The Senate has voted to block the Federal Government’s changes to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, putting the agreement in jeopardy.

The changes the government wanted to make were in a bid to ease pressure on farmers in northern NSW and southern Queensland, where communities suffered due to a loss of water for irrigators.

As a result, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) proposed a reduction in water recovery targets in the north of the basin from 390 gigalitres to 320 gigalitres — a 70-gigalitre decrease.

The move was described as a “sensible balance” between social, economic and environmental interests in the region.

The MDBA also said reducing the water recovery target would save an estimated 200 jobs in irrigation-dependent communities.

Phillip Glyde, Chief Executive of the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), said he was disappointed that the Australian Parliament has voted to disallow an amendment to the Basin Plan affecting the northern Basin.

“The Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) stands by the Northern Basin review process, which was based on the best available science and evidence, peer-reviewed by independent experts, and involved an extensive and comprehensive consultation over four years.

“The MDBA is an independent, science-based and evidence-driven organisation, and we will remain focused on our chief objective — to deliver the Murray–Darling Basin Plan in a way that will ensure a sustainable future for our nation’s most important river system and the communities and industries that rely on it.

“I urge all parties to continue to work together in a spirit of consensus and cooperation to deliver the Basin Plan — this remains our nation’s best pathway for securing the environmental future of this vital shared resource and the communities that depend on it.”

Mr Glyde hopes that work will not be jeopardised by the disallowance of the northern Basin Amendments.

The Parliament is still to consider the disallowance of Amendments affecting the southern Basin.

“I hope that all parties will take into account the peer-reviewed science and evidence based work of the MDBA when considering these Amendments, and consider what is at stake,” Mr Glyde said.

“Basin Plan limits on water take become legally binding in mid-2019.  We are on the verge of beginning to realise the full benefits of the Plan, and providing certainty and stability to Basin communities.”

In mid-February 2018 the Victorian Government met with the New South Wales Government to discuss the best ways to secure the future of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, and were advocating a reduction in water for the environment outlined in the review, stating they were willing to abandon the Basin Plan unless 70 gigalitres (GL) of water earmarked for the environment was reduced.

Victorian Minister for Water, Lisa Neville, said, “The decision to disallow the Northern Basin Review – a review approved by all states and allowed for in the Plan – is a slap in the face to communities and a slap in the face to the environment.

“Victoria has been implementing the plan as required by the agreement since 2012 – and we are committed to the Plan and the outcomes for the environment.

“This decision is an attempt to re-prosecute a plan we all signed up to – including South Australia.

“From the beginning the Plan has always involved a review of the Northern Basin and included provisions for the SDL adjustment mechanism. This decision derails that plan.

“Without some of the measures contained in the Northern Basin Review it is impossible to actually deliver environmental water to South Australia.

“We want the Commonwealth to investigate all options to overturn this decision.

“If that is not possible the Plan cannot be delivered.”

NSW Minister for Regional Water, Niall Blair, said, “It is a sad day for NSW when a plan that everyone has been working on for six long years, a plan that delivers healthy rivers and viable regional communities, is thrown on the scrap heap by the Greens and Labor in a race for votes in South Australia.

“The northern basin review was always part of the Basin Plan package and rejecting it now undermines the ability of Basin Ministers to make binding decisions at the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council.

“This move makes the Basin Plan untenable for NSW.

“At the same time, I am urging the Federal Government to fix the Senate’s sabotage and take every step necessary to prevent the short-sighted and politically motivated action that will destroy this historic reform.

“The NSW Government was committed to delivering the plan, but Federal Labor and the Greens have decided to put people last and politics first.”

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