• Rikki Lambert

"There will be no more buybacks" - Water Minister after 'robust' MD Basin discussion

Federal Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia, Keith Pitt, has told FlowNews24 that Thursday's meeting of Murray-Darling Basin water ministers had a 'robust' discussion on progress on saving water, and reaffirmed his position that there would be no buybacks of water from farmers, should water recovery targets not be met by 2024.

Minister Pitt told FlowNews24 in a statement:

"I am on the record that there will be no more buybacks. I can’t be clearer than that.

The Ministerial Council met to discuss progress on the targets, with the sticking point from state ministers, farming and environmental groups being the additional water agreed for recovery over the Plan's original 2,750 gigalitre water recovery target. An offset of 605 gigalitres to water that was otherwise going to be recovered via buybacks from farmers is due to achieve those savings by the end of the Plan in 2024 through off-farm water efficiency measures.

The federal government abandoned on-farm water efficiency measures earlier this year in making a strong commitment that there would be no buybacks.

However, as previously raised by farming groups and the South Australian government on FlowNews24, should targets not be met by 2024, legally the commonwealth - regardless of previous commitments, or whether a different government is in office to the one that made a 'no buyback' commitment - will have to use buybacks to achieve that outcome.

With that hard deadline in mind, the Minister told FlowNews24 that Thursday's meeting had a 'robust discussion' about how to reach the targets on time:

"(the Ministerial Council) had a robust discussion about how to progress the SDL offset to make sure we can keep as much water in productive use as possible in the Murray–Darling Basin while ensuring healthy rivers.
"We agreed our efforts and focus must be to maximise the outcomes from the package of measures within the existing legislative framework.
"We need to remain flexible in our approach and look for innovative initiatives to assist with mitigating risk and get on with the task in front of us.

The flexibility cited by the Minister is the same that was sought in comments to FlowNews24 from the Victorian government, Victorian Farmers Federation and NSW Farmers.

VFF water chair Andrew Leahy told FlowNews24 that flexibility might need to extend to abandoning - and faltering - current water-saving proposals and finding others, like off-farm efficiency projects, to reach the targets instead.

Mr Leahy, like farming and community advocates before him, cited the negative socio-economic impact on regional communities that the previous round of buybacks had. Farms went out of business and farming families left districts unable to continue farming without a secure water supply.