Murray-Darling Basin Plan - what is it and what’s happening now?

By Country News

What is the basin plan about?

■The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is a landmark bipartisan agreement reached between the Federal Government and four states to manage the water in a system made up of the Murray and Darling rivers.

■It was signed into law by the Gillard Labor Government in 2012.

What just happened?

■On February 14, the Federal Government failed to stop a joint effort by Labor, Greens and Nick Xenophon Team to block its amendments to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in the Senate.

■That government wanted changes to the plan that would have reduced the amount of water being returned to the environment in southern Queensland and northern NSW.

■The disallowance motion was narrowly carried, 32 votes to 30.

What’s the problem?

■The outcome has divided ‘up-water’ states and ‘down-water’ jurisdictions.

■Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville says the plan is over for her state.

■NSW has also threatened to pull out.

■The Federal Government is concerned Queensland will follow the other states’ lead and the entire plan will unravel.

Who wants what?

■The Federal Government wants to reduce the amount of water it acquires for the environment in the northern basin by 70Gl (equivalent to 400 Olympic swimming pools), supplying more to irrigators and reducing pressure on farmers.

■The Victorian and NSW governments want those amendments to ensure jobs for their states’ irrigators.

■Labor wants an additional 450Gl of water allocated to return to the environment, and assurances regarding the health of the river and tackling allegations of corruption.

■South Australia says it was the promise of this extra 450Gl that convinced it to sign on to the plan in the first place.

■The Greens want an independent audit to crack down on corruption and water theft allegations, greater community consultation and consideration of environmental impacts.