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  • Rikki Lambert

Labor's 450 gigalitre Murray-Darling pledge all about buybacks: Ley

Environment Minister Sussan Ley said on Wednesday that Labor's pledge to deliver 450GL more water to South Australia under the Murray Darling Basin Plan was 100 per cent reliant on buying that water back from farmers.

Speaking on Flow, Ms Ley - the member for Farrer in south-western New South Wales - sought to contrast Labor's position with a Coalition policy supporting the recovery of the water, so long as it had no adverse social, economic and environmental impacts in the Basin.

"Everyone knows that the 450 gigs promised under Labor is simply a buyback - it simply can't be done any other way.
"We as a Coalition understand the 450 gigs but we've got tight controls around it which means it has to socially and economically acceptable to individuals and to communities and it can't take them backwards and that's so different from Labor's buy-back policy.
"Every single time [water minister Keith Pitt] has said no more buy-backs and every single time I think the people listening have felt that confident, so don't worry we will stand by that, no more buy-backs."

Standing alongside federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese on 8 April in Adelaide, newly elected South Australian Labor premier Peter Malinauskas said:

"... an agreement was ultimately reached to deliver South Australia 450 extra gigalitres of Murray water flowing through in environmental flows. Since that 450 gigalitres was promised, we've seen two gigalitres come. Two gigalitres out of 450 that we were promised, that we know that the federal Coalition and the Liberal Party in South Australia have actively denied the river. Now, when rivers don't have environmental flows, they start to break down. We see the river dying from the bottom up, we cannot allow that to occur, which is why we desperately need in South Australia, a partner in the federal government."

Mr Albanese responded at the media event in the metropolitan Adelaide marginal seat of Boothby held by the Liberals that the Morrison-Joyce Coalition government was:

"...a government that is all talk no action, a government that simply is held back by the National Party, by Barnaby Joyce and those forces upstream that don't want the water to flow here to South Australia, and it is so self defeating. Because if you don't have those environmental flows, the system will die. That is why it is so important for South Australia that we deliver on the 450 gigalitres, and that is precisely what federal Labor will do."

Ms Ley said Labor's track record on the Basin Plan left some scar tissue in her electorate:

"The first Basin plan was all about recovering water; much of that was done under Labor and it was devastating to rural communities. "For example, the Murray irrigation area where I am now and towards Corowa and quite close to Albury, we lost 20 per cent of our water and that was unacceptable. "The next Basin plan, which is due to start in 2024, has to be about delivering water better, recognising the value that irrigated agriculture creates, the value it creates for all of us locally but also for the nation as a whole."

Hear the full interview with Sussan Ley on the Flow podcast player below:

Federal Labor has been contacted to respond to Ms Ley's comments.

The Victorian Farmers Federation's Water council chair Andrew Leahy said later on the day of Labor's announcement about the 450GL at its 8 April media event in suburban Adelaide:

“The recovery of the 450GL up-water target was never guaranteed in legislation and was always subject to socio-economic neutrality. This was later reaffirmed with the socio-economic test that was unanimously agreed by Basin state and federal governments at the 2018 Ministerial Council meeting. The 450GL can only be recovered if there are no negative social economic outcomes.
“The science is now telling us the health of the environment in South Australia has improved significantly since the millennium drought. The environment is receiving 2,100GL of additional water but Federal Labor is ignoring these gains and just wants more water to sure-up city votes at the expense of regional communities.”

Independent member for Murray in the NSW state parliament, Helen Dalton, said on Monday 11 April that federal Labor’s pledge to return an extra 450 gigalitres of water to South Australia was a hollow election promise that won’t ever be delivered:

“Anthony Albanese is desperate to win the marginal South Australian seat of Boothby. So he’s made a big promise to give more water to the South Australians,” Mrs Dalton said.
“But in order to do deliver this promise, he needs the agreement of the states. His Victorian Labor counterparts have already comprehensively rejected his election pledge.”

Environment Minister Ley said recent achievements under the Basin Plan had illustrated how water delivery could tick multiple boxes:

"I'm optimistic we can also partner with the environment, as we have done in some of our areas by using environmental water to help deliver agricultural water and therefore providing revenue to the irrigation service but also saving on the cost of conveyance of that water. "So there's some good partnerships that work both for agriculture and the environment."


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