Opinion

Basin pullout makes sense

by
February 17, 2018

Victoria’s Water Minister, Lisa Neville, has taken the fight to South Australia and the Greens this week, threatening to pull out of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan after NSW.

Victoria’s Water Minister, Lisa Neville, has taken the fight to South Australia and the Greens this week, threatening to pull out of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan after NSW.

This follows an astonishing move in the Senate this week, when the Greens and federal Labor effectively knocked back an adjustment to the plan — an adjustment recommended by the Murray-Darling Authority itself.

Let it be said that pulling out of the plan would be no bad thing, in our view. While it would theoretically allow the Federal Government to go into the market to buy as much water as it liked (the rationale used by former Victorian Water Minister Peter Walsh for signing up to the plan in the first place), there are constraints on that.

One is the ballot box. Another is the cap, and another is the environmental damage the Goulburn is suffering by moving too much water down the river at the wrong time of year.

While this week’s nonsense in Canberra had much to do with the South Australian election, it held real dangers for Victorian irrigators, as Labor’s Tony Burke negotiated with federal Water Minister David Littleproud to try and lock in the so-called ‘‘up water’’ of 450Gl, in exchange for agreeing to the 605Gl of ‘‘off-sets’’ for water-saving projects sought by the state.

This caused considerable alarm: Mr Littleproud has made unnerving remarks about ‘‘delivering the whole plan’’ without showing understanding of the socio-economic impacts.

Indeed, apart from Ms Neville and the State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed, irrigators have precious few friends in state and federal politics right now.

Barnaby Joyce, who as the former water minister, did understand the issues, is in the fight of his life politically as well as personally and looks unlikely to survive. And apart from a statement in parliament yesterday, Member for Murray Damian Drum has been largely missing in action on the plan.

We have pointed out before that the disgraceful waste of 1200Gl of water each year through evaporation on South Australia’s lower lakes was ‘‘off the table’’ during the negotiations.

And we have pointed out before that the plan’s proponents seek to turn back the effects of 120 years of river use in five. Without pausing to actually look at what is happening.

Everyone living along the river knows that it has largely recovered after the millennium drought, with several floods and wet years. Yet the so-called scientists keep saying the river will die and there has been no improvement.

This is demonstrably wrong. There has, and we can all see it.

In the end, we all want a healthy river. In our view, whatever water the river system needs to remain healthy it must have. Period.

But achieving this must be a nuanced and well-managed process that is evidence-based and brings the community along with it.

Otherwise we are better off without a plan. And if Ms Neville decides to go that way, we’ll be right behind her.

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