Threats to walk away from the Basin Plan sensibly didn’t come to pass and there was progress down the path of addressing key recommendations from the Productivity Commission, perhaps better outcomes than might have been expected – says National Irrigators Council (NIC) CEO, Steve Whan.

Steve Whan said “the one thing that is abundantly clear from this latest water ministers meeting is just how difficult the remaining aspects of the Basin Plan are.

“It’s a point we have been making now for several years, right through our submissions to the Productivity Commission’s five-year review and beyond.

“Achieving the 605GL of equivalent benefit from supply measures projects, is absolutely critical and we have been urging states to take seriously their obligations in this task, and accept the clear point from the Commission, that the projects were not on track.

“The commitment to that 605GL from SDLAM projects from Ministers is welcome but particularly welcome is the recognition that time frames may need to be extended and flexibility allowed.  We can’t afford to have a hard 2024 deadline that sees Government buying more water from irrigators.

“At the same time NIC can understand that the Federal Government wants to see progress.  So do we.

“NIC notes the report NSW and Victoria have provided on constraints removal.  That also supports the Commission’s points about the realistic prospects of delivering these projects.  It is clear that a lot more work needs to be done and it is fundamentally up to the State Governments to do it.

“It is also very clear that far more work is needed to build the case, to show how they link to environmental outcomes and if there are other benefits. The constraints projects have had a lot of negative reaction, but they remain core to achieving several elements of the Basin Plan, and also quite probably a key issue in reducing environmental damage to the upper Murray and its tributaries.

“We have always been concerned about objectives being defined as flows rather than environmental outcomes.  This concern also applies to the so called ‘up-water’, the 450GL that NSW and Victoria have again indicated is problematic at this meeting.  NIC strongly agrees with the original proviso on this water, that it must not have negative community impacts.

“The 450GL is supposed to deliver a suite of additional environmental outcomes in South Australia.  It’s time to be more flexible in looking at how those outcomes can be achieved.

“It is disappointing that most of the States did not want to back the Inspector General’s investigation into changing inflows.  I understand each Minister wanting to protect their own State’s share but refusing to even consider new information seems a little narrow.

“The Inspector General’s core role on compliance does however seem to have been supported.  There may be room to provide education about what that role is, given it seems to have been completely misunderstood by one, so called, ‘research’ body in the Australia Institute.

“This meeting has taken place in the midst of the worst drought on record in the Murray Darling Basin, and it’s no wonder that massive challenge is making the world’s most ambitious river reform more difficult.

“The Plan was never able to solve drought.  It can only help build resilience, and many reviews show that is already what it is doing. We can see it in many sites along the rivers but most notably, as Minister Pavey pointed out yesterday, at the lower lakes – dry with no flow during the millennium drought, yet full with water flowing out the Murray mouth in this drought – 100% because of the water recovered for the Basin Plan.

“Let’s not forget that this is a triple bottom line Plan.  It is supposed to ensure that Basin irrigators can continue to grow our vegetables, fruit, nuts, rice, cotton, dairy and wine, and in doing so, keep jobs and population in Basin communities.

“It’s a tough balance and irrigators appreciate the support of Ministers in trying to achieve it.”

Media Contact:  Steve Whan 0429 780 883
Wednesday 18 December 2019