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‘Entire structure’needs to be changed

The entire structure of Murray-Darling Basin Plan implementation needs a revamp to stop the disaster that is unfolding.

Speak Up Campaign chair Lachlan Marshall said the failed meeting of federal and state Water Ministers (known as MinCo) on Friday again highlighted a plan that is going from crisis to crisis.

“How can we get progress when participants are driven by self-interest? MinCo has a ridiculous framework where unanimous agreement is needed to make any change to the plan. Can you tell me any organisation that works effectively with such a voting system?” Mr Marshall asked.

He said reports from Friday’s meeting indicate Victoria and NSW Water Ministers had brokered an agreement with other states to support an audit to determine which water-saving infrastructure would not meet the 2024 deadline. However, this was squashed by federal Water Minister Keith Pitt.

“Throughout the entire Basin Plan process, every attempt by Victoria and NSW to protect their communities is blocked by an unworkable voting system. Regional communities will totally lose confidence in Mr Pitt if he doesn’t start leading the changes this disastrous plan needs,” Mr Marshall said.

“To this point he has refused to effectively engage with our communities, and now he is blocking efforts by the Victorian and New South Wales governments to conduct an important audit.

“Mr Pitt says he’s calling for action, but so far he has been all talk and no action. He talks about splitting up the MDBA, but we think the changes need to go further and involve the entire Basin Plan process, including MinCo. He is letting us down on all fronts, especially collaboration and delivering positive change. He has so far refused to effectively engage with our region, despite it suffering the most under this failing plan.

“There are also huge concerns around comments from panel members of the Sefton Report into socio-economic impacts of the basin plan. In the past week two highly respected panel members have publicly expressed concern about the lack of action from Mr Pitt, and he has even being accused of misrepresenting the panel’s findings.

“Couple these concerns with others being expressed far and wide, and the alarm bells are certainly ringing and questions must be asked about Mr Pitt’s performance in his difficult portfolio,” Mr Marshall said.

The Speak Up chair congratulated NSW Farmers Association and Victorian Farmers Association who have joined forces in a call for Water Ministers to acknowledge the plan’s inherent flaws and start a process of change.

“Now, we need stronger advocacy from the National Farmers Federation to support these state associations. The 450 gigalitres of ‘upwater’ must be taken off the table, we need recognition of landowner rights in relation to constraints and greater certainty that there will be no more buybacks. If MinCo has to be scrapped to achieve these non-negotiables, Mr Pitt must find a way to do it.

“He needs to recognise that the two most populated and productive states in the basin – New South Wales and Victoria – are the ones contributing virtually all the water under the basin plan and wearing all the pain. Yet to this point he has done nothing to unravel the mess which has been created.

“He says now is the time for action. Well, we’ve been waiting and still haven’t seen any. It’s about time Mr Pitt showed the leadership that is required so our food bowls and communities are protected,” Mr Marshall concluded.

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