Labor is leaning in to the Turnbull government’s bid to block a Senate vote on the Murray Darling Basin Plan, set down by the Greens for May 8.
At stake is the go-ahead for 37 infrastructure works, granted with consent from Basin states, which are designed to move environmental water more efficiently and reduce irrigation cutbacks by 605 gigalitres, known as Sustainable Diversion Limit offset projects.
Citing environmental shortfalls in project designs, the Greens want the Senate to vote to remove Parliament’s approval.
Federal Water Minister David Littleproud is rallying support against the Greens. He says the projects will work and communities and industry can't take any more surprises.
“Communities know a healthy Basin means strong communities and strong local economies. They also want to have certainty going forward – the Basin Plan delivers that,” Mr Littleproud said.
But no one will assume the situation is anything but fluid until the final vote is counted.
Labor’s stance on the offset projects vote mirrors the lead up to a similar blocking bid lodged by the Greens against a proposed reduction to irrigation cutbacks in the Northern Basin in February.
Labor’s Senate leader Penny Wong surprised the Government by rallying support to side with the Greens. The Coalition was heartened in negotiations preceding the vote in dealings with Labor’s environment spokesman Tony Burke.
This time around the same conciliatory tone is on display with Mr Burke, who’s pushing government to address problems with the Basin Plan, although he’s holding out the prospect of cooperation.
“Labor is not seeking to relitigate the Plan nor is Labor seeking to undermine the independence of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority,” Mr Burke said.
He is seeking a “firm commitment” from government on several hot issues, which the government will nevertheless feel confident it can address.
Mr Burke identified the 450GL of ‘upwater’ that is yet to be recovered, better oversight to ensure water reserved for environmental benefit is not available for consumptive use; a “comprehensive response” to allegations of corruption and water theft in the Northern Basin; indigenous consultation and engagement in water planning and; accuracy of data and modelling assumptions.
He is also looking for certainty the offset projects “will deliver results”, which means he wants binding commitments that the Commonwealth will force the states to test for and rectify environmental shortfalls.
Greens environmental spokeswoman Sarah Hanson Young said the Greens don’t share the Murray Darling Basin Authority’s confidence in the projects and urged Labor not to “gamble” with the Basin Plan by blocking her motion.
Ms Hanson-Young cites the controversy over alleged water theft and poor regulations in NSW’s Barwon Darling catchment, and highlights the lack of information released to date on project design.
Mr Littleproud said the projects are based on the best available science and evidence and are essential for environmental outcomes.