Senate water fight

THE future of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan hinges on negotiations between the Federal Government and opposition politicians after the Senate blocked changes to water recovery targets.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority was seeking parliamentary support in reducing the Northern Basin's water recovery target from 390 gigalitres to 320 gigalitres.

An authority-commissioned report, released in November, called for the changes to the water target in the area covering northern New South Wales and southern Queensland after economic, social and environmental outcomes were considered.

However, a Greens-led disallowance motion received the support of Labor and cross-bench politicians, blocking the proposed reduction.

"The Murray-Darling Basin Plan has been seriously undermined by scandals of water theft, tampering of water meters, and rorting of public money spent on water and irrigation subsidies with little transparency on how much water is being returned to the river," Victorian Senator and Green representative, Janet Rice said.

"Given these serious issues, it beggars belief that the government would propose to divert more water in the Northern Basin to big irrigators - water to greedy corporate irrigators only helps greedy corporate irrigators."

The vote leaves the future of the Basin Plan in jeopardy, with both Victorian government and opposition politicians angry with the Senate vote.

"The Labor Senators from Victoria who voted to support this disallowance motion are no longer fit to represent the views of our State in parliament," Member for Murray Plains and Victoria's Nationals leader, Peter Walsh said.

"We all know the Basin Plan has had an impact in our communities and this move by both the Greens and Labor shows a lack of respect for those communities in the electorate of Murray Plains."

Victoria's Minister for Water, Lisa Neville described the Senators' actions as a "slap in the face" to communities and 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," she said.

"From the beginning the Plan has always involved a review of the Northern Basin and included provisions for the Sustainable Diversion Limits 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."

The decision may also impact on similar plans to amend section of the Plan relating to the southern half of the Basin, which parliament is still to consider.

"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," authority chief executive, Phillip 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.

"I sincerely hope that all parties will continue to work together and stay the course with implementation of the Basin Plan."

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