Australian Labor Party
too many years of neglect for the problems facing the Murray Darling Basin, the
Rudd Government is getting on with the job of reforming the Basin.
year the Prime Minister secured the agreement of Basin states to a new model of
Basin Governance. In particular, this agreement provides for the development
of a new Basin Plan and sustainable diversion limit on surface and ground water
resources, where the final decision rests with the Commonwealth Minister alone.
far-reaching reforms have also been accompanied by a commitment to invest in
better and more efficient irrigation water management and use, Basin-wide, as
well as the Rudd Government’s commitment to purchase water entitlements from
willing sellers to put back in the rivers and wetlands of the Basin.
first Communiqué of the new Murray Darling Basin Ministerial Council includes
'The key challenge of
the Basin Plan is to put the future of the Basin, its communities, and its
environmental values on a sustainable footing and that requires some tough
The Ministers were
united in the view that the process of adjusting to the new, lower sustainable
diversion limits expected in the new Basin Plan should start now and that the
combination of investments in irrigation efficiency and water purchase are key
to this adjustment process.'
model agreed by all Basin jurisdictions last year, as outlined in section 1 of
the Committee report, is most appropriate as we move forward.
assertion that the new Murray Darling Basin Authority lacks independence is
rejected. In his evidence, Authority CEO Mr Freeman told the Committee that,
in its planning role, the Authority is independent of Basin States.
Basin states agreed, in the national interest, that the final decision on the
Basin Plan is to be made by the Commonwealth Minister alone. In doing so,
Basin states agreed to cede their right to veto on such a decision that they
held under the previous governance model.
Basin Plan will be a comprehensive plan for the future management of all water
resources in the MDB, both surface and groundwater. All parties to the IGA
have affirmed the primacy of the Basin Plan in relation to the water resources
of the Basin.
senators reject the majority Committee recommendation 1, 1.37, that the
Commonwealth pursue a total takeover of Murray Darling Basin state and
territory government water management functions, and of associated legislation,
regulation, planning and institutional arrangements in the Basin. Government
senators also reject the majority Committee recommendation that, should this
takeover not be agreed by Basin states, the Commonwealth should pursue “other
options” to bring such a takeover into effect.
of Basin Plan and water sharing arrangements
is referred to above, it is highly significant that the final decision on the
Basin Plan and sustainable diversion limit on the Basin’s surface and ground
water resources now rests with the Commonwealth Minister alone.
the Basin Plan has come into effect, all jurisdictions must comply with the new
sustainable diversion limits for surface and ground water resources.
this in mind, many of the concerns expressed in evidence to the Committee in
relation to the new governance arrangements for the Basin are unfounded. In
any event, Government senators believe that the new arrangements must be given
the chance to work.
part of its development, the Basin Plan will of course require an extensive
process of consultation with Basin communities and stakeholder organisations.
Socio-economic factors must also be taken into account.
senators note the majority Committee view that transitional arrangements for
the Basin Plan, as detailed in the Water Act 2007, should be dispensed
with to ensure that the Basin Plan is brought into effect “at the earliest
possible opportunity”. The view of Government senators continues to be that
existing water sharing plans in the Basin should be allowed to run their
prospects for the management of Ramsar wetlands in the MDB
past management arrangements, both at Commonwealth and State level, have
impacted on the health and status of Ramsar wetlands across the Basin.
overallocation, and the failure of the previous Federal and state governments
to address the issue, is a key factor that has contributed to the problems now
faced by many of the Basin’s Ramsar listed wetlands.
addition, the current unprecedented drought affecting most of the Basin has to
be taken into account. In the southern Basin in particular, we have seen very
low inflows over many years, including the last three years which represent the
lowest ever 3 year period of inflows into the River Murray on record.
the extent that climate change has been a factor in this current extended
drought, climate change has also had an impact. Indeed, climate change
presents a significant continuing threat to many of the Basin’s Ramsar
wetlands, as it does to numerous other wetlands and floodplains across the
is most unreasonable to assert that the Rudd Government is somehow complicit in
any continuation of past mismanagement in relation to Ramsar sites around the
the contrary, the Australian Government is playing a very strong role in
various Ramsar-related initiatives that, collectively, are helping states in
the management of their Ramsar listed wetlands in accordance with the Ramsar
particular, the Australian Government has committed $3.1 billion to purchase
water from willing sellers in the Basin under a program now well underway.
