The Victorian Government met with the New South Wales Government in Sydney in mid-February 2018 to discuss the best ways to secure the future of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

The urgent meeting was held to discuss the options available in NSW and Victoria if the Federal Opposition and Greens vote to unwind the historic Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

New South Wales and Victoria are advocating a reduction in water for the environment outlined in the Northern Basin Review and are willing to abandon the Basin Plan unless 70 gigalitres (GL) of water earmarked for the environment is reduced.

Victoria discussed what alternative arrangements to the plan might be available if the 605GL is disallowed in the Senate.

This includes the option of establishing a separate process with the Commonwealth to negotiate a tripartite agreement between Victoria and NSW to continue to deliver this critical part of the plan.

The 605GL worth of project is also crucial in that it helps Basin states reach the 2,750GL target under the plan.

The Northern Basin Review seeks to reduce the water allocated for the environment contained the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement 2012 through an amendment to the Basin Plan.

The amendment to the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement is a disallowable instrument soon to be voted on by the Commonwealth Parliament.

If the Senate decides to disallow the 605GL of Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL) environmental projects, then the future of the plan will be in serious jeopardy.

Victorian Minister for Water, Lisa Neville, has written to the Senate to support the Murray-Darling Basin Plan by not disallowing the 605GL worth of environmental projects.

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is a landmark agreement between five states and the Commonwealth, supported across the political spectrum to improve the health of Australia’s most important rivers.

The disallowance vote prevents $180 million from going towards the health of rivers and fish populations in northern NSW and Queensland, and would mean a further 221GL of water buybacks in southern NSW.

CEO of the National Irrigators Council, Steve Whan, said, “NSW and Victoria have put their frustration on the table. They have worked with their communities now for years to implement the Basin Plan and they are telling us all very clearly that if their effort is going to be ignored, then they will no longer be a part of 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.

“NIC is aware that there have been meaningful discussions aimed at responding to Labor Opposition questions. On top of that, the industry and the NSW Government have made it very clear that they see Northern Basin compliance as critical and are willing to work cooperatively to resolve issues about legal use of environmental water.

“Our communities need certainty and none of our industry wants to see years more of fighting and point scoring.

“The major parties must show the way on this. Bipartisanship is the only way to achieve the sort of real reform that the basin plan represents.”

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