In a move that didn’t please some of their Liberal Party Coalition partners – more accurately it infuriated them − the Nationals last week moved amendments to the Murray Darling Basin Plan in the Senate, and then in the House of Representatives.

The move was thwarted in the Senate when it was voted down by all other Senators – Liberal, Labor, Greens and independent, who joined forces to condemn the move.

The Liberals were apparently shocked when four Nationals backbenchers, led by Bridget McKenzie, attempted to amend a water bill to fix the Basin plan.

If adopted, the amendment would have seen the abolition of a legislated commitment for South Australia to be given another 450 gigalitres of water, abolish water buy backs, enable new ‘offset projects’ to save water, and forbid any additional water to be taken for environmental flows after the plan ended in 2024.

“For too long our Basin communities have been hurting, the science is now telling us the approach adopted 12 years ago is outdated and the plan must change,” Senator McKenzie said.

Last year, National Party basin MP’s, Anne Webster, Damian Drum together with Senator Perin Davey, put forward water amendments in an attempt to address basin communities concerns about water availability during the drought.

Since then they have been looking for an opportunity to amend both the Water Act and the Basin Plan Act.

The group said that the Inspector General legislation provided the rare opportunity to achieve what the basin communities have sort for so long.

“For too long our Basin communities have been hurting, the science is now telling us the approach adopted 12 years ago is outdated and the Plan must change,” Senator Bridget McKenzie said.

The National Party are proposing four key amendments to the Water Act (2007) and Basin Plan Act (2012).
1. Remove 450GL up water
2. Remove buy backs
3. Enable new offset projects, and,
4. No further water to be taken when the Basin Plan concludes in 2024.

The amendments will see the removal of the controversial 450 gigalitres (GL) that Federal Labor hastily added to the Plan in 2012 to get South Australia to sign up, but the 450GL was never guaranteed.

The amendments would ensure that no recommendation can be put forward in the Basin Plan review requiring additional water for the environment.

“We all need to live and adjust to a world with less water, including the environment – while we need to protect the environment we also need to protect our food security,” Senator McKenzie said.

Following the events in Canberra, Member for Mallee Anne Webster told the ‘Weekly that the amendments were about ensuring stability in the plan and the sustainability of water flow into the future.

“Our farmers have had buy backs occur under the plan and it has created a ‘patchwork quilt’ effect on farming properties throughout the Murray Darling Basin, and has significant ongoing effects into our communities and small businesses as farmers leave the land after selling their water to the government,” she said.

“Already under the plan, 2100 gigalitres has been taken out through buy backs and no more can afford to be taken out – it is just decimating our agricultural and horticultural industry.
“It was agreed that the 450GL wouldn’t come out if the social and economic impact was going to disadvantage the basin communities. And it has been agreed that it will always be disadvantage and the 450GL won’t come out.
“However it needs to be legislated, because there is nothing stopping Labor coming in and saying they want to take it one day in the future. That is a concern that makes our farmer anxious and we wanted to address this anomaly and deliver certainty.”

Nationals Member for Nicholls, Damian Drum said that simply pushing more water down into South Australia needed to be rethought.

“There is more to the environmental health of our river system than just pushing more fresh water downstream, science is telling us the Lower Lakes in South Australia need a significant re-think,” he said.

The Nationals believe the next major step required to protect the environment is delivering environmental complementary measure projects rather than destroying rural communities by taking more water.

Background to the MDBP:
• The Basin Plan was passed in legislation in 2012 to be implemented over 12 years to 2024 with a 2750 gigalitre (GL) water recovery for the environment;
• A total of $13 billion was allocated to be spent over 12 years by 2024
• On top of the 2750GL, a political deal with South Australia saw an additional 450GL be secured for the environment providing no negative socio-economic impacts, taking the total environmental water recovery to 3200GL.
• The water recoveries are divided between the Northern and Southern Basin with the Northern Basin delivering 320GL and the Southern Basin delivering 2430GL.

Cupper’s call on
the issue…

Meanwhile Member for Mildura Ali Cupper has weighed in on the issue saying that the National Party frames this as a community versus environment issue.
“This is a false choice. If the river dies, our communities die. It’s that simple,” Ms Cupper said.

“The Nats’ claim their proposal is what regional communities want. But who wants to sacrifice the next generation?
To jeopardise their futures in farming? And to risk the destruction of a mighty river system that feeds millions of Australians?”

Ms Cupper said that the original 2750GL that the Murray Darling Basin Plan (MDBP) sought to recover from the environment was always a lower end compromise, and did not take full account of the impact of climate change.

“Since being elected, I have advocated for a moratorium on new plantings to contain competition and give our family farmers a fighting chance at staying in the game,” Ms Cupper said.

“Water Minister Lisa Neville listened and acted. I’ve also been arguing strongly for an end to the illegal and unconscionable practice of floodplain harvesting which, if tackled properly, could recover at least the 450GL that the National Party seek to have struck from the MDBP and avoid further buy-backs.”

Ms Cupper added that the proposals by the National Party are aimed at short term gains.

“But what about the long term? And I’m not talking 100 years from now, I’m talking 10 years,” she said.

“These measures will ultimately lead to further scarcity of water, which will lead to increased competition in an already crowded water market.
“The end result will be that our family farmers will be priced out of the market and only the deep-pocketed corporates will survive. The impact on our social fabric would be devastating.”