Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville said the government was delivering on its Basin Plan obligations, as promised.
“But Victoria isn’t willing to put the economic and social viability of local communities at risk – the EY report shows that further recovery of water would have negative impacts on communities,” Ms Neville said.
“Sadly, the report has fundamentally failed to meet the expectations of the terms of reference agreed to by Basin States and fails to provide evidence for Basin Ministers to make informed decisions.
“We are no closer to having confidence, as required by the Basin Plan, that on-farm efficiency measures can be delivered without further negative impacts on our communities.”
She said the government remained open to exploring opportunities for off-farm water savings, to contribute to the 450 Gigalitres (GL) of environmental upwater.
“The Victorian Government has raised concerns with the MDBA and the Commonwealth Government on numerous occasions about the adequacy of the methodology and approach taken in the delivery of the EY Report.”
Federal and State Water Ministers agreed to commission the EY report in June, last year, as an independent expert analysis of efficiency measures, to ensure neutral or positive socio-economic outcomes.
The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) had earlier agreed to efficiency measures to recover an additional 450 GL by 2024, consistent with the Basin Plan legal requirement to achieve neutral or positive socio-economic outcomes.
And opposition Water spokeswoman Steph Ryan slammed the release of the report , while a critical socio-economic impact review of the Basin Plan remains incomplete.
“This report does not take into account the study being undertaken by the Murray Darling Basin Authority which was supposed to be completed by the end of 2017,” Ms Ryan said.
“The MDBA has failed to complete its socio-economic study within the promised timeframe.
“That report was supposed to give a more detailed picture of the impacts of water recovery in northern Victorian communities.”
Ms Ryan said the MDBA had blamed the delay on the need to wait for the Australian Bureau of Statistics to finalise census data.
“The Basin Plan is clear that extra water cannot be recovered if it has detrimental economic or social impacts. This shouldn’t even be a discussion until the MDBA provides that information.
Independent Shepparton MP Suzanna Sheed was scathing in her criticism of the report, saying its conclusions were disappointing and based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the Basin plan legislation.
Ms Sheed said the review was a lightweight report which raised more questions than it answered and did not provide the data required for Basin Ministers to make informed decisions
“This report is little more than a surface-level assessment based on inaccurate data assumptions,” Ms Sheed said.
“Not only have the potential water savings been inflated, the cost of on-farm efficiency measures and the market price of high-reliability water shares have been considerably underestimated and no costing has been provided for any of the proposed regional development initiatives for communities.”
Ms Sheed said she was disappointed that the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District (GMID), which was broadly acknowledged as one of the hotspots of negative outcomes arising from the Basin Plan, was not considered in the report as being worthy of a case study with a targeted analysis of the impacts of future water removal.
“We have been telling anyone who will listen for some time now that the GMID is at a tipping point – it has been struggling under the strain of the Basin Plan and will not be able to withstand the removal of any further water,” Ms Sheed said.
“There has clearly been an overriding imperative in the preparation of this report to find the extra 450GL of water at all costs, effectively writing the GMID off as an unfortunate loser, which could be placated with funding for non-related community and industry needs.”