LOCAL water stakeholders have responded with disbelief to this week’s release of the revised draft Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
After 20 weeks of consultation with basin communities, yielding more than 12,000 submissions to the draft plan, very little has changed.
The volume of water proposed to be diverted from irrigation for environmental flows has remained at 2750 gigalitres per year, an amount irrigation groups believe will be disastrous for food producers across the basin.
The only notable adjustment to the draft is a drop in groundwater extractions from 4340 gigalitres to 3184 gigalitres.
Griffith mayor Mike Neville said the new document proved the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s (MDBA) public meetings and consultation period had been a waste of time.
“It’s really disappointing, especially given the level of interest and number of submissions put forward by local irrigators and farmers,” Cr Neville said.
“The general feeling of stakeholders will be disappointment.
“It seems all the stakeholder meetings and the MDBA’s answers were just a smokescreen.”
The draft plan has now been handed over to the state water ministers for six weeks of consultation.
At the end of the six weeks, the federal government will have an opportunity to accept, reject or change the document based on the states’ feedback.
Murrumbidgee Valley Food and Fibre president Debbie Buller said it was time someone pressed the “stop” button on the plan.
“Unfortunately, this whole process is not about good policy – it’s about politics,” Mrs Buller said.
“It has been two years of going around in circles and we’re still not getting anywhere.
“I wonder how much money it has cost and how much time has been wasted.
“What they should be doing is coming up with shared goals – something we can work on together instead of a something we’re just going to fight over.”
The NSW, Victorian and South Australian governments all rejected the initial draft plan but Water Minister Tony Burke declared he would use his powers to go over their heads if necessary.
NSW Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson said the revised document had not given due consideration to any of the issues raised in her party’s submission to the plan.
“NSW makes up the largest part of the Basin, at approximately 56 per cent, and stands to lose the most,” Ms Hodgkinson said.
“It beggars belief that the Murray-Darling Basin Authority thinks it can just republish virtually the same information and assume the community will accept this.
“It appears the authority has no ability to develop a genuine plan to manage the health of the Murray-Darling Basin.”
The NSW Irrigators Council referred to the revised plan as one of the most spectacular failures in consultation of all time.
Mr Burke said changes would need to be made to the plan before he was ready to sign off on it but has vowed to pass a final plan through parliament by the end of this year.