Call to pause basin plan

By Alana Christensen

An immediate pause of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is required to restore confidence in the plan, which is failing the environment and regional communities, according to a coalition of 24 businesses and organisations across the region.

The call comes following a tumultuous few weeks for the basin plan, after the South Australian Royal Commission into the Murray-Darling Basin found the target of 2750Gl was decided for political, not scientific, reasons.

‘‘The current plan is not working. It is failing the environment and failing regional Australia,’’ the group — which includes Southern Riverina Irrigators, Edward River Council and Speak Up — said.

‘‘The Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s own website states that ‘the aim of the plan is to ensure that water is shared between all users, including the environment, in a sustainable way’. By any objective measure, this is not happening.

‘‘The environmental failures have never been more evident and will only get worse.

‘‘The socio-economic failures are already being felt throughout the communities of the Murray-Darling Basin and will only become worse.’’

Irrigators last week also slammed a Labor and Greens plan to scrap the cap on water buybacks, labelling it ‘‘lazy’’ and ‘‘dangerous’’.

The parties want to repeal the 1500Gl cap on buybacks for the environment, in response to the South Australian Royal Commission into the Murray-Darling Basin.

The royal commission drew criticism from farmers in northern Victoria and southern Riverina for saying the effects of buybacks on communities had been ‘‘overstated’’.

Speak Up chair Shelley Scoullar accused the Labor Party of ‘‘abandoning’’ regional communities and using them for ‘‘political fodder’’.

‘‘This appears nothing other than bizarre political opportunism to try and win environmental votes in marginal city seats, and keep on side with South Australia which is under increasing pressure for its blatant waste of environmental water,’’ Mrs Scoullar said.

The cap, which was passed in 2015 with the support of the Coalition and Labor, saw the government move towards investing in infrastructure rather than purchasing water.

Greens environmental spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young told parliament last Tuesday that the Murray River has been ‘‘crippled by mismanagement’’.

But South Australian Senator Anne Rushton savaged the idea, labelling it ‘‘extraordinarily lazy’’ and political, considering 270Gl could still be purchased without exceeding the current cap.

VFF Water Council chair Richard Anderson said the last thing needed was another change to the basin plan.

‘‘Basin communities, environmental water holders and the water market need certainty — not contemptuous politicians, constantly moving the goalposts for political gain,’’ Mr Anderson said.

The proposal was slammed by Federal Water Minister David Littleproud, who said the potential for hundreds of gigalitres of buybacks to occur could cost ‘‘thousands of jobs’’ and the remaining water should be recovered through infrastructure upgrades.