Communities in southern New South Wales and northern Victoria are asking for Water Ministers to “protect us”, when they meet next week.
The Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council (MinCo) has important decisions to make around implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, and its deliberations could have a significant impact on rural communities.
Speak Up Campaign deputy chair Lloyd Polkinghorne says Ministers need to understand that while progress has been made in Basin Plan delivery, it has come at a significant cost to some of these communities.
“The lack of flexibility in the plan has been a major problem from day one and needs to be seriously addressed. We were promised a flexible and adaptive plan, but this has not been the case.
“We would also urge Ministers to recognise the commitments previously made to protecting the social and economic fabric of our rural communities, including the guarantees that have been made around water buybacks.
“We strongly oppose buybacks and do not believe this method of water recovery is possible without further socio-economic damage. As a result, they should be off the table,” Mr Polkinghorne said.
He said new federal Water Minister Tanya Plibersek had travelled throughout the regions and met many stakeholders to get a better understanding of the Basin Plan and its implementation.
“We have welcomed this collaborative approach, as well as the Minister’s support for irrigated agriculture. However, we remain perplexed by the absolute insistence, reinforced again this week during a speech in Adelaide, that the additional 450 gigalitres of ‘upwater’ must be recovered.
“This defies logic. Those who live, work and breathe the Murray River and its environs know that it is pointless recovering this extra water. Apart from the fact that every indication suggests enough water has been recovered for the environment, this ‘450’ cannot be delivered due to constraints in the river. This has been constantly highlighted, including in a 2018 Productivity Commission report,” Mr Polkinghorne said.
An ongoing concern for Mr Polkinghorne and others along the mid sections of the Murray River is the damage being caused by excessive flows, with too much water being forced down the river to South Australia.
Mr Polkinghorne said when Water Ministers meet they need to look at future options for the Basin Plan.
“Firstly, the MinCo should strongly oppose water buybacks under any circumstances. It should also recommend some flexibility in the Basin Plan timelines, to allow a thorough review to be undertaken.
“A lot has changed since implementation started a decade ago. It makes sense to take stock of the environmental benefits that have been achieved and what steps we should take next to get the best use of the available resource.
“Barging ahead to meet unachievable and unrealistic deadlines is not in the nation’s best interest and is not an option that should be considered.
“We urge the MinCo to continue the increased collaboration that has recently been seen with our communities, and work with us to deliver a Basin Plan that protects the environment, our nation’s food security and rural communities,” Mr Polkinghorne said.