State ministers reach stalemate over Murray-Darling Basin plan

A three-state ministerial council has been unable to break a political stalemate on the implementation of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

Ahead of the meeting, Basin Community Committee member Russell Pell was optimistic the discussion would be about “constructive ideas – not political grandstanding”.

But after the meeting, that’s exactly what NSW and Victoria’s water ministers accused their South Australian counterpart Ian Hunter of doing.

“Today South Australia pretty much tried to hold hostage, or blackmail, the NSW and Victorian communities,” Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville said.

The three ministers are at loggerheads over a plan to move 450 gigalitres of environment flows upstream to South Australia.

NSW Water Minister Niall Blair said communities would be “decimated” by the loss.

“We are not going to allow NSW communities to be held to ransom for political gain in South Australia,” he said.

“That’s what we’ve seen today, politics over policy, politics over the environment, politics over communities.”

A December 2017 review found farmers in the Goulburn Murray irrigation district were paying $20 million more per year for temporary water.

Farmer and Australian Dairy Industry Council chair Daryl Hoey said there were ongoing frustrations at the lack of progress on the plan.

Committee for Greater Shepparton’s Sam Birrell said the industries were reaching a tipping point.

“I worry five years down the track we’ll have a water crisis, a food crisis, industry struggling and what are we going to do about it?” Mr Birrell said. “Industry is under real threat.”

Albury major Kevin Mack said it was not good enough that South Australia was asking other states to “suck eggs” and adopt an unsustainable plan.

Councillor Mack said it was time for farmers, and those who represent them, to stand up for their industries.

“I can’t believe people in Canberra are making such ridiculous decisions … states need to step up and say ‘Enough is enough’,” he said.

“The [Murray Darling Basin Association] and ministers need to get their stuff sorted, it’s getting ridiculous.”

Mr Hunter said meetings would now be occurring “offline” between individual states rather than as a group.

He asked all federal ministers from South Australia to support a disallowance motion to prevent previously agreed upon points passing until the issue had been resolved.

“Today just confirmed our deep suspicion that NSW and Victoria never planned to deliver on the 450 gigalitres plan,” he said.

“They only wanted the down-water requirements.”

The Border Mail

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