Yet another political stoush between state and federal ministers over the Basin Plan has once more thrown rural and regional communities across the Murray Darling Basin into economic uncertainty and political instability. It has also highlighted the need for all levels of government, including local government, to work together to deliver optimum benefits for all Basin communities as the adjustment and review mechanisms set into the Basin Plan are worked through.
With the Federal Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Barnaby Joyce last week opening the possibility for the 450GL of additional water recovery targeted for the environment to be foregone, and language from South Australian Water Minister Ian Hunter descending into what could best be described as ‘unhelpful’, the Murray Darling Association is calling for local government to have a seat at the table at Ministerial level to ensure that decisions are made that include local government and community perspectives.
“Local government, represented by the MDA has backed a united approach to the implementation of the Basin Plan that optimises triple bottom line outcomes for our local communities from the outset,” MDA National President Cr David Thurley said from Albury today. “It is important that local government and the communities we represent are at the table. There doesn’t need to be ‘winner and losers’ under the Plan, but a constructive approach to a healthy Basin community does need for everyone to give a little, and to work together.”
Following the release of the Northern Basin Review, the MDBA has also announced its revised water recovery target. The Authority is proposing that the target be reduced from 390GLs to 320GL for the Northern Basin, calling for feedback from communities before the Basin governments decide on the amendments in February 2017. The reduction aims to minimise social and economic impacts in northern basin communities and delivers almost equivalent environmental outcomes by taking a more targeted approach to water recovery, an objective members of the MDA have long been advocating for. Speaking at a GMID Water Leadership Forum in Tatura last week, MDBA CE Phillip Glyde confirmed that if approved, any reduction in the Northen Bain will aply to te total figurs in te Plan. As such, the proposed amendment announced this week would amend the Basin Plan recovery target from 2750GL to 2680GL. Information provided by the Authority also shows that a 70GL reduction in the north translates to less than a 4GL reduction at the SA border, and only 3GL over the barrages, having a minimal impact on environmental flows.
“As we consider this review, and any adjustments to the Basin Plan, it is important that the Basin governments and communities work together to understand the real benefits and impacts,” MDA’s Chief Executive Emma Bradbury said. “This is not the time for our state and federal counterparts to dig in, and start using terms like ‘not negotiable’. All levels of government must work together in a non-partisan way to implement the Basin Plan if we are to maintain a healthy natural environment, halt any adverse social and economic impacts, and restore confidence to our agricultural sector. Our Basin communities are calling for leadership, certainty and a fair hearing.” Ms Bradbury will be meeting with member councils across more than 20 local government areas in the northern Basin next week to hear their feedback on the proposed amendments, and will travel to South Australia for similar talks early in the new year.
MDA National Vice President Cr Barry Featherston, a South Australian Irrigator and councillor with Alexandrina Council added “Local communities realized that the Basin Plan was not perfect, but agreed to it being implemented so long as there was a review process. The MDA, as local governments peak representative body on Basin issues is the level of government that can listen to the community and deliver balanced opinions and local knowledge to our state and federal counterparts on the effects of the implementation.”
Cr Featherston today called on the Weatheral Government in South Australia to observe the same principles in delivering the Plan as they undertook with the nuclear waste debate, by listening to the community before locking South Australia into a set path. “Local government, through the MDA can help that process - our regional businesses and irrigators right across the Basin deserve to be heard. We get that at local government level, and the community expect our state and federal governments to do the same. What local communities want and need is for all levels of government to work together, and for their state and federal leaders to listen to their concerns rather than brawling publicly with each other.”
The MDA will continue to work for local government to be formally included in state and federal discussions on the ongoing adjustments to and implementation of the Basin Plan.