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13 Apr 2022

Water promised for river │ The Times, Victor Harbor


The arguing of water flows in the Murray Darling Basin (MDB) continues with Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese promising to deliver 450 gigalitres (GL) if elected on May 21.

This has been welcomed by the Greens, Conservation Council and Alexandrina councillor Melissa Rebbeck, who is chair of Region 6 (Coorong Lower Lakes) and vice president Murray Darling Association (of local governments).

"Region 6 have advocated for the 450GL as long as I have been chair, as has the entire MDA. In fact we believe 450GL is not enough," Ms Rebbeck said.

"We have been frustrated by the lack of reform of New South Wales to comply and implement water saving plans. We would prefer to see funds for climate mitigation and adaptation rather than looking at the impacts on Ramsar wetlands under climate change.

"The bottom line answer to protecting Ramsar wetlands is flow. Flow that has decreased to much over recent decades. 9000GL since 1892, 7700GL last 30 years, 5700GL last 10 years, 2800GL 2018 and 2000GL 2019

"We look forward to the continued implementation of the MDB Plan."

Following amendments to the MDB Plan the overall target for water recovery is 2075GL per year, plus 450GLof efficiency measures by 2024. The 2000GL is achieved by the Liberal Federal Government, but the 450GL has not been achieved yet.

Mr Albanese said Labor would deliver on the final 450GL of water for the environment that the current Federal Government failed to deliver.

"Our policy will uphold the Murray Darling Plan and lay the groundwork for the Plan's future by restoring integrity, boosting compliance and driving reforms," Mr Albanese said.

"Labor will commit $26 million to establish a National Water Commission to drive ongoing water reform and future-proof Australia's water resources, bringing national leadership and fairness into water policy."

Labor's five-point plan for the Murray Darling Basin comprises: Working with Basin governments and stakeholders to deliver on water commitments, including the 450 GL of water for the environment.

Increasing compliance across the Basin and, to support that compliance work, committing an additional $35 million for improved metering and monitoring.

Restoring integrity and confidence by working with stakeholders to implement relevant ACCC recommendations, and by making the Murray Darling Basin Authority's modelling and data publicly available where possible.

Increasing First Nations ownership of water entitlements and participation in decision making.

Federal Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie welcomed the promise to return 450GL to the MDB, but said there needed to be a more substantial plan in place on how to deliver on the water commitments.

"We need a new, long-term plan for the Murray-Darling Basin with the current agreement set to expire in 2024. We need a long-term, sustainable framework in place to protect the Murray-Darling Basin beyond 2024," Ms Sharkie said.

"While Labor's promise is welcome at a surface-level, it is not underpinned by detailed policy nor does it outline how it will address the systemic issues of the Murray-Darling Basin."

South Australian Liberal Senator Andrew McLachlan said as a Senator for South Australia, he was committed to the successful delivery of the MDB Plan to ensure the river was effectively managed and protected.

"The health of our river is a unifying cause for South Australians and this is a cause I will continue to fight for in the Senate. During my maiden speech to the Senate in 2020, I raised the importance of the health of the River Murray to all South Australians," Mr McLachlan said.

"The strength of its flow reflects the aspiration of the people that live on its banks. They are inextricably tied together. This is why we are committed to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and its successful operation. We see it as an example of the real benefits that can accrue from Commonwealth and state co-operation.

"I have always fought for the Murray and will continue to do so."

Federal Minister for Resources and Water Keith Pitt said Labor needed to explain where the water was coming from in his plan for the Murray-Darling.

"Re-establishing a Water Commission and conducting yet another study will not produce one single extra drop for South Australia," Mr Pitt said.

"Mr Albanese has all but confirmed Labor will re-introduce water buybacks that have been so damaging to Murray-Darling Basin communities. Mr Albanese needs to be honest with them about Labor's plans for buybacks.

"Basin communities have already suffered through a Labor-Greens-independents alliance when they decimated jobs and communities with water buybacks last time they were in government."

Mr Pitt said the government had delivered nearly 98 per cent (2029GL) of the 2024 Murray-Darling Basin water recovery target and would not commit to more buybacks.

"This is our commitment to putting Basin communities and jobs back at the heart of the Plan," he said.

Conservation SA Chief Executive Craig Wilkins said while it was encouraging that SA Federal MPs from all parties had committed to the delivery of the Plan 'in full and on time', those words had appeared increasingly empty as the water promised in the Plan had failed to materialise and concerns about the integrity of the Plan's implementation had grown.

"It's not surprising the healthy future of Australia's greatest river has always been a hot-button issue in SA at every Federal election this century," Mr Wilkins said.

"Federal Labor's clear commitment to the full delivery of the 450GL for healthy flows by the Plan's reconciliation date in 2024 is a welcome confirmation of this core part of the Plan.

"So far, less than one per cent of that 450GL has been delivered and time is fast running out."

Greens spokesperson for environment and water Sarah Hanson-Young said South Australia's fair share of water under the MDB Plan would only be delivered if buybacks were restored.

"This scheme is critical to restoring water flows to the river and delivering 450GL to South Australia, and the Greens will be needed in the Senate to secure it," Ms Hanson-Young said.

"The 450GL promised to SA cannot be delivered without restoring voluntary water buybacks. This is critical to ensuring the longevity of the Murray and those who rely on it."

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