South Australia has withdrawn its support for the sustainable diversion limits (SDL) package sought by other states in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan during a meeting held by the Murray-Darling Basin state ministers.

The Basin Plan is a coordinated approach to water management across the Murray–Darling Basin’s four states, which include South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, and the Australian Capital Territory.

During the meeting the states could not agree on delivery of the 450GL that South Australia negotiated and Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, committed to in 2017.

New South Wales and Victoria said they would not commit to the delivery of the promised 450GL in the plan.

South Australia also withdrew its support for the 605GL sustainable diversion limits package sought by the other states.

SA Minister for Water and the River Murray, Ian Hunter, said the state would not agree to any changes to the Basin Plan nor make any movement on sustainable diversion limits until it is clear that the negotiated extra 450GL is delivered on time and in full.

“We cannot operate in good faith with Basin Ministers who are not willing to work for the benefit of all Basin states,” Mr Hunter said.

“The 450GL is not an optional part of the Basin Plan. It was agreed to in 2012 and we have to deliver it.”

Mr Hunter called for all jurisdictions to begin a pilot program looking into efficiency measures “sooner rather than later”.

“In South Australia our pilot programis showing that the investment in efficiency measures not only returns water to the river but also develops the industry and is enabling industry growth.

“I would welcome any of my colleagues to come to South Australia and see these projects and the positive community and industry outcomes firsthand.”

However, he said he was “pleased to see some movement on compliance”.  

“It is promising to see that all the jurisdictions seem to be showing a renewed commitment to compliance and agreeing to a more consistent way of collecting and reporting on data across the Basin.”

This is the first meeting of Basin Ministers since the Four Corners program, which resulted in a flood of accusations, evidence and investigations into water theft, corruption and the undermining of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, aired in July 2017.

Global accounting firm Ernst and Young have been appointed to provide a framework for how the states can deliver the 450 GL.

Their independent analysis of how best to recover the final 450 GL is expected to be released publicly in late January 2018.

South Australia did welcome an agreement by Murray-Darling Basin state ministers to adopt a standardised method of reporting compliance, with the aim of publishing a standardised set of compliance data to stop rorting across the Basin.

Minister for Water Barnaby Joyce did not attend due to an imminent Federal Cabinet reshuffle.

The historic Basin Plan agreed in 2012 aims for water recovery outcomes equivalent to 3200 GL per annum by 2024. This includes the 450 GL to be recovered through efficiency measures.

This water is needed to enhance environmental benefits along the river, reduce salinity in the Coorong and Lower Lakes, and increase flows to Coorong to ensure the ongoing health of the internationally renowned RAMSAR site. 

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