Littleproud launches into troubled waters in new portfolio

Murray Darling Basin Plan presents challenges for Littleproud


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Agriculture and Water Minister David Littleproud cuts the ribbon to open the Dirranbandi, Qld, show with the help of The Crack Up Sisters. Photo Lucy Kinbacher.

Agriculture and Water Minister David Littleproud cuts the ribbon to open the Dirranbandi, Qld, show with the help of The Crack Up Sisters. Photo Lucy Kinbacher.

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Murray Darling Basin Plan at crossroads as new minister steps aboard

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CONSENSUS, science, outcomes. Words that should not be surprising when they come from a newly minted lawmaker in the agriculture and water portfolios.

But not so in the politically charged Murray Darling Basin Plan, with deep divisions between upstream states and South Australia, that David Littleproud’s insistence on “responsible, de-politicised” policy-making grabs attention.

Such is the interstate turmoil, stormy waters are guaranteed for the member for Maranoa, an electorate that includes virtually all of Queensland’s slice of the river system.

“The fact is everyone at state and federal level needs to take politics out of it and work together responsibly and collaboratively,” said Mr Littleproud.

Also noteworthy is his statement that he is committed to delivering the Basin Plan “on time, and in full”, pointing out that all states and the federal government had signed a commitment to deliver the Basin Plan.

“It’s not just farmers, but also irrigation communities that want certainty and they want government out of their lives,” Mr Littleproud.

“We need to give farmers and the communities certainty and confidence, using the best science available to us. And if we do that, everyone should respect the umpires decision”

But most controversial will be how Mr Littleproud handles the debate over the ‘upwater’ water recovery target of 450 gigalitres, which would flow from upstream and into South Australia.

Upwater, one part of the overall 3200GL recovery effort, threatens the future of the entire Basin Plan. In December it precipitated a breakdown in the Basin Plan water recovery progress, due to be completed by 2024.

Water savings comes from various means. One of them, upwater, comes from public funding for farm infrastructure to produce water use efficiencies equivalent to 450GL.

The legislation weighs the volume of water recovery against negative socio-economic impacts.

We need to give farmers and the communities certainty and confidence... and if we do that, everyone should respect the umpires decision - David Littleproud

Stakeholders in upstream states, as well as Mr Littleproud’s predecessor in the portfolio Barnaby Joyce, are concerned over the social impacts from reducing irrigation activity. They argue that the laws require the maximum volume of recovery without negative socio-economic impacts.

This position is dimissed by SA and green groups. They say the full figure is a mandatory part of the plan.

Mr Littleproud said he was committed to the full 450GL target, but acknowledged that the volume was contingent on socio-economic impacts. 

At a meeting of basin state ministers SA Water Minister Ian Hunter demanded NSW and Victoria commit to 450GL in full by February 14.

Labor MP Mr Hunter said he would lobby Senators to block passage of several amendments, which are backed by upstream governments because they enable the states to significantly reduce water recovery in exchange for infrastructure works.

SA’s deadline was rejected. NSW Water Minister Niall Blair said “all bets are off” on cooperative negotiations and NSW would “chance our arm in the Senate”

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