newsCO.com.au | Senate rejects Murray-Darling Basin Plan changes as Labor backs Greens

February 14, 2018

@newsCOflash

2018-02-14 08:25:00

Updated

February 14, 2018 19:25:56

The Senate has voted to block the Federal Government’s changes to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which could jeopardise the whole agreement.

The Greens have successfully convinced Labor to help block changes to the plan, which would have reduced the amount of water being returned to the environment in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales.

Key points:

  • The Senate has rejected the Federal Government’s changes to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan
  • The changes would have reduced the amount of water being returned to the environment in Queensland and NSW
  • There is speculation Victoria and NSW could pull out of the plan

The Opposition and the Government negotiated right up to the vote, but did not reach a compromise.

The Victorian and New South Wales governments have previously threatened to pull out of the plan altogether if the Coalition’s changes were blocked.

The Greens’ proposal to block the Government’s changes was carried 32–30.

During parliamentary debate, Assistant Water Minister Anne Ruston urged Labor to change its mind and reach an agreement with the Coalition.

“Every single citizen of Australia has a stake in this plan. This is a shared resource,” she said.

“It scares the hell out of me that we would suggest that for political reasons … we could actually put this plan in jeopardy.”

Greens senator says plan plagued by scandal

Late last year, the Government attempted to reduce the amount of water being returned to the environment in the northern basin, following recommendations from the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young led a vocal campaign to stop that happening, arguing the plan had been plagued by “scandal after scandal”.

“Until you [the Government] clean up this mess, there is no way we’re going to start to take more water off the river just to give it to those who have already been too greedy by far,” Senator Hanson-Young told Parliament.

Labor’s Penny Wong said the party could not support the plan being “wrecked” by the Government.

“We want the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to survive. It is the plan we delivered in government,” she said.

“But we cannot agree today to reducing the volume of water without the proper assurances that the basin will remain healthy.”

Senator Wong added she hoped the plan would survive, amid speculation New South Wales and Victoria will now pull out.

Minutes after the vote, NSW Water Minister Niall Blair released a statement saying it was “untenable” for his government to remain in the basin plan.

Changes proposed to ease pressure on farmers

The changes the Government wanted to make were in a bid to ease pressure on farmers in northern NSW and southern Queensland, where communities suffered due to a loss of water for irrigators.

As a result, the authority proposed a reduction in water recovery targets in the north of the basin from 390 gigalitres to 320 gigalitres — a 70-gigalitre decrease.

The move was described as a “sensible balance” between social, economic and environmental interests in the region.

The authority also said reducing the water recovery target would save an estimated 200 jobs in irrigation-dependent communities.

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First posted

February 14, 2018 19:17:17

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