Push to get on with basin plan

Push to get on with Murray-Darling Basin Plan

Politics
KEEP GOING: Riverland irrigator Ben Haslett said the state government needed to get on with implementing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, but should monitor progress carefully and adjust where needed.

KEEP GOING: Riverland irrigator Ben Haslett said the state government needed to get on with implementing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, but should monitor progress carefully and adjust where needed.

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THE state government response to the SA Royal Commission into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan has failed to instill confidence within the irrigation community.

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THE state government's recent response to the SA Royal Commission into the Murray-Darling Basin Plan - eight months after the final report was released - has failed to instill confidence within the irrigation community.

Some have said the government's list of priorities were only a "rehash" of past promises, while others are concerned the rhetoric only "parrots" the agendas of the eastern states.

On Thursday last week, Premier Steven Marshall said the response was a "considered assessment" of the RC's recommendations, which were released in January, alongside the recommendations of the Productivity Commission's Murray-Darling Basin Plan: Five-year assessment.

Of the 82 recommendations from both reports, the SA government said it either fully or partially supported 66 and was against 10, with a further six deemed not applicable to the state government or requiring further consideration.

It disagreed with any recommendations that either delayed the plan or focused on additional water recovered through immediate forced buybacks, while it has set priorities on compliance and leadership; sustainability; recovery and efficiency; climate change; transparency; and Aboriginal engagement.

SA Murray Irrigators chair Caren Martin said the priorities only really toed the federal line.

"But no one wants to unwind the plan in the absence of anything better," she said.

Mrs Martin said there were wins for SA in the plan, but agreed it still needed tweaking.

"The northern basin needs to be added into the system - but that has to happen at a federal level," she said.

"Unfortunately political interests are getting involved and are legitimising floodplain harvesting into private storage dams that are cutting the headwaters off.

"Floods in the Darling River once provided a big part of SA's environmental flows, that hasn't happened for a long time, and the governments continue to negotiate the Darling River out of the system.

"This only adds further pressure to the southern connected system.

"The basin plan will never be correct for as long as they continue along that path."

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Mrs Martin said she took solace that SA irrigators were already 97 per cent compliant.

"SA water is 100pc metered and our irrigators hit reporting milestones, so we are already in a good position when it comes to compliance," she said.

But the government should keep voluntary buybacks as an option, she said.

"I am not sure why the government would restrict their options," she said.

Opposition water spokesperson Susan Close disagreed with the government's stance on buybacks.

"Saying they don't want buybacks misrepresents them to being compulsory, when they have only ever been proposed to be voluntary," she said.

"The government is just parroting the eastern states' argument that 'buybacks, whether voluntary or compulsory, are the death of communities'.

"It is the most efficient way to regain water, and the most fair on the people that own the water rights. If there is a willing seller, why can't they sell their water?

"Why would our state government argue against buying eastern states water to help SA's environment?

As far as I can see, the government have decided to defend Canberra and the poor decisions of a junior minister instead of defending the river. - SUSAN CLOSE

"As far as I can see, the government have decided to defend Canberra and the poor decisions of a junior minister instead of defending the river."

Ms Close was concerned the government was pretending everything was fine.

"NSW and Vic have said for a long time they don't want to send us environmental water," she said.

"They have now initiated a review outside the ministerial council to look at whether they have the capacity to send us the 450 gigalitres of upwater. I feel they are preparing to say that they can't.

"We need a united and strong SA voice that is prepared to do whatever is required, including going to the High Court, to insist on our water rights."

Renmark Irrigation Trust presiding member Peter Duggin agreed the government response was "safe and sensible - given how highly politicised the issue is".

"The priorities are similar to what they have been saying for a long time," he said.

"But there is only so much you can do with a state RC, when you don't have the powers of a federal RC."

Mr Duggin remained dubious about the 605GL expected to be gained from infrastructure projects as part of the plan.

"If those environmental constraints don't result in an extra 605GL back into the system, then that water shortfall has to be taken from irrigation communities," he said.

"The last thing any of the states need is the 'feds' to start forced buybacks.

"But pausing the plan won't fix the drought in NSW and Qld. They need rain and a working river so they need to get on with the plan."

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Mr Duggin said the upcoming season was of particular concern as irrigators were presently "mining last winter's water".

"There has been minimal inflows this winter, and anything that has come in is being allocated out straight away," he said.

"That's all above board, but the cupboard may be bare next year.

"In SA, that is of major concern as we are mainly permanent plantings and you can't put them on hold."

Riverland irrigator Ben Haslett, Woolenook Fruits, Murtho, agreed government needed to get on with implementing the plan.

"A large amount of time, research and money was invested into forming a plan, we just need to get on with it," he said.

"It is not perfect and there may be some perverse outcomes, but that is why we need to monitor carefully and adjust where needed - not constantly trying to shift the main goal posts or threatening to throw it out.

"Ultimately, we need a healthy, working river. This requires a balance between production and the environment, sensitivity to communities whose livelihoods depend on it and long-term leadership from industry and government."

Mr Marshall reiterated the SA government wanted to "stick with the plan" and deliver the full 3200GL back to the river.

"We don't see logic in throwing the plan out, it's not in the best interests of SA ... but much more work needs to be done," he said.

"It is good that the rest of the country has agreed to an independent umpire to ensure every jurisdiction is abiding by the plan."

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