A SHOCK move by the Gillard government to secure even more environmental water for the Murray-Darling Basin has been condemned by local stakeholders as a “grand distraction” and a political decoy.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard unveiled plans on Friday to spend $1.7 billion on infrastructure to generate an extra 450 gigalitres of water savings in the basin.
The project would be completed by 2024 and would take the total amount of water recovered under the government’s basin reform scheme to 3200 gigalitres.
While the investment in infrastructure means there will be no increase to water taken from irrigation communities, Griffith Business Chamber president Paul Pierotti said it did not solve the crisis already threatening towns in the basin.
“The basin plan, if it passes, will take 2750 gigalitres of water from the basin by 2019 – we have never supported that and we cannot be convinced that can be done in a way that is not destructive to communities,” Mr Pierotti said.
“Why is the government even talking about this adjustment when they’re unlikely to be in power next year, let alone in 2024.
“There is no money for this infrastructure; this is just a smokescreen diverting from the real conversation, that the basin plan is going to be disastrous for communities like ours.”
In an interview on the ABC on Friday, federal water minister Tony Burke said basin communities would not be at risk as a result of the new scheme.
“There is no downside for communities in today’s (Friday’s) announcement, but there is a huge upside for the environment,” he said.
Local farmer John Bonetti said there was no doubt the government was trying to detract from the damage it had already done – and would continue to do – to communities.
“It’s all been a furphy since day one,” Mr Bonetti said.
“This has got absolutely nothing to do with the availability of water or the environment; it’s just a grab for water.
“I want to sound a warning to people not to get distracted by these statements.
“Some of the politicians have started to roll over on this plan but we can’t let that happen to our communities.”
Mr Burke and his state counterparts have been negotiating over the final details of the basin plan for more than two months.
The plan is expected to be tabled in parliament by the end of November, with the target remaining at 2750 gigalitres.