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Build policy on solutions, not winning votes

The community-based Speak Up Campaign has joined the growing list of organisations expressing concern at last week’s Labor Party announcement around implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

In particular is the issue of water buybacks, which Labor’s Shadow Water Minister Terri Butler conceded “if we have to” was “an option that will have to be pursued”.

Speak Up Campaign Chair Shelley Scoullar said this was a backward step that would affect confidence in the Basin Plan and rural communities, with the potential for further social and economic damage to these communities.

“The data is there for everyone to see … the first round of buybacks decimated some smaller communities and had a severe adverse impact on larger communities. The Basin Ministerial Council introduced a strict socio-economic neutrality test around additional water recovery to ensure this does not happen again. To tear that up would be a tragedy for our rural towns,” Mrs Scoullar said.

She congratulated Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville who was quick to remind her federal Labor colleagues of what she called a “disappointing” policy announcement by Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and Ms Butler, adding Speak Up hopes the NSW Government will join Ms Neville and insist the socio-economic criteria is maintained.

Mrs Scoullar said it was also disappointing that Mr Albanese had shown little interest in water policy to this point and had made no effort to visit regions like the NSW Murray to learn more about the Basin Plan and its complexities, in particular the indisputable fact that acquiring more water for South Australia is pointless, because it will not fit down the Murray River.

“We already have significant environmental damage trying to turn this iconic river into a drain. The volumes incorrectly modelled under the Basin Plan cannot be delivered from Hume Dam to the lower reaches of the Murray. That’s just physical reality,” Mrs Scoullar said.

She added it was also disappointing that Ms Butler had ignored correspondence from Speak Up seeking clarification around Basin Plan policy, in particular water buybacks.

“It’s obvious now that she didn’t want this hot political potato to get out of the bag. So instead, they go to a friendly location in South Australia, which has refused to do any ‘heavy lifting’ under the Basin Plan, and effectively announce they are happy to sacrifice upstream communities and livelihoods in exchange for South Australian votes.”

Mrs Scoullar said communities have worked tirelessly to develop long-term sustainable options to achieve environmental, social and economic solutions to Basin Plan implementation, not just for southern NSW and northern Victoria, but for the entire Basin, and questioned whether there had been sufficient research from Labor before announcing its Basin Plan intentions.

“More buybacks will reduce food production and therefore put more pressure on cost of living for all Australians, which Labor keeps saying it is going to address. Previous buybacks caused massive job losses in regional communities; it seems contradictory that Labor is happy to see more people out of work. It just doesn’t make sense,” Mrs Scoullar said.

In conclusion, Mrs Scoullar said if Labor wins the upcoming election she hopes Mr Albanese and Ms Butler will try to become more informed on Basin Plan implementation and work with communities in this complex area, rather than prioritising placating South Australians and the city-based green movement.

“Across our region, numerous individuals and organisations have been doing everything within their power to work collaboratively with governments and their agencies to improve water management. There is enough water available for everyone’s needs if we take a sensible, solutions-based approach.

“The last thing we need at this point is decisions that aim to secure votes, rather than building a plan with the balanced, common-sense flexibility that was promised by the political parties, including Labor, from its inception.”

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