifting of the cap on buybacks.

Senator Ruston, who is a South Australian Liberal and a former primary producer from Renmark, said taking the amount of water needed via buybacks from river communities would decimate regional areas.

“Labor has a pattern of making strong headline announcements that are light on detail and consultation. I am really concerned that once again they have not properly considered the implications of what they are proposing,” Senator Ruston said.

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