Basin Plan disallowance slammed

08 Feb, 2018 04:00 AM
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After an extensive four-year Northern Basin review that applied scientific and economic modelling and thorough stakeholder engagement via the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), a recommendation was made to reduce that section of the vast river system’s water savings target by 70 gigalitres. Photo by Stephen Burns.
The Basin Plan was 'at real risk of .. blowing up'.
After an extensive four-year Northern Basin review that applied scientific and economic modelling and thorough stakeholder engagement via the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), a recommendation was made to reduce that section of the vast

THAT’S why “people hate politicians” says federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister and Queensland rural MP David Littleproud.

Mr Littleproud was referring to Labor‘s controversial decision revealed this week to side with the Greens and vote for a disallowance motion that aims to torpedo adjustments to the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

Former Labor Water Minister Tony Burke - now Mr Littleproud’s ministerial shadow on water policy - has copped an unprecedented spray from farming and political leaders for the blunt political manoeuvre that will only inflict further commercial and social pain on Northern Basin farming communities, but achieve no environmental gains.

After an extensive four-year Northern Basin review that applied scientific and economic modelling and thorough stakeholder engagement via the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), a recommendation was made to reduce that section of the vast river system’s water savings target by 70 gigalitres.

Amendment legislation to adjust the Basin Plan accordingly from 390GLs to 320GLs for the north was introduced by Assistant Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Anne Ruston late last year.

That change also had the backing of Basin state governments but even Mr Burke’s Labor colleagues in Victoria have now attacked their federal counterparts voting with the Greens on the disallowance motion.

Greens SA Senator Sarah Hanson-Young introduced the disallowance motion that’s due to be voted on by February 14 to reject the reforms so the Northern Basin’s Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDLs) target would remain at 390GLs.

Mr Burke was the minister in charge when the Basin Plan was signed into law in 2012 which included a provision for the Northern Review to adjust SDLs if better social and economic outcomes could be delivered, without reducing environmental impacts.

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) has launched a ferocious public online campaign urging Labor to change its position and side with the Coalition government to halt the Green’s disallowance.

“Quite frankly, this is why people hate politicians - this was all about politics,” Mr Littleproud told media in Canberra on Tuesday, when asked about Labor’s controversial decision.

“This was nothing more than politics.

“This is Tony Burke's Plan, his review, and he had from November 26 last year to come up and tell us what the issues were with the Northern Basin Review.

“He said nothing until five to midnight.

“He decides to come out and say, ‘no, I'm not quite happy with the Northern Basin Review’.

“He had since November 2016 to come up with those reasons and he came up with that just before Question Time today - I think that's the answer itself.”

Mr Littleproud said “it smells all about Batman” which is the Melbourne electorate where Labor is facing a by-election due to a dual citizenship resignation and “it smells all about politics”.

He also accused Mr Burke and the Greens and Labor of “playing with people's lives”.

“These are real people's lives that they're playing with here,” he said.

“This is disgusting, the fact that he's prepared to go and play a political game with the livelihoods of those people.”

But Mr Littleproud said, with the Basin Plan disallowance vote fluid leading up to next week’s deadline, his hand was “still out there” in reaching out to Mr Burke and the Labor party to reverse their decision and to “get common sense”.

If not, he said the Basin Plan was “at real risk of this whole thing blowing up”.

“We've got the NSW (Water Minister Niall Blair) quite rightly flabbergasted by what's happening here,” he said.

“He's put his hand out and said let's go on the journey, on the full journey, and he gets slapped down.

“So what more do they want?

“The reality is the Plan was approved in 2012 with bipartisanship - all the Basin states agreed to it.

“For god's sake, let's just deliver.

“The Australian people want us out of their lives and they want us to put the framework and the environment around them to go and do what they do best, particularly in regional and rural Australia, and that's to grow the best food and fibre.

“(But) we're not giving them certainty and we're not giving those communities that live around those irrigation farms the certainty that they need.

“This is deplorable politics, and I just say: take a step back from the edge.

“My hand's still out - I'm still there to lead with you - this is about leadership, not politics.”

NFF CEO Tony Mahar said Labor and Mr Burke “made history” when the Basin Plan was ratified, effectively bringing it to life and that “significant achievement will forever be etched in our nation’s history”.

However, he said this week the Labor Party was “on the cusp of making history again – this time for all the wrong reasons”.

Mr Mahar said the Basin Plan’s future and that of Basin communities, hung in the balance with Labor planning to vote in favour of the disallowance motion to quash the Northern Basin review’s proposed amendments.

He said if successful, the disallowance motion could see the entire Basin Plan thrown out and go against the review’s science-based amendments.

“We are seeking that all parties agree with the umpire’s decision and put politics aside to maintain support for the Plan,” he said.

“Picking and choosing parts of the Plan to serve short-term political interests, threatens the whole integrity of the landmark compromise that Mr Burke negotiated five years ago.”

“Not to mention showing contempt for the sacrifices made by Basin communities.”

Mr Mahar said the Parliament had a clear choice - make a constructive and moral decision to maintain the necessary commitment to the Plan to benefit the environment, farmers and communities or continue down the path of ruin for the sake of politics.

“Basin farmers are seeking Labor's support to vote for the on-time and in-full implementation of the Plan as intended by its signatories - which will it be Mr Burke?”

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Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media

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