• Rikki Lambert

Time for Murray-Darling Plan B crisis talks as 2024 failure looms: irrigator spokesman

A spokesman for Goulburn Murray Water Irrigation District has told FlowNews24 there is a 'policy dissonance' between water recovery targets by 2024 in the Murray-Darling Basin, and current policy settings that make that outcome virtually impossible in that time-frame.

David McKenzie, co-chair of GMWID's Water Forum, says it's time for the Liberals, Nationals, Labor, the Greens and others to be talking about Plan B: what to do if the water recovery targets are not met by 2024.


However, federal Water Minister Keith Pitt told FlowNews24 in a statement that there was plenty of time to reach the targets:

We still have over three years to achieve the water recovery target under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and it’s past time that all Basin governments and stakeholders focus on what they can do, rather than tell Australians what can’t do.
This month I announced I am closing the WEP [Water Efficiency Program], which has not achieved what it was intended to.
Instead, I am diverting close to $1.5 billion to focus on off-farm water efficiency programs, which I expect will lead to much greater savings.
This is a significant investment to achieve the targets and I call on governments and stakeholders to work cooperatively.
Buybacks will not be a part of future efforts to recover water under the Plan.

New South Wales Labor shadow minister for water, Clayton Barr, told FlowNews24 the concerns over the 2024 deadline was the latest in a number of timelines and targets not met by the NSW government in the water portfolio, due in part to under-resourcing staffing:

"Any failure to meet the 2024 deadline is a symptom of this Government making rash and ill-conceived decisions on projects. In essence, they want to recover fresh air and call it a water recovery and the NSW ICAC has recently defined their approach to Water as unlawful and contrary to the Water Management Act.
"The entire foundation of the Murray Darling Basin Plan is the environment, and flowing rivers to support the environment. This Government have shown time and time again, Minister after Minister, that they simply don’t have the capacity to deliver on that priority environmental outcome.
"Buybacks should be an option in any market based approach. I have personally spoken to farmers who would like to be able to negotiate a buyback, but they are prevented from doing this because of political ideology that tells landholders that they can’t. These farmers describe themselves as having their business model killed off, with death by one-thousand cuts to their water supply as each water policy, regulation and decision is made.

Whoever forms government after the next federal election - due later this year - has the legal capacity to buyback water from farmers. Regardless of the Coalition's policy declaration it will no longer pursue buybacks, Mr McKenzie says the law still allows buybacks - and that law is unlikely to be changed with the senate composed as it currently is.


Without a contingency plan B, Mr McKenzie warns there's looming uncertainty that will affect irrigation investment over coming years:

"That's just leaving irrigation dependent regional areas in a great state of uncertainty really - taking the regions to the edge of the cliff without a really laid out contingency or plan B."

FlowNews24 has asked the federal government what its plans are for the concluding year of the Plan and has not yet received a response.


The South Australian Liberal government water Minister, David Speirs, told FlowNews24 in a statement:

“There’s been more action around the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in recent months than ever before including significant progress on 150GL (gigalitres) worth of projects towards the 450GL of environmental water.
“I just want to see each Basin jurisdiction get on with delivering what’s already been agreed for the good of the river and the communities that rely on it.
“I have made it clear that I believe the 450GL can and should be delivered via efficiency projects, however, buybacks would be needed as a last resort.”

Other stakeholders are being approached for comment.