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Politics drives Basin Plan to the brink

In an extraordinary week for Federal water policy, the Greens and Labor have aligned on a plan which threatens to unravel the historic Murray Darling Basin Plan.

The Federal Labor Party ignored calls for bipartisanship on Tuesday, instead announcing it would back a motion by The Greens to quash amendments to the Basin Plan.

The Basin Plan amendments in question follow a four-year review – slated at the outset of the Plan – of measures in the Northern Basin. The Northern Basin Review concluded that buybacks should be reduced by 70 gigalitres, and so-called ‘toolkit measures’ be introduced to provide comparable environmental gains.

These amendments are estimated to save 180 jobs across the towns and cities of the Northern Basin.

Periodic review and adjustment was always central to the Basin Plan
Tony Mahar, Chief Executive, National Farmers' Federation

Responding to the news this week, the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) labelled the motion’s chief proponent – Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young – as irresponsible and ill-informed.

“Periodic review and adjustment was always central to the Basin Plan,” said NFF Chief Executive, Tony Mahar.

“It was agreed to at a time when we didn’t know enough about the science of the Northern Basin.

"This reckless action by Senator Hanson-Young threatens to unwind the significant environmental achievements of the Plan to date. In fact, the motion would result in one less environmental target being met under the Plan.”

MDBA defends its approach

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority also took the unusual step of defending its findings, with Chief Executive Phillip Glyde reiterating the science and evidence underpinning the amendments.

“The MDBA made this recommendation because we identified that the environmental benefits sought through the Basin Plan could be delivered with 70 GL less water recovery—while saving about 200 jobs in local irrigation-dependent communities,” Mr Glyde said.

“The MDBA's recommendation was based on the best available science and evidence, and involved an extensive and comprehensive review process over four years.”

Source: MDBA

Basin states consider their future

The deterioration in bipartisanship over the Plan has left many basin states questioning their involvement, creating an existential threat to the Plan itself.

Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville lashed proponents of the disallowance motion this week, saying their actions raise serious concerns about the future of the Plan.

“We are concerned that ignoring the scientific evidence puts the plan back years and ultimately means that political considerations will override decisions of scientists and the ministerial council, which involved the commonwealth and all basin states,” Minister Neville said.

“We will be assessing our position on the plan as a result of this decision and will have further discussions with New South Wales.”

Despite expectations that the vote on the Disallowance Motion would take place on Thursday, the Senate chose to defer the item until when it next sits on Monday, 12 February.

Ahead of that vote, the NFF has called on Labor’s Water Spokesman Tony Burke to defend the Plan he ushered in as Water Minister.

“This significant achievement [of brokering the Basin Plan] will forever be etched in our nation’s history.

“However, this week the Labor Party is on the cusp of making history again – this time for all the wrong reasons," Mr Mahar concluded.

With a vote expected next Monday, we are calling on Australians to have their say and stand up for the historic Basin Plan. Click here to visit our campaign page and send a message of support to Labor leaders.

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