Murray by-election candidates on whether NSW should withdraw from Murray Darling Basin Plan

Should the NSW Government withdraw from the Murray Darling Basin Plan (MDBP)? 

The Area News posed that question to each candidate standing at the upcoming Murray by-election. This is how the candidates responded. 

Helen Dalton, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers 

The Murray community cannot live with this plan in its current form. NSW is entitled to withdraw from the MDBP and so should we if there is no significant change.

The MDBP has not been able deliver the social, economic and environmental balance it was supposed to. It is a triple bottom fail. 

We are losing approximately $600 million per year in farm gate output which equates to roughly $4.2 billion per year to lost GDP in NSW alone.

I was in Griffith in 2010 when the first report was burnt at the Yoogali Club Meeting.

We need common sense solutions to this problem.

The Water Act 2007 must change to give equal effect to social and economic outcomes as well as the environment.

The environmental flows regime needs a complete overhaul.

We cannot use a natural river like the Murray as an irrigation channel. Forcing water just causes huge environment degradation like flooding, bank collapse, cold water pollution, black water events and carp proliferation.

It is therefore urgent that the NSW Government conduct a social and economic cost benefit analysis as well as an environmental audit for the Southern Basin similar to the Northern Basin review.

Austin Evans, National Party

The Nationals have always flagged that we could withdraw from the Murray-Darling Basin plan if our irrigators weren’t protected, but it should be regarded as a nuclear option. The last thing businesses, the community and irrigators in this region want is more uncertainty, and that’s what we face if we walk away from the Murray Darling Basin plan now.

Don’t for a second think we could walk away from the Basin plan with no strings attached – there’d be two layers of water legislation, only adding to the complexity and uncertainty.  That could be even worse, especially if we get Labor-Green governments in Canberra and Sydney with free rein over that legislation.

There’s also the prospect that Commonwealth funding committed to irrigators under the plan would have to be repaid – between the three major irrigation corporations in southern NSW, $765 million has been delivered to modernisation programs, making this region one of the most water-efficient in the country.

We know the current situation is not perfect, and we’re continually working to make sure our irrigators get a better deal out of the plan. From the time we took over from Labor we’ve put the emphasis on savings through water efficiency and modernisation, not buybacks, and we’ll continue to oppose any plans to take more water from the system.

In my time with Coly Irrigation, I’ve been able to juggle these challenges, and I want to take that experience to Macquarie Street as your representative for Murray. We can all identify problems with water management, but it’s important to be able to do something about them from within.  As an engineer, I look for solutions, rather than just criticising, and that’s the mindset I’d take to Parliament.

Water is at the heart of everything that sustains this region, and I want it to prosper – that can only happen through the work of an effective advocate with a seat at the Government table.

Michael Kidd, Country Labor

Withdrawing from the Murray Darling Basin Agreement would be the equivalent of flushing $10 billion down the drain.  Australian taxpayers have spent billions trying to fix entrenched problems of water scarcity in Western NSW and to chuck it in now would take us back.

Talk to citrus farmers in Pooncarrie who have been driven from the land about the implications of unchecked water management and theft along the Darling and Barwon Rivers and you will get a sense of how important this issue is to a large part of the agriculture sector.

While not perfect the agreement is designed to protect communities downstream and ensure the health of the river network that 2 million people rely on. 

We need clarity from the National’s about what their intentions on the MDBA are.  When in Sydney the Nats say they are all behind the plan, when talking to some irrigators along the Murray they say they may tear it up.  They are talking out of both sides of their mouth creating uncertainty for our community.

Ray Goodlass, Greens NSW

In short, NSW should not withdraw from the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, but that doesn’t mean we should accept it as it is, flaws and all. We can only improve it if we stay with it.

A river system without a plan would mean a free for all that would make the recent up stream water thefts pale in comparison. All except the up-stream large and powerful bully boys would lose out.

Water is a scarce and fluctuating resource. We need to organise to ensure agricultural, urban and environmental water security.

The MDB should be publicly managed to ensure that security through a system of fair and regulated water allocations.

We can achieve this through water-sensitive design, efficiency, capture and reuse to provide for agricultural systems, urban and environmental needs.

We want reforms that will assist all Basin communities to build their jobs and economies, restore productive agricultural areas to good health, and ensure appropriate environmental flows. This is a key reform facing Australia over the next decade.

Though we are committed to the MDB Plan, it needs proper oversight. Accordingly, we have a fully costed plan to establish a Sustainable Water Institute that would ensure the above needs are met.

Peter Robinson, Independent 

You don’t win any game, or improve your respectability, by taking your bat & ball and going home.

Since 2012, no government in Australia has played the obvious card to upturn the MDBP Plan. I said this to 300 grass roots members of the Nationals at Broken Hill, who unanimously supported me:

“I am from Sydney. Trust me. If you want the cities to back you on the Plan, GO THE ENVIRONMENT”.

How could anyone wishing best, for people of Murray, conceivably demur from my proposal: That an evaluation be made of what’s best for South Australia’s own environmental backyard. To retain or move the Barrages. The latter course was suggested, by SA’s own experts, way back in June 2000.

This approach knifes through sneaky politics which clouds the Plan. It will return water upriver.

Ms Berejiklian and Mr Barilaro are not types to take a backward step with Mr Turnbull or Mr Joyce. They have an ally on this issue south of the Murray, in Victoria’s Water Minister, Ms Neville.

It is time for State politicians, on either side of Australia’s political river, on behalf of people north and south of the Murray, to expose Australia’s biggest-interstate-political-fraud, since Federation.