Water delivery focus

By Country News

Issues around deliverability of water in the Murray-Darling Basin will be peer-reviewed by an independent expert panel after a Victorian Government proposal was agreed to at the Ministerial Council in Canberra on Sunday.

Victoria proposed an independent panel to peer-review the Murray River Capacity Risks Project to learn from this season’s deliverability shortfalls and better understand risks to future water delivery. This will ensure both the environment and the rights of existing entitlement holders are protected.

Members of the panel and the terms of reference will be agreed to by the Commonwealth and all basin states — with a report due back at the next Ministerial Council meeting.

Victoria and NSW pressed for an investigation into the modelling of constraints in the rivers, but could not get universal agreement, so the two states will go it alone on this work.

Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville said the Ministerial Council had a united front on the critical importance of the agreed socio-economic criteria underpinning further water recovery — reiterating there would be no further buybacks unless it could be proven this would not negatively impact basin communities.

She said Victoria was on track to deliver its targets under the basin plan without further buybacks — which would force already high water prices up further and take vital water needed for farms out of our regions.

Other commitments secured by Ms Neville on key issues included an agreed collaborative response to the Productivity Commission report and agreements on greater community involvement in decisions made by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder to provide increased transparency.

‘‘I’ve seen first hand the impact high trade and high water flows this year had on the Goulburn River — which is why we need to get the balance right when it comes to protecting both the environment and existing water users,’’ Ms Neville said.

‘‘Victoria has already taken action to limit extraction but there is more to be done across the system, which is why I proposed this peer-review panel today to accelerate this critical work.’’

A new independent umpire will be appointed to police the Murray-Darling Basin, crack down on water theft and restore trust between states.

Federal Water Resources Minister David Littleproud said the independent umpire would have the power to investigate suspected water theft, as well as ensure that efficiency and recovery projects were delivered across the river system.

Northern Basin Commissioner and former federal police commissioner Mick Keelty will become the interim inspector-general until federal parliament passes legislation to create the role.