VICTORIA is demanding Murray Darling Basin state water ministers meet as soon as possible, as tensions over the basin plan erupt once more.
South Australian Water Minister Ian Hunter this week withdrew his state’s support for a package of water-saving projects vital to reducing the amount of irrigation water sacrificed from Victoria and NSW.
Mr Hunter is also calling on federal Parliament to back a Greens-led disallowance motion to stop changes to water recovery in the basin’s north.
Federal assistant minister Anne Ruston has slammed SA for “trying to hold the plan hostage” in what she described as a desperate political stunt.
Basin state and federal ministers were due to meet today and tomorrow, in what would have been their first meeting since allegations of water theft and corruption in NSW were revealed in July.
But the Federal Government postponed that meeting earlier this month because Queensland was unable to attend as it was in caretaker mode ahead of its state election this weekend.
Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville told The Weekly Times the Victorian Government was “very disappointed” the meeting had been cancelled.
“We’ve been calling for an early ministerial council meeting to consider the allegations raised on Four Corners,” she said.
“The Commonwealth needs to reschedule this meeting as soon as possible to ensure community confidence in the plan is not further eroded.”
SOUTH AUSTRALIA PULLS SUPPORT FOR WATER-SAVING PROJECTS
Ministers were expected to discuss the Murray Darling Basin Authority’s draft proposals that would effectively reduce the amount of water to be taken out of the southern basin by about 605GL.
All ministers agreed to a package of projects to achieve that reduction at their last meeting in June, prompting the MDBA to finish its modelling and undertake public consultation on the proposal.
The MDBA will be providing amendments to the federal water minister by December 15, to put that 605GL change into law.
While Victoria and NSW are keen to get the changes dealt with as soon as possible, Mr Hunter this week withdrew SA’s support for any changes to the plan “until integrity in its delivery can be assured”.
Mr Hunter wants a Royal Commission into the allegations of water theft and corruption in NSW, and agreement an extra 450GL in environmental water for SA still in contention will be delivered. He also wants Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to separate the federal agriculture and water portfolios.
“South Australians have lost all confidence in Mr Turnbull’s ability to deliver the Murray Darling Basin Plan on time and in full,” Mr Hunter said.
Federal Assistant for Agriculture and Water Anne Ruston said the Federal Government had been negotiating in good faith with SA and all basin states, and was committed to delivering the basin plan in full.
“I had not questioned the commitment of the Labor government of South Australia — the state which stands to benefit the most from the Basin Plan — until now,” she said.
NORTHERN BASIN CHANGES UNDER THREAT
Mr Hunter has also called on senators to back a Greens’ bid to shut down changes to the basin plan already before federal Parliament.
Senator Ruston this month tabled amendments to reduce water recovery in the northern basin by 70GL, which had also been agreed to by all basin states.
In response, SA Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young last week tabled a motion to disallow the changes. With just two sitting weeks remaining for 2017, it is unlikely to be dealt with this year.
Ms Hanson-Young said she had written to Labor and the crossbench asking for their support.
“The Government cannot be trusted to manage this water crisis and cannot be trusted to make changes to the already undermined Murray Darling Basin Plan,” she said.