Much of this water will be available to support improved watering for Ramsar
relation to the Lower Lakes and Coorong Ramsar site, it should also be noted
that this support includes a $200m commitment towards the development and
implementation of a plan to address the long-term environmental threats to the
Lower Lakes and Coorong Ramsar site, plus a further $10m towards expanding
bioremediation efforts to help address the risks of acidification.
senators support recommendation 4.41.
water in the MDB
deteriorating health of the rivers and wetlands of the Murray Darling Basin
represents compelling evidence of the historic over-allocation of the Basin’s
water resources, and of the failure of past Governments to tackle the issue.
This impact is amply demonstrated in the ‘Sustainable Rivers Audit’, completed
in 2008 for the former Murray Darling Basin Commission.
also impacts on the reliability of irrigation water entitlements.
in the southern Basin at least, it is now increasingly apparent that climate
change is a factor in the availability and reliability of water for both
consumptive and environmental needs,.
there is a compelling need to reduce diversion limits across the Basin to
sustainable levels, and to invest in water entitlements that can be used to
benefit the environment.
the nature and scale of the adjustment that needs to be made, there is also a
need to assist irrigation communities in making the transition between the
current Basin 'cap' on water use, and future sustainable diversion limits that
can be expected under the new Basin Plan.
Basin states are responsible for implementing the new Basin Plan and
sustainable diversion limits once existing water plans expire, the Australian
Government has decided that it would be irresponsible to leave this task entirely
to state governments. That’s why the Australian government has committed to
invest in bridging the gap between current and future limits on water use in
senators believe that best way to smooth the transition for irrigation regions
in adjusting to new lower limits on water use is to invest in both;
efficiency and productivity of irrigation water management and use, and
of water from willing sellers.
it takes longer to plan and build good irrigation infrastructure than it does
to buy water, the Australian Government is committed to doing both.
terms of timing, it would be irresponsible to delay investments in irrigation
efficiency and purchasing water from willing sellers, as this will reduce the benefits
from these programs on the ground, and increase the scale and pace of
adjustments required once the Basin Plan comes into effect.
these investments in both irrigation efficiency and water purchase, irrigators
and irrigation-dependent communities in the Basin will face a far more
difficult and far more abrupt cut in the future.
this way food security, and the need for a vibrant and profitable irrigation
sector in the Basin, are being appropriately protected through this unavoidable
date, the Australian Government has made substantial commitments in the future
of irrigation communities in the Basin as an integral part of this transition
process. These include:
billion committed to state priority projects in the Basin, which includes
provision for both on-farm and off-farm programs, and provision for private
irrigation infrastructure operators in both NSW and South Australia.
commitments towards the Wimmera Mallee Pipeline in Victoria, and to a major
$400m project in the Menindee Lakes, both of which will realise significant
water efficiency savings in the Basin.
further $300m has been committed to a new on-farm water efficiency program for
farmers in the southern connected Basin and the Lachlan valley; and
million committed to a new program to assist local councils in the Basin to
plan for a future with less water, and to invest in water saving initiatives.
Australian Government continues to work closely with state governments to
ensure that state government components of State Priority Project investments
roll-out as soon as soon as possible.
the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts and the
National Water Commission is developing a rigorous framework to monitor, on a
regional basis, the impacts of water reforms, including water purchases and
water infrastructure investments, as well as other market driven adjustment.
the Australian Government’s $3.1 billion to a program of accelerated purchase
of water entitlements, it must be noted that:
entitlements are only purchased from willing sellers, and
water entitlements are transferred to the Commonwealth Environmental Water
water available under these new environmental water entitlements is to be used
on the rivers and wetlands of the Basin. Management and use of the
Commonwealth’s environmental water is informed by the independent, expert
Environmental Watering Scientific Advisory Committee chaired by Professor Barry
addition, the Basin Plan, once completed, will include an environmental
watering plan that will further inform decisions by the CEWH on the use of
available environmental water.
has now been reached with Victoria that permits the Australian Government to
purchase 460 Gl of water entitlement from 2008/9 to 2012/13. This agreement
will also see a phased lifting of the 4% cap on trade.
the meantime, the Government will commission the Productivity Commission to
report on the relative merits of existing and alternative mechanisms to
relation to water trade, Government senators note the recommendation in the
majority Committee report that the Government should work towards achieving
nationally uniform water trading arrangements. Consistent with the
Government’s pre-election policy, work on a national water trading system and
register is already underway.
summary, given the need for an early adjustment to new sustainable diversion
limits under the Basin Plan, combined with the urgent need to deliver water to
high value environmental assets throughout the Basin, there can be no
justification for further delaying action on Basin reform. Very clearly,
delays arising from past inaction have contributed to the problems we now face,
and further delay would only exacerbate these problems.
