Victoria and NSW have threatened to withdraw from the Murray Darling Basin Plan – should Federal Labor back a disallowance motion in the Senate this week – and establish their own tripartite agreement with the Federal government to deliver 605GL worth of offset projects.
Victorian Minister for Water Lisa Neville and NSW counterpart Niall Blair met on Tuesday to discuss the states’ options if amendments to reduce water recovery targets in the northern basin by 70GL are voted down.
The Greens’ disallowance motion – which appeared in the Senate at time of publication – would scuttle the planned reduction.
The reduction was recommended by a four-year Murray-Darling Basin Authority review that said 200 jobs were at stake. Federal and state governments endorsed the review.
Ms Neville said Victoria and NSW had “committed to the heavy lifting” while “SA had focuses on (the upcoming state) election”.
“It’s very rare to see Labor and National governments to come together and share a point of view – we are here because of our communities,” she said.
“If the senate is to block these amendments, the Plan is dead. There is no bluff here.”
When asked about why she was at odds with her SA and Federal Labor colleagues, Ms Neville said she was putting Victorian communities first.
Both Mr Blair and Ms Neville said they would commit to delivering the Sustainable Diversion Limit projects that were on the table, regardless of the vote in the Senate.
Fairfax Media has reported Federal Labor had backed the Greens and would vote to disallow at least one of the proposed federal measures that would deliver more water to irrigators.
But Labor is also understood to be reconsidering its position.
Allegations of corruption and perceived water mismanagement in NSW are understood to be worrying Federal Labor, which has reportedly also questioned the accuracy of water data and modelling assumptions.
Gabrielle Coupland, chairwoman of Southern Riverina Irrigators, said she wouldn’t blame Mr Blair should he walk away from the Ministerial Council and the Basin Plan.
“(Today’s events) shows the minister is serious about supporting communities that are looking to him for certainty and support,” Ms Coupland said.
“If the Basin Plan is blown up it significantly erodes confidence in the ministerial council, and I would not blame the NSW minister if he didn’t attend the council in the future.”
National Irrigators Council chief executive Steve Whan is in Dubbo for irrigator stakeholder meetings and said the future of water-saving Sustainable Diversion Limit and Northern Basin projects looked bleak if NSW and Victoria broke away from the plan.
“It’s very dependent on whether the senate deals with either or both of the Northern Basin or SDL,” Mr Whan said.
“But if NSW and Victoria decide to go their own way, it’s hard to see how those SDL projects can get off the ground. The money would not be there. Why you would do it if you weren’t getting credit for the downwater in the basin plan?
“It’s fine to have Opposition and Government negotiating over things they want clarified or to seek more assurance. That’s the normal process of Government but when that all happens in a final week after years of effort it’s no wonder the other participants wonder why they bother.”