Water leaders meet with Neville ahead of MinCo

By Alana Christensen

Local water leaders are calling on Murray-Darling Basin water ministers to deliver certainty, scrap the plan's 450 Gl of ‘up-water’ and create a more dynamic plan ahead of Friday's Ministerial Council meeting.

Basin water ministers are set to meet this week at what will be the first MinCo meeting for Federal Water Minister Keith Pitt, who was appointed in February.

A more adaptive plan is needed according to the GMID Water Leadership, which says dozens of studies and reviews of the plan show the need for more flexibility.

GMID Water Leadership co-chair and State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed said it was "ridiculous" that the plan has not changed since its implementation eight years ago.

“Community expectations are high, and they expect some consensus and clarity on a range of pressing issues arising out of recent reports and recommendations. Any reform of a basin-wide scale will inevitably have unforeseen, unintended and perverse impacts,” she said.

“It is ridiculous for Basin governments to think they could set and forget the Basin Plan for 14 years after it was enacted in 2012. Waiting to act until 2026 will be too late for Basin communities and industries.

“Multiple reviews have recommended sensible changes reflecting new knowledge and science. Tensions over water will only ease with a bipartisan approach to amending the Plan.”

Both the VFF and GMID Water Leadership have pointed to the Independent Review of the Lower Lakes as proof the plan needs revising, stating it calls out fundamental issues and proves basin governments are fighting a "losing battle", and that climate change and rising sea levels will mean the Lower Lakes will become saline, despite attempts to make them freshwater lakes.

“Now is the time for a deeper reflection on what the nation is trying to achieve,” GMID Water Leadership co-chair David McKenzie said.

“This starts with an honest acceptance that the goalposts have moved since 2012, and it is futile to keeping aiming for goals that cannot be met.

“What socio-economic cost will basin industries and communities have to bear, as collateral damage for a futile ambition? What cost will the upstream environment have to bear for a losing battle to keep the lower lakes fresh, even artificially with the barrages?

“Communities are exhausted, over-consulted, and desperate for action. Multiple reports confirm it is no longer tenable to continue to implement the 2012 Plan as if its core targets are achievable.

“The Basin Ministerial Council on Friday must begin a mature national conversation. It cannot be delayed any longer.”

VFF Water Council chair Richard Anderson and deputy chair Andrew Leahy met with Water Minister Lisa Neville last Friday to outline their concerns ahead of the ministerial meeting.

The pair called for the 450 Gl of ‘up-water’ to be scrapped, a greater focus on metering in the northern basin, a restructure of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and for environmental outcomes to look beyond increased water flows and consider aquatic life and vegetation on riverbanks.

They also called for the basin plan to be adapted as a result of numerous reports and scientific studies, saying it was critical the plan reflected practical learning to provide greater confidence and certainty in the agricultural community.

VFF Water Council chairman Richard Anderson said the meeting with Ms Neville was "productive".

“We made it very clear that if the Government want jobs to help recover from COVID 19, then they need to give us certainty on the Basin Plan,” he said.

“The Minister was receptive to our concerns.”