Senator Nick Xenophon
I commend my colleague, Senator John Madigan, for being the primary
driver of this inquiry being established – a review of the Murray Darling Basin
Plan is of course welcome – given the incredible importance of the basin to the
nation’s environmental health and economic wealth.
However, I cannot support many recommendations in the Chair’s report; in
particular recommendations 12, 13, 14 and 21 are most problematic.
The basin plan evolved across a number of years under both Coalition and
ALP Governments. It is not perfect, but the perfect should not be the enemy of
I am a strong supporter of farming communities in my home State of South
Australia. Those communities that rely on irrigation water from the Murray
deserve both certainty and a healthy river system from which to draw their
water. Environmental flows are essential to maintain the health of the river,
both in terms of salinity and blue green algae, for instance.
The recommendations in the Chair’s report that discuss moving barrages,
allowing ingress of salt water into the lake and an additional lock above lake
Alexandrina would have disastrous environmental and socials consequences for
the lower regions of the Murray.
I note the submission of Professor Mike Young of the University of
Adelaide to this Inquiry. He drew attention to the difference between “gross”
take and “net” water use. He stated in his submission:
Investment in measures that improve the efficiency of water
use makes sense IF AND ONLY IF this results in an increase in the “net”
efficiency of water use. In particular, full account needs to be the quantities
of water that following irrigation pass through a root zone to an aquifer
and/or drain back to a river.
There have recent developments in respect of the MDBP that ought to be
On 11 March 2016 the Murray Darling Basin Ministerial Council met in
Melbourne to discuss how to progress the implementation of the Basin Plan.
A core aspect to the plan is the sustainable diversion limit (SDL)
adjustment mechanism. The SDL adjustment mechanism is a key process for
improving the socio-economic and environmental outcomes of the Basin Plan.
During the meeting Ministers discussed the projects state governments are
developing to implement the Plan, including supply measures. These are measures
that deliver equivalent environmental outcomes using less water and are
commonly referred to as ‘down water’ projects.
The projects accepted under the plan are backed by science and by
protocols as to how that science is to be implemented. However, I understand
there are concerns some states are developing down water projects which they
claim will achieve environmentally equivalent outcomes, but these projects are
not adhering to the scientific basis and protocols previously agreed to.
It is particularly important for South Australia’s river system that
upstream states meet their end of the bargain when it comes to upholding the
Murray Darling Basin Plan. Each of the states that are party to the plan set these
rules. It was done so by consensus, based on the science and must not be
Finally, of course, the plan must be subject to regular and robust
scrutiny. However to undo the plan, as a number of the recommendations suggest,
would be retrograde step – destructive to both the farmers and the environment.
Senator Nick Xenophon
Independent Senator for South Australia
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