Murray-Darling ministers meet Thursday as Victoria pleads for more time
The Victorian government has told FlowNews24 that it needs more time beyond the Murray-Darling Basin Plan's 2024 deadline to reach its water recovery targets, insisting it will not flood farmers' properties without their consent.
The comments come in the lead-up to Thursday's Ministerial Council meeting of state and federal water ministers, with the upstream states of New South Wales and Victoria on a unity ticket needing more time to achieve water saving targets.
Conversely, the South Australian government and the federal government have indicated to FlowNews24 they want the deadline to stand - as the law currently requires. South Australia has previously flagged that buybacks may be required to reach water recovery targets, while the federal government has urged states to get on with recovering the water.
On Tuesday, the Victorian Farmers Federation's new chair of its Water Council, Andrew Leahy, called on the Commonwealth Government to provide certainty on how it intends to manage water-saving projects at risk of not being delivered by the 2024 deadline, saying in a statement:
“The offset projects have become a political football. The Commonwealth blames the States for being too slow, but the States understandably don’t want to pursue projects that are not accepted by - and will damage - farming communities.”
“The VFF estimates that by 2024 at least 7 of the 36 offset projects will not be achieved resulting in a 200 gigalitre (GL) plus shortfall.”
“We urge the states and the Commonwealth to discuss what realistically can be delivered by 2024 and how new projects can be delivered, whilst ensuring no water buybacks occur."
Mr Leahy speculated that New South Wales would cancel one major project:
“Some projects have not even been modelled whilst rumors are swirling that New South Wales will withdraw its proposed Menindee Lakes project due to community opposition.
“We know the constraint relaxation projects cannot be achieved because the community totally opposes their land being flooded. It is also very likely that the modelled environmental benefits of the constraints measures will not be achieved because of the reduction in water availability caused by climate change."
Mr Leahy noted the Commonwealth had made conflicting statements about what would happen in 2024:
“Consistent with the legislation, the Commonwealth has said in their 2014 water recovery strategy that they would buyback water to make up any shortfall.
"However, last year the Commonwealth promised no more buybacks. The Commonwealth is now unclear how they will deal with this shortfall and that provides farmers with little confidence and certainty.”
The Commonwealth has previously laid responsibility for shortfalls at the feet of state governments, but in a statement from a spokesperson, the Victorian government hit the ball back into the Commonwealth's court:
“Victoria has delivered all our obligations to date under the Basin Plan and is committed to continuing to deliver on Basin Plan outcomes. We are working hard on our projects that contribute to the 605 GL of offsets and fully expect 19 of the 22 we are involved in will enter operation by 2024.
“The Commonwealth needs to show flexibility around the 2024 deadline – as the Productivity Commission recommended. We don’t want to see any risk of buybacks. And we won’t ride roughshod over our communities to deliver projects without proper process.”