Buybacks on the table

author avatar
Federal Government members are urging their party to re-introduce water buybacks. Photo by Geoff Adams

Federal Government MPs have again raised the spectre of water buybacks from the consumptive pool to achieve environmental targets for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

The push has also arisen while South Australian MPs are insisting that only minor gains have been made so far under the plan.

The debate has been complicated by the release of a water report which found that there was no prospect of achieving the 450 Gl of extra water under the plan.

The issue has been raised several times in parliament, including a question by new Federal Member for Nicholls Sam Birrell, who unsuccessfully sought an answer from Federal Water Minister Tanya Plibersek.

Former water minister and ALP Senator for South Australia, Penny Wong, recalled that when she was water minister the government had purchased “a lot” of water which angered the National Party.

“How angry they were that we actually bought water for the environment from willing sellers,” Senator Wong told parliament.

“Oh my goodness. Isn't it dreadful to use the market to deliver an environmental and social outcome. It's a dreadful thing, isn’t it?”

Senator Wong said, in the search for 450 Gl of water, nothing was off the table, including voluntary buybacks, “because it is clear that the approach that was taken on the other side did not work”.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, also from South Australia, said she was pleased to hear that buybacks were on the table, because “it is clear from the government’s own report that this is the only way 450 Gl will be returned to the river”.

“Get out there now and start buying the water,” Senator Hanson Young said.

Mr Birrell quoted the water minister as saying: ‘‘I will be tabling (a) report that shows that they were never going to achieve the 450 Gl — never meant to, never wanted to and never would have’’.

“On this she is right,” Mr Birrell said.

“There is a very good reason why the additional 450 Gl was not going to be achieved under the previous Liberal Nationals government, because we refused to inflict further social and economic pain on basin communities.

“Water Minister Tanya Plibersek had an opportunity to support basin communities by committing to only recovering the 450 Gl based on an agreed neutrality test that basin communities would not be worse off, but she refused.”