LABOR has indicated it will support a controversial disallowance motion in the Senate that’s been moved by the Greens and is aiming to torpedo amendments to the Murray Darling Basin Plan that would relieve some of the social and economic suffering in the Northern Basin.
Shadow Water Minister Tony Burke has been heavily criticised for his party’s decision to block the amendment legislation that was tabled late last year by Assistant Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Anne Ruston.
The Sydney-based Labor MP was federal Water Minister when the Basin Plan was signed into law in late 2012 which contained a commitment to the Northern Basin review which recommended reducing that section of the river system’s water savings target from 390 gigalitres fo 320GLs and is reflected in the amendment legislation.
The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) has subsequently launched an online campaign seeking Labor’s support to block the disallowance motion and targeting Green’s South Australian Senator Sarah Hanson-Young.
Disappointing news.The #MDBP & its processes put in place by @Tony_Burke. Where is the commitment @AustralianLabor ? Up to 180 reg. jobs on the line & no environmental benefit. We need YOUR help to tell @AustralianLabor y their decision is grave 4 #Basinhttps://t.co/N0WXcFs0kxhttps://t.co/OCb6vvWNUM— National Farmers Fed (@NationalFarmers) February 6, 2018
The 70GLs reduction in the amendment legislation resulted from a four-year review containing extensive scientific and economic modelling by the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA).
Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud said Queensland Labor Senators were “gutless” and had put the South Australian Labor government’s interests ahead of Queensland.
“Labor today announced it will vote with the Greens to disallow the vital Northern Basin review, which would have saved irrigators 70 gigalitres and saved 180 rural jobs,” he said.
“The Northern Basin review was part of Labor’s 2012 Murray Darling Basin Plan, but now that they find it convenient during a South Australian election, they want to knock it down.
“These Labor Senators are gutless traitors to Queensland - they’re destroying lives of Queenslanders they represent - this is an act of bastardry.”
Mr Littleproud said taking water from communities takes jobs from our rural towns.
“Queenslanders are proud people who know how important farming and regional areas are to our economy and they will not stand for this,” he said.
“I haven’t given up on the Northern Basin review - it’s part of the Plan and I intend to stick to it.”
Mr Littleproud said the review was handed down in 2016 but Labor had waited until 12 seconds to midnight to criticise and now try to disallow the Northern Basin review.
“It smells like politics over people,” he said.
“Labor are playing games with people’s lives.”
NSW Water Minister Niall Blair said once again, both federal and SA Labor were making the Basin Plan “all about themselves and their political agenda” which was no surprise with the pending South Australian election.
Mr Blair said a scientific and evidence-based review of water recovery in the northern Murray Darling Basin was built into the Basin Plan when it was agreed between states in 2012 – and it was signed off by Tony Burke himself.
He said the comprehensive review was carried out over two years by the MDBA with expert scientists and economists.
The findings were considered by Ministerial Council on June 16 last year which included South Australia’s Water Minister, he said.
“At no stage during this process did federal Labor or the Greens raise an issue or concern about the findings of the Northern Basin Review or the process followed – yet here they are in the lead-up to the South Australian election claiming that more work needs to be done,” he said.
“It’s now very clear that there are two types of science – our science which is based on facts and gives communities certainty and the Labor-Green political science, where anything goes as long as it wins a vote.
“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.
“Make no mistake; this is Tony Burke and the Hanson-Young team walking away from a positive outcome for the environment and communities in northern NSW and Queensland and the broader Murray Darling Basin Plan as agreed by all states in 2012.
“If this disallowance motion is successful, it forces NSW to reconsider its ongoing participation in Ministerial Council, because we can no longer trust it to deliver a balanced economic, social and environmental result for the Basin.”
Mr Burke said Labor had resolved today to support the disallowance of the Basin Plan amendment and “always believed it was appropriate to have a review of the water recovery targets of the Northern Basin”.
“The Northern Basin still has inadequate metering and NSW still needs to address issues in their water plans which continue to leave open the possibility of environmental water, paid for by the Australian taxpayer, being pumped directly back into irrigation dams,” he said.
“Labor is also concerned about the lack of clarity around the impact on the health of environmental sites such as the Culgoa Floodplain and Wetlands, Barwon-Darling Floodplain, Narran Lakes and Gwydir Wetlands.
“Labor acknowledges the commitments made to date, particularly the public statements by the NSW government as well as actions taken to begin to address these issues but while these serious gaps remain Labor cannot support the instrument in its current form.
“However, Labor wants to work constructively with government and the Murray Darling Basin Authority to deliver a genuine future outcome.”
Mr Burke said Labor urged the Minister for Water to update the work that the MDBA has already carried out in good faith, to provide better information and analysis.
He cited key areas, to restore public confidence in the Northern Basin review and the amendment instrument.
