THE federal water minister believes a meeting with his state counterparts today could bring an agreement on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan one step closer.
NSW primary industries minister Katrina Hodgkinson will enter the negotiations with images of Griffith’s third rally against the plan fresh in her mind.
Backed up by premier Barry O’Farrell, Murrumbidgee MP Adrian Piccoli and Murray-Darling MP John Williams in Griffith on Wednesday, Ms Hodgkinson promised to stand by irrigation communities and demand changes to the plan.
Federal water minister Tony Burke chose not to comment on the rally itself when asked by The Area News yesterday, but said he hoped to make progress with the basin ministers at today’s meeting.
“I don’t think anyone expects that, at the meeting, we will manage to get agreement on all the issues across the basin,” Mr Burke said.
“What has mattered is that at each meeting, the states have got close.
“I have always said that I would prefer to get to a point where the states can find a way of agreeing on the outcome rather than using my legal powers under the act.
“Each time the ministers have met, the gap has narrowed.
“If that process continues (today), even if we are short of an actual agreement, then it’s progress worth making.”
Mr Burke’s threats to push the plan through with or without the states’ support have escalated over the past six weeks as he waited for the state ministers to examine the draft plan and prepare recommendations for the meeting.
The NSW, Victorian and South Australian governments all rejected the draft outright in their initial submissions in April, demanding a host of changes.
The NSW submission called for a stop to the buyback of irrigators’ water entitlements and made a number of suggestions to provide balance between environmental, social and economic factors.
At Wednesday’s rally, Ms Hodgkinson committed to sticking by those requests.
NSW Irrigators Council CEO Andrew Gregson, who heard Ms Hodgkinson’s promises in Griffith firsthand, said irrigation communities should have no reason to be concerned about the ministerial meeting if the NSW government stuck to its position.