MIA irrigators angry at Labor and Greens plans to block reduction in water recovery

MIA irrigators and politicians have reacted angrily to news the Greens and Labor will team up to sink the federal government's proposed changes to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

The Greens are spearheading a Senate motion to disallow changes, proposed by the federal government last year, that would see a reduction in the amount of water returned to the environment.

By joining together, Labor and the Greens have the numbers to pass a Senate motion that would stop the federal government’s plan to reduce water recovery targets in the north of the basin from 390 to 320 gigalitres.

Griffith mayor John Dal Broi said if the Greens’ motion succeeds, it’s time for NSW to walk away from the Basin Plan

“You cannot sacrifice communities who have already given up a lot of water… if politicians want to play politics with this, I’d be encouraging the [NSW] minister to pull out”. 

“Although they’re talking about the north, we here in the southern basin will be next.”

The Greens say compliance issues are being mismanaged and have concerns regarding allegations of water theft and the rorting of water infrastructure funding.

“We can’t punish the entire basin for what a couple of [irrigators] did up north,” Cr Dal Broi said. 

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said, "unless we do something drastically to fix this plan, the river is going to die".

Ms Hanson said environmental flows are lower than they had previously been. 

Ms Hanson’s claim was strongly refuted by irrigators. 

“You would think from the Greens’ disgraceful propaganda that irrigators are taking all the Murray Darling water.  The truth is that in an average year 32,500GL goes into the system and under the basin plan 2/3 cannot be extracted,” National Irrigators Council CEO Steven Whan said. 

“It should be clear to everyone including the Labor party that the Greens are intent on sinking the Murray Darling Basin plan.  They never supported the plan and they see a political benefit for them in blowing it up.”

The Murray Darling Association, which represents councils across the Basin community, put out a joint statement condemning the Greens motion. 

Balonne Shire Council CEO Matt Magin, said, “ff the disallowance motion succeeds and the recovery target is increased to 390 gigalitres, it will mean further uncertainty for all Northern Basin communities. Dirranbandi would be finished and St George would be decimated.” 

In its party room meeting on Tuesday, Labor confirmed it would support the Greens motion.

"Labor is also concerned about the lack of clarity around the impact on the health of environmental sites," Labor frontbencher Tony Burke said in a statement.

Labor's concerns include data and modelling inaccuracy, allegations of corruption, and a lack of Indigenous consultation.

NSW Minister for Regional Water Niall Blair said federal Labor and the Greens were using the issue for political gain.

"Make no mistake; this is the Tony Burke and Hanson-Young team walking away from a positive outcome for the environment and communities in northern New South Wales and Queensland," the Minister said in a statement.

"By picking and choosing the parts of the basin plan that suit them, they are driving a wedge between themselves and the other states that are working tirelessly to make the basin plan a success," Mr Blair said.

The MDBA also defended their recommendation to reduce the amount of water recovery.

“The MDBA’s recommended Northern Basin Amendments will deliver the environmental benefits sought through the Basin Plan with 70 GL less water recovery—while saving about 200 jobs in local irrigation-dependent communities,” the authority said in a statement.

“The MDBA stands by the Northern Basin Review process, and urges all parties to examine its detailed and published evidence when considering the amendments currently before Parliament.”