PUSHING a disallowance motion, to try to terminate hard-earned amendments to the Murray Darling Basin Plan that ease social and economic upheaval in northern farming communities, proves the Australian Greens have “no principle”, says Matt Canavan.
The Queensland Senator and Northern Australia and Resources Minister vented his views on a disallowance motion moved by Greens South Australian Senator Sarah Hanson-Young last year to gazump amendments to the Basin Plan that would reduce the Northern Basin’s water savings target by 70 gigaltires.
Farmers have also launched an online email campaign urging Labor to vote with the Coalition to block Senator Hanson-Young's “naïve assault” on the Murray Darling Basin.
The Green’s disallowance motion aims to stop the amendment legislation which resulted from a four-year Northern Basin review, that included independent scientific and economic modelling, where the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) put forward a reduction from 390GLs to 320GLs in the Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDLs) target, for that segment of the river system.
“There's no principle here from the Greens – it wouldn’t have mattered what the Northern Basin review said or what the MDBA said,” Senator Canavan said.
“They’ll always be unhappy – the Greens never respect the umpire.
“When it suits them they’ll say ‘we’ve got to respect the independence of the MDBA’ but these changes that are going through on the Basin Plan have been recommended by the MDBA and now they’re saying, ‘oh actually we don’t want to support them and we don’t agree with them’.
“Or when Adani gets approved through the EPBC (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation) Act and goes through all of the court approvals the Greens still say ‘we don’t agree with that; we want something else’.
“(But) we’re happy to respect that independence.”
Shadow Water Minister Tony Burke was contacted for comment on whether Labor supported the disallowance motion - but did not respond before deadline.
Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon’s office directed inquiries to Mr Burke.
The National Farmers’ Federation’s (NFF) online campaign has warned the MDBA’s Northern Basin review recommendations could be “steamrolled by politics” due to Senator Hanson-Young’s disallowance motion.
“The impact of this so-called 'Basin Basher' motion is twofold,” it says.
“It will: increase job losses in the Northern Basin from 530 to 710 (jobs that small communities cannot afford to lose); and stand in the way of complementary measures, which will improve the health of the Basin overall.
“The Basin Basher motion can only succeed with the support of a major party.
“The Coalition has been quick to reject the motion, however the Labor Party is playing its cards closer to its chest.
“Help us send a message to Labor Senators asking them to stand up for proper process, regional jobs, and the environment, by sending an e-mail.”
NFF CEO Tony Mahar said he didn’t know whether the disallowance motion had Labor’s support, with a looming deadline next week to be voted on.
But Mr Mahar said he hoped the disallowance would be voted-down and the Basin Plan amendments from the Northern review would be passed with bipartisan support, given the importance of it.
He said the Green’s disallowance motion was “political grandstanding” that did nothing to ease anxiety in Northern Basin farming communities that already face major economic and social upheaval, regardless of the 70GLs reduction.
“Support for the disallowance emotion will do nothing for the environment and won’t help the plan and farmers and communities will be the losers out of this,” Mr Mahar said.
“Calls for the Opposition to support a disallowance motion are counterproductive in every sense and it’s just farmers and communities along the basin being held to ransom by politicising an issue that’s critical for rural and regional Australia.
“We’re talking about a process that’s been agreed to, inquiries and reports all done and recommendations put forward, which underpins the plan.
“Support for the disallowance completely undermines that commitment from the six governments included in the Basin Plan and that’s just not what we need at the moment.
“We know things need to be addressed in the plan and through various inquiries we hope they will be but the disallowance is politicising the issue and we think that’s unfair and counterproductive.”
Mr Mahar said each of the Basin governments committed to the Northern review process at the beginning of the Basin Plan.
But he said to “walk away from that, again, sends a message of no confidence to all of the governments in the plan and provides a huge level of grief, uncertainty and ambiguity in the towns and cities that really rely on this plan from governments”.
“It’s really concerning but we hope there’s a bipartisan commitment to the plan and we hope the ALP can work with the government to address the issues and resolve problems - but let’s not undermine it, so it blows up,” he said.
NSW Liberal Democratic Senator David Leyonhjelm said he didn’t support the Green’s disallowance motion as it would only see the end of some Northern Basin towns.
“I chaired the Select Committee inquiry into implementation of the Basin Plan in the last parliament,” he said.
“We heard tragic tales of the effects of the existing water buybacks in the Northern Basin.
“It’s just devastating to regional communities.
“Any further loss of water in the area would probably lead to the end of some small towns.
Senator Leyonhjelm said it was “particularly absurd” that a South Australian Senator should have moved the disallowance.
“The water from the northern basin travels down the Darling River, but only a very small proportion (average 6 per cent) reaches South Australia,” he said.
“Even that amount is of no benefit to the environment because it simply evaporates in Lake Alexandrina.
“Similarly, Victoria has very little interest due to the relative importance of the Murray.”
Littleproud lashes out
Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud said as well as the disallowance motion, the Greens had also signalled intent to lodge a disallowance on the entire SDL Adjustment Mechanism.
“If this political stunt by the Greens succeeded, it could destroy the 3200 Plan,” he said.
“I’m committed to delivering the Plan on time and in full.
“We’ve recovered 2090GLs for the Plan and that may be all the river gets if the agreed Plan is blown up.
“It would be extremely difficult to get agreement from Victoria, NSW and Queensland to continue giving up huge volumes of water, if the agreed Plan has been smashed.
“The river would lose, rural businesses would face uncertainty and rural communities would lose too.
“Years of further water wars would rip certainty from rural communities, rural business including farms, and the environment.
“People are tired of this fight - they want it to end - the Greens need to decide whether they’re interested in the environment or politics.”
The Ricegrowers’ Association of Australia (RGA) also called on the Australian Labor Party to vote down the disallowance motion or any further move on the SDL adjustment.
RGA President Jeremy Morton said the Opposition must resist the urge to support any disallowance motion relating to the Plan.
Mr Morton said Mr Burke “championed” the SDL adjustment as the best way he could address the extreme concerns about negative social and economic impacts resulting from the plan.
“Now is not the time to waver,” he said.
“Over the past six months there has been a deliberate, strategic and coordinated campaign to undermine the integrity of the Basin Plan.
“The attempts to discredit people and communities of the Basin as well as the Murray Darling Basin Authority has been ruthless and uncompromising.
“The assault on the integrity of so many people who are working hard to achieve the best possible outcome from the Basin Plan is nothing short of disgraceful.
“The Basin Plan still has seven years to run and environmental improvements are occurring despite the deliberate and negative narrative from those who will not rest until all productive water diversions cease.
“Over the past 20 years 4000GL (four trillion litres) of water has been recovered for the environment.
“When combined with improved catchment management and land use practices we are seeing significant improvements to environmental outcomes across the Basin.”