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  • Rikki Lambert

Buyback biteback - war of words erupts in SA before Basin ministers' meeting

In April Susan Close (second from right) and federal Labor made the Murray a focal point in marginal Boothby

The South Australian government is calling for the state opposition to come on board their voluntary buyback policy, but one SA Liberal isn't having a bar of it.

The Murray Darling Basin ministers meet on Friday and the Malinauskas government's water minister Susan Close called upon the state Liberals to support buying more water from South Australian farmers:

"Look. Unfortunately, Anne Ruston, although a very pleasant woman when I meet her face to face, is (was) a part of the Barnaby Joyce - Scott Morrison government that spent nine years completely failing to deliver the Murray Darling Basin Plan, taking efficiency schemes on-farm off the table, putting a cap on voluntary buyback so that people could not - they can sell the their water to a foreign entity, but they can't sell it to the Commonwealth environmental water holder.
"The vast majority of the water that's come down into the Murray Darling Basin, through the Murray Darling Basin Plan, has been delivered through voluntary buybacks. We've had a Royal commission look at it. They have not found that that has caused problems."

Former assistant minister for water resources and River Murray irrigator, SA Liberal senator Anne Ruston said the minister was being ignorant:

"I want to call on the Premier of South Australia to have a think about who his water minister is. If. His water minister is making such extraordinary ignorant comments as to say that buybacks haven't hurt the river community. She clearly hasn't done her homework.
"When I lived through the buybacks as an irrigator in the Riverland, the devastation to our community of the Swiss cheese approach of one property not having water and the next one having water, it was completely devastating. It took us years to recover from it.
"And then for the Minister to make such a ridiculous comment that buybacks haven't hurt river communities, I mean, I think it's an absolute disgrace. "

Minister Close was undeterred, pressing the case for a way voluntary buybacks could be rolled out to minimise adverse impacts on local primary production and communities:

"Anne, unfortunately, sort of refers to the idea if you take all of one irrigator's water, that's not the best way to design a scheme. That's not one I'd support. The best way is to encourage partial sale of the water in order to generate efficiency, but to maintain productivity. We can do this if we want to do this, but when we have different voices, it just serves the interests of the states that don't want to give add more water to the environment to make it a healthy Murray-Darling."

Whilst the SA government is calling for a united front on water, the Victorian government and opposition are united in their opposition to further buybacks from irrigators. In New South Wales, the Coalition government are opposed whereas the NSW Labor opposition say they don't want buybacks either, but support retaining them as a last resort.

Hear the full interview with Dr Susan Close on the Flow podcast player below, and with senator Anne Ruston here:


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