Report says water won’t be recovered from off-farm projects

Out of reach: The WESA report says an additional 450GL of water for the environment won’t be recovered under the current focus on off-farm projects. Photo by Keith Ward

A second review of the Water for the Environment Special Account, which was established to increase the volume of Murray-Darling Basin water available for environmental use by 450 gigalitres and ease or remove constraints on the capacity to deliver water to the environment, has declared neither will be achieved by the June 2024 deadline.

Federal Water Minister Tanya Plibersek tabled the report in Parliament this week, and said it showed the Morrison Government never intended to recover the additional water.

“Never meant to, never wanted to and never would have,” she told Parliament in response to a question from Member for Nicholls Sam Birrell.

The WESA report, which was completed last December, said it is not possible to reach the 450GL target through the off-farm efficiency measures program, even if its time and budget limits were removed.

WESA said it was possible to recover an additional 60GL by deadline on top of the 2.6GL already recovered or contracted to be recovered.

While WESA estimated the cost to recover the full 450GL through efficiency measures was between $3.4 billion and $10.8 billion, a further technical analysis concluded only 330GL at most could be recovered due to the program’s focus on off-farm efficiency projects and limited funding for on-farm projects.

Reports that the Labor Government is contemplating buying back water as a part of the additional 450GL add-on to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan are concerning for families and businesses across Nicholls.

Worried that harmful water buybacks will be used instead, Mr Birrell asked if the Water Minister would honour the agreement with the states requiring a neutral or positive socio-economic impact on regional communities to recover the water.

“Unfortunately for our electorate, the minister chose not to answer,” Mr Birrell said.

Ms Plibersek instead noted the tabling of the WESA report as evidence the former Coalition government had failed to achieve the water savings and never would have.

“On this she is right,” Mr Birrell said.

“There is a very good reason why the additional 450GL was not going to be achieved under the previous Liberal Nationals Government: because we refused to inflict further social and economic pain on basin communities.

“Water Minister Tanya Plibersek had an opportunity to support basin communities by committing to only recovering the 450GL based on an agreed neutrality test that basin communities would not be worse off, but she refused.”