Ryan urges Littleproud to introduce successful motions into parliament

By Rodney Woods

Victorian Shadow Water Minister Steph Ryan has urged Federal Water Minister David Littleproud to introduce the National Party's new approach to Murray-Darling Basin Plan policy into parliament as soon as possible.

At the National Party's Federal Council, held in Canberra on September 14, Ms Ryan presented a motion calling on the council to strongly oppose the recovery of the 450Gl of 'up-water' under the basin plan, which was passed.

“It is impossible to see how recovering the 450 gigalitres of water can be achieved without causing further harm to our irrigation communities,” Ms Ryan said.

Federal Water Minister, and Nationals' Member for Maranoa, David Littleproud spoke against the 450Gl motion, explaining to Country News why he did.

“This shows why it was so important we protected basin communities with a socio-economic neutrality test for the recovery of the additional water,” he said.

“All basin governments including Victoria and NSW agreed to the test, which stops any water recovery going ahead unless it demonstrates it will in no way hurt basin communities.

Federal Member for Nicholls Damian Drum called the motion on the 450Gl "interesting".

“The 450 gigalitres was an interesting motion because we have done work securing that 450 (Gl) when we were able to get a new definition for the neutrality test in December 2018,” he said.

“We effectively know that water won’t come from irrigators' water - it won't come from the consumptive pool.

“While there are small amounts of that water that need to be recovered, we need to push the reality that it will be impossible to deliver the 450 (Gl) anyway.

“I think it was a good motion for the Nationals to push and there was heated debate especially coming from the South Australians and it was passed with a narrow majority.”

NSW Member for Murray Helen Dalton said it was no coincidence the passed motion happened soon after the rally in Tocumwal and that it showed that people power could make a huge difference.

The council also passed Ms Ryan's other motion, calling for 300Gl of environmental water to be traded onto the market to assist drought-affected farmers in Victoria and NSW.

“The argument that I was making is that our irrigators are at breaking point,” she said.

“John Howard said in 2007 ... that environmental water would be made available in dry years and if the current conditions don’t qualify, I don’t know what will.

“That is what we are calling for.”

Mr Drum said he was working with his federal counterparts to determine a way to change powers around the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder.

“The other motion in relation to the 300 gigalitres released by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder was passed clearly on the voices,” he said.

“My job now is to work out how we can change the powers that currently exist around who can direct the environmental water holder to return 300 gigalitres back to agriculture in times of drought.”

When asked whether it was embarrassing that Federal Water Minister David Littleproud spoke against the 450Gl motion, Ms Ryan said it was time Mr Littleproud listened to irrigators.

“The important thing from my perspective was to take a strong case to Canberra to make sure irrigators' voices are heard,” she said.

“We want urgent action and we are strongly urging the water minster to listen to those concerns.”

The council also passed motions on a review into the sciences behind the Lower Lakes and its freshwater status as well as making sure water was used for production and not corporate profits.

When asked whether the motions passed were now party policy, Mr Littleproud said “motions put forward at Federal Council will now be considered by the parliamentary party.”