GREEN’S South Australian Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has hit back at the avalanche of criticism that’s erupted over her party’s Murray Darling Basin Plan disallowance motion that’ll ramp-up social and economic upheaval for farming communities in the Northern Basin.
Labor is voting with the Greens to gazump amendments to the Basin Plan that reduce the Northern Basin’s water savings target by 70 gigalitres, which independent analysis says will save about 200 jobs mostly in cotton producing districts.
Today, Senator Hanson-Young faced the media at Parliament House in Canberra to address the controversy saying Labor’s support for the disallowance was a “really positive move”.
“It will see other crossbench (Senators) over the next few days come forward and offer their support as well – because people can see that business as usual is not working,” she said.
“That allowing big corporate irrigators to get their hands on even more water, and more taxpayer dollars, when they’ve abused what’s been provided already, is just not on.”
Senator Hanson-Young said she was hopeful that the disallowance motion would “knock off” the amendments, when it was voted on in the Senate.
She said Basin state governments, big corporate irrigators and the Nationals were “crying blue murder” that the disallowance was “blowing up the Plan”.
But she said that wasn’t the case and “the greed of the big corporate irrigators, ripping off the river, ripping off taxpayers, is the thing that has put this plan in doubt”.
“We’ve got to clan this up before there’s no water left for anyone – it isn’t dry in Cubbie Station – there’s plenty of water in Cubbie station.
“(But) this isn’t about throwing out the plan, this is about people who haven’t played by the rules that have been set and now they want them changed to suit themselves but we’re not having a bar of it.”
One Nation has said they won’t support the disallowance motion.
One Nation Senators, whose states benefit from the Murray Darling, went on a fact finding expedition through Victoria, NSW and South Australia to view the river system and speak first hand to those farmers that rely on the water within it, a statement said.
“One Nation Senators will not support a further 70 gigalitres being removed from irrigators along the Murray Darling.
“It’s reckless behaviour from a party that has zero understanding of modern day farming and the impacts this would have on Australian food and production costs, the biosecurity risks that follow with imports required to meet the demands of Australian consumers and ultimately it will offer minimal benefit on the health of the Murray Darling River system.
“This is another South Australian led initiative which has no merit.”
NSW Liberal Democratic Senator David Leyonhjelm has indicated he won’t support the disallowance motion but the Nick Xenophon Team says it will.
NXT SA Senator Rex Patrick and Mayo MP Rebekha Sharkie want state and federal governments to “put the brakes on rolling out the next phase of the ‘leaky’ Basin Plan.
"While NXT supports the Murray Darling Basin Plan being implemented in full, confidence in that implementation has been eroded over the past twelve months," Senator Patrick said.
Ms Sharkie said “We need to get the scientific foundations right before proceeding”.
“There's no point pressing ahead in circumstances where it's obvious the Plan isn't working as originally intended,” she said.
“The Plan is so leaky we cannot possibly allow changes to an already fragile system until we get this right - we will only get one chance.”
Former Labor Shadow Water Minister and current SA MP Mark Butler said the Basin Plan hadn’t been a waste of time and money and had delivered some important outcomes for the river and communities that have operations along it.
But he said it was “under pressure, there is no question about that” with “very serious allegations of water theft upstream”.
“There is a lack of federal support for the royal commission that Jay Weatherill has announced,” he said.
“There is uncertainty over whether or not the additional 450GLs is going to be able to be delivered to the river; a very important part of the Plan that South Australia was able to achieve during the negotiations.
“Now there is this question about whether the amount of water recovered from the Northern Basin, that part of the system in Queensland and in northwest NSW, should be reduced by 70GLs.
“The Wentworth Group scientists, a very highly regarded group of scientists, who have been advocating for good policy on the Murray Darling Basin for many years now, have said that review by the Murray Darling Basin Authority should not proceed.
“We’ve indicated in the Senate we don’t support that review outcome, a reduction of 70GLs, and we think they should have another look at the way in which the Northern part of the Basin operates within the Plan.
“Broadly speaking I think there is pressure on the Plan and we need to continue to advocate the national interest in making sure the very hard work that was done in achieving this Plan some years ago is not wasted.
“We need to make sure people who are always opposed to putting water back into the river, to ensure its long-term environmental health, are not able to latch onto one particular concern or another and scuttle the whole thing.”
Former Assistant Environment Minister and current Education Minister and SA Senator Simon Birmingham said he would “implore” the Labor Party to reconsider their position.
“To not scuttle the Murray Darling Basin Plan out of fear of being wedged by the Greens and to recognise the thing that delivered the Basin Plan, the thing that saw it coming to effect in 2012 was bipartisanship,” he said.
“The Greens stood against the Basin Plan back in 2012.
“The Labor Party of course, enjoyed the support of the Coalition at the time to make sure that it came into effect.
“This is a very grave threat for the Plan if these new changes are disallowed.
“They are not changes the government has developed - the independent Murray Darling Basin Authority has developed following a review that was commenced as part of the investigation into the initial Basin Plan, when Labor was in government.
“What we can’t afford to have is situations where the Senate starts picking and choosing which part of the independent Authority’s advice it accepts.
“We ought to accept the independent Murray Darling Basin Authority’s advice about the Plan, because otherwise if we don’t that is when we really do run the risk of upstream states walking away from it.
“Particularly South Australia will be left stranded on a rock with no additional water flowing through the system because we lose that federal, bipartisanship that has held the Plan together so far.”
Ms Sharkie said the Victorian and NSW governments would “walkaway but that is something I think we will hear from them for some time yet, with every single measure in this Plan”.
“I think the governments in NSW and Victoria are using this as a political weapon to get what they want for their states - I think we need cool heads,” she said.
“I think we need to have greater transparency and we need to restore faith in the Plan.
“There are concerns from us that live at the very end of the river that not enough is being done around those allegations of theft.
“We believe that we will support the Greens disallowance but what that will do is buy some time to get this right.
“There are 36 projects planned to the tune of millions and millions of taxpayers’ dollars that is supposed to be restoring water back into the river.
“We don’t know about those projects.
“We’ve done an order of production documents for them so we can find out the cost and the true merit of those projects.
“At the moment we are relying on scientists in the Wentworth Group outside this process to make those evaluations and that is the sort of information that should be provided to all of us in the parliament.”
But Senator Birmingham said “knocking out bits of the plan and rejecting the advice and the recommendations on the plan from MDBA doesn’t buy time.
“What it buys is a real risk that the upstream states tear the Plan up,” he said.
“That is the last thing that any of us would want to see.
“I know that Mark Butler and I, Penny Wong, many of us from South Australia that have been in the parliament for a decade now have had to work very closely, very long and hard to get this plan into place.
“The last thing I want to see is it destroyed now, on the eve of the South Australian election, just because Labor might be scared of being wedged by the Greens and Xenophon.
“Just as I have stood up to upstream National Party interests and others who might have sought to block the Plan before, we ought to stand up to those extreme elements again and back the plan, and back the independent authority.”