MINCO meeting a ‘kick in the guts’ says VFF

By Country News

Friday's Ministerial Council meeting of Murray-Darling Basin Plan water ministers has been labelled a "kick in the guts" by the VFF as irrigator groups accuse water ministers of ignoring the concerns of regional communities.

A range of water bodies spent the week leading into Friday's meeting advocating for a more adaptive and flexible basin plan to deliver certainty for irrigators and regional communities.

That certainty was not delivered according to VFF Water Council chair Richard Anderson who called for Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville to boycott future meetings if progress is not made.

“It is incomprehensible that the Commonwealth coalition government continues to ignore the plight of irrigators and regional communities,” he said.

Northern Victorian Irrigation Communities chairman Dudley Bryant said communities were getting "slaughtered".

“It appears Lisa Neville made it clear that the 450 Gl can’t be taken from our region and is making it easier for states by calling for more time for the water savings projects,” Mr Bryant said.

“I think if they continue to ignore us, it would be good to see the NSW and Victorian governments team up and do something about the floodplain harvesting program.”

MinCo renewed its commitment to the socio-economic criteria for water efficiency projects, but Mr Anderson was critical of the council for not scrapping the delivery of 450 Gl of ‘up-water’ altogether.

Under the agreed-upon criteria, every project needs to have positive outcomes for communities and be transparently presented to allow community feedback.

“The 450 Gl will cause socio-economic hardships and cannot be delivered without third party impacts on both farmers and the environment. It just makes no sense to keep pursuing this.”

The meeting was the first for Federal Water Minister Keith Pitt who was appointed to the role in February, but Speak Up campaign chair Shelley Scoullar said his response was lacking.

“Perhaps if Federal Water Minister Keith Pitt does not have the courage to do what is needed then he should stand down,’’ she said.

She also called for Mr Pitt to release the latest report into the social and economic impacts of the basin plan which remains on his desk, saying the public should see the ‘‘damage being created by this failing plan''.

At the meeting Victoria and NSW called for the 2024 timeline for offset projects to be extended to avoid the possibility of water buybacks, but the motion was opposed by the other water ministers in the room.

NSW and South Australia agreed to assess any proposals for more water extraction from the Lower Murray due to Victoria's concerns about deliverability in the system.

A set of principles to use in assessing any further extraction will be developed and reported back to MinCo.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority agreed to adopt a regime to limit high flows during summer which cause damage to the Murray and Goulburn rivers.

NSW and Queensland will also engage with Victoria in their reviews and reports on floodplain harvesting and first flush events.

Better modelling to understand the impact of climate change on constraints was agreed to, while Victoria called for a climate change assessment in relation to the Lower Lakes and the CSIRO's finding that it would be increasingly difficult to maintain them as a freshwater system.