Climate Change and the likely future availability of water in the Murray
growing body of evidence that lower rainfall and reduced runoff in the
south-east of Australia is linked to global warming can no longer be denied.
Nor can the harsh realities of this current extended drought. For example:
the majority of river valleys in the Southern Basin, inflows in recent years
have been at, or around, the worst case projections for 2030 by CSIRO.
recent dry autumn means that we have now had 9 consecutive autumns with below
average rainfall in the southern Basin.
the Basin, water allocations for irrigated agriculture have remained well below
average for some time.
relation to the CSIRO Sustainable Yields report, it needs to be emphasised that
CSIRO’s projections for 2030 provide estimates of future water availability for
consumptive uses under existing diversion rules. They do not take into
account further adjustments that may be required to address over-allocation and
river health, and to protect the reliability of irrigation water entitlements
Bill Young from CSIRO, and the MDB Authority CEO, Mr Rob Freeman, each gave
evidence to the Committee that emphasised this point.
current and future impacts of interception activities (such as forestry and
farm dams), combined with increased development of existing groundwater
entitlements, and the interactions between surface and groundwater resources,
also need to be taken into account in determining future sustainable diversion
should be noted that the MDBA, in developing the Basin Plan, may need to
undertake further work to test the veracity of the CSIRO’s Sustainable Yields
work, including its projections as they apply to the potential impacts of
climate change on groundwater resources, and on the implications of
interactions between surface and groundwater resources (including, in some
locations, a likely increase to the amount of leakage from rivers into
response to Rec. 11 in the Majority report, it should be noted that the Murray
Darling Basin Authority, in developing the Basin Plan, is required to take
account of socio economic factors. This is a requirement of the Water Act
Government funding for a new and expanded role for the Bureau of Meteorology
should also be noted. Under Water for the Future, the Bureau is
data and information collection and reporting across all states and
real time measurement of water resource availability and use, nationwide; and
of water resource forecasting capability.
addition, the Australian Government is also investing in improved hydrological
modelling capability through the e-Water CRC/CSIRO ‘WIRADA’ initiative.
these investments will provide Basin communities and water resource managers
with greater confidence in water resource availability than is currently
possible to provide.
water interception activities
developing the Basin Plan, the Murray Darling Basin Authority will be
considering the significance of unregulated water interception activities
across the Basin. In doing so, the Authority will naturally make use of the
best available knowledge on interceptions, (including existing knowledge and
work underway that has been commissioned by the National Water Commission), and
it is expected that additional work will be commissioned by the Authority as
required to fill any knowledge gaps.
this context, Government senators believe that there is sufficient investment
in this interceptions issue.
is also important to note that the Australian Government is actively investing
in improved management of overland flow harvesting. Specifically, the
Australian Government has committed $50 million to NSW, as part of the NSW
State Priority Project, towards (i) improved monitoring and management of
floodplain harvesting, and (ii) improved protection of floodplain ecosystems.
some in the community would argue that the pace of the Australian Government’s
Basin Reforms is too slow, others – including some Opposition senators – argue
that the pace is too fast.
senators believe that the Australian Government has got the balance right.
Australian Government recognises the urgency of the current water crisis in the
Basin, and does not believe that further delay on action such as investment in
irrigation efficiency and infrastructure, and purchase of water from willing
sellers, is warranted.
the scale of the adjustment that can be expected under the new Basin Plan and
sustainable diversion limits, the process of bridging the gap between current
and future diversion limits, through timely irrigation efficiency and water
purchase investments, is essential to smoothing this transition process.
given that very little happened in the years prior to the Rudd Government to
restore the balance between consumptive and environmental water needs and to
address the threat of climate change, to delay action any further would be
the process of developing a new Basin Plan cannot, and must not, be rushed. An
ill-informed plan, developed in the absence of best available science and
thorough consultation with Basin communities and stakeholders, would not be an
Senator Glenn Sterle
Australian Labor Party
Australian Labor Party
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