Worries over new water deal

By Geoff Adams

The latest agreement reached between the Federal Coalition Government and the ALP opposition on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan has ramped up pressure to deliver the 450Gl of ‘up-water’.

Last week the two parties headed off a Senate disallowance motion proposed by the Greens, which would have interfered with the Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism.

Basin communities will not have to give up 605Gl of water, while the environment will still benefit.

Last week’s agreement included a commitment to begin an expression of interest process for efficiency projects to begin the 450Gl of water recovery.

The agreement asks NSW to begin talking to stakeholders about starting the 450Gl of water recovery with projects that have neutral or positive social and economic impacts.

The qualification, ‘‘neutral or positive socio-economic impacts’’ has been critical to the plan.

Former federal water minister Barnaby Joyce once told the South Australian Government that he couldn’t see how the extra 450Gl of water could be recovered without causing socio-economic detriment.

His successor David Littleproud has been more confident this water can be delivered.

State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed said it was vital for the future of local food production in northern Victoria that no additional water was taken out of irrigated farming communities.

Ms Sheed said while she was pleased to see the Senate vote down the Greens’ disallowance motion on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to allow 605Gl of important environmental projects to proceed, she remained extremely concerned at a side deal done to ensure delivery of an additional 450Gl of water.

‘‘I was very disappointed to see that the Australian Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud did a deal with the federal Labor opposition to all but guarantee the recovery of an extra 450Gl,’’ Ms Sheed said.

‘‘It was always understood that this additional water would only be considered once the 2750Gl of the original plan was achieved, and should only go ahead if there were no further negative socio-economic impacts to communities.

‘‘Victoria has already given up 800Gl of the most expensive high-reliability water and what many of the decision makers are failing to understand is that any further on-farm efficiencies in the southern basin will end up ripping water out of the Goulburn-Murray region because of how water is traded.’’

When pressed by Ms Sheed in Question Time in Victorian Parliament last week, Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville reiterated that Victoria was a signatory to the original 2750Gl basin plan and said she was concerned by some of the proposed changes to the plan outlined in the Federal Government deal.

Ms Neville pointed out the plan was an agreement by the states and the Federal Government and so any changes would have to be approved by all parties at the Ministerial Council.

She also confirmed the Victorian Government would not agree to the current Goulburn Constraints Project, which she said delivered very little water to the river and potentially impacted 570 landowners.

Ms Sheed welcomed Ms Neville’s comments and was confident she would continue to strongly protect the Victorian food-producing communities in northern Victoria.

Ms Neville said the delivery of the 450Gl could potentially wreck the food bowl and the Victorian Government was not going to stand by and see that happen, particularly after the northern Victorian region had ‘‘done the heavy lifting’’ on water recovery.