• The need for taxpayer funded environmental water to be used for environmental purposes
• A comprehensive response to allegations of corruption / water theft in the Northern Basin
• Indigenous consultation and engagement in water planning / governance
• The accuracy of data and modelling assumptions.
Farm groups slam “pure politics”
Cotton Australia General Manager Mick Murray said it was “extremely disappointing” that Labor had decided to support the Green’s disallowance motion calling the move “pure politics”.
“When Tony Burke was the minister he inserted the Northern Basin review clause into the Basin Plan, the MDBA was tasked as the independent group to undertake that review and the review was done,” he said.
“The Authority made its recommendation and the government accepted the recommendations in full without any amendments, so it can only just be pure politics that the Labor party have decided to support this disallowance because it was all done by the book.
“It is absolutely disappointing and what I would say to Tony Burke is I’d really, really urge him to reconsider this decision.
“I can’t see what justification there can be.
“The review delivered better environmental outcomes with 70GLs less water recovery, and 180 fewer jobs lost, so it was a genuine win, win outcome – good for the communities and good for the environment.”
Mr Murray said the estimated job losses would come from river communities where cotton was an important crop, at locations like St George, Dirranbandi.
“There is a possibility these amendments could be re-submitted in six months’ time and we’ll be calling on government and Opposition to do that but really, there’s no need because the disallowance motion should be defeated tomorrow,” he said.
NFF Water Taskforce Chair Les Gordon said Mr Burke was minister when this historic Basin Plan agreement was ratified in 2012 and “essentially, he set the rules”.
But Mr Gordon said today, one can assume Mr Burke was “instrumental in a decision by the Labor Party not to abide by them”.
“It is a monumentally bad decision that will have grave and long-lasting implications for the Plan’s implementation, Basin communities, industries and the environment,” Mr Gordon said.
“Supporting Senator Sarah Hanson Young’s disallowance motion is a vote for increased job losses in the Northern Basin - 530 to 710 jobs that small communities cannot afford to lose - and a vote standing in the way of complementary measures, which will improve the health of the Basin overall.
“Getting the Plan to this point involved a great deal of across party and across jurisdiction compromise and a significant amount of pain for regional communities.
“It’s a bitter pill to swallow, when at a pinch point in the Plan’s implementation, the party and the individual politician, instrumental in bringing it to reality, loses the gumption to see it deliver what it was intended to do.
“When Minister, Mr Burke rightly said the Plan provided certainty to Basin communities.
“Today’s decision – threatens to deliver immense uncertainty for Basin regions.
“Without a commitment to the Plan, investors will lack the confidence to invest in Basin businesses, industry and the environment.”
Mr Gordon said the NFF was urging Basin communities to urgently get in touch with Labor Leaders and Senators to enlighten them to the reality of their Party’s decision to support Sarah Hanson-Young’s disallowance motion.
Sarah Hanson-Young reinforced her views when speaking today on Sky News where she said she also saw the NFF take a “crack” at her yesterday, over the disallowance.
“We have a situation despite all these scandals, we have a federal government who has just put in regulations into the parliament that wants to give more water to the big corporate irrigators and less to the river,” she said.
“I'm not going stand by and see the River Murray die.
“I'm not going to stand by and see my state in South Australia ripped off again.
“The big corporate irrigators upstream have their hand out for taxpayer subsidies and they've got their hand out for even more water at the expense of the river.”
An MDBA spokesperson said the Northern Basin amendment was tabled in the Senate on November 14 last year and was currently in force.
The spokesperson said the current disallowance motion was a matter for the parliament but if successful would return the Basin Plan settings for the Northern Basin to those agreed in 2012.
“The MDBA recommended changes to the Murray Darling Basin Plan’s water recovery target for the north, to strike a better balance between social, economic and environmental outcomes in the Northern Basin – in line with the triple bottom line approach prescribed in the Basin Plan,” the spokesperson said.
“The amendment is based on strong science, four years’ worth of work and strong community input and consultation.
“During the Northern Basin Review we heard a range of conflicting views and preferences – views that continue to be expressed during this disallowance phase.
“We believe the current amendment strikes the right balance to support the health and the productive capacity of the Northern Basin.”
The MDBA spokesperson said toolkit measures, agreed to by the NSW and Queensland governments, would allow water to be more effectively managed for the environment, including the protection of environmental water, particularly during periods of low flow.
“These changes are critical to delivering ecological outcomes and are dependent on the passage of the amendment,” a statement said.
“The agreement to protect environmental water and improved compliance gave the MDBA confidence that we could reduce the water recovery target in the north from 390GL to 320GL and still achieve the environmental outcomes the Basin Plan is seeking.
“The toolkit includes the protection of environmental flows as well as a commitment to stronger compliance, new environmental works such as the installation of fishways, and targeted water recovery to get better environmental outcomes.”
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