Victorian Labor might fear for the future of regional irrigator communities, but their NSW counterparts say sinking the Northern Basin Amendment won’t harm the party’s standing in the NSW bush.
Wednesday evening’s Senate disallowance motion, which passed 32-30 thanks to a Labor-Green-NXT-Bernardi-Hinch bloc, torpedoed plans to reduce water recovery from northern NSW and Queensland catchments by 70 gigalitres, and save an estimated 200 jobs.
Anger and dismay has since coursed through the state’s irrigator communities and farm industry groups.
Moree Mayor Katrina Humphries said it was an “absolute disgrace”, while NSW and Victorian governments are now expected to begin preparations to abandon the $13 billion Murray Darling Basin Plan and form their own tripartite with the Commonwealth.
But NSW Labor water spokesman Chris Minns said his party’s support for the disallowance motion wouldn’t stop them from winning over regional communities - a task Opposition leader Luke Foley had identified as a key plank of his election campaign.
“If the NSW government pulls out of this Basin Plan they are exposing these communities to every individual minister, political party, and any political horse trading that comes with NSW politics,” Mr Minns said.
“It is better to be in as part of a national agreement that provides long-term stability.”.
“I am confident NSW Labor will do the right thing (for these communities), but I don’t know what will happen in the future.
“We do need to look at the river holistically from top to bottom. There are towns in the Lower Darling that are saying they are not getting any water.”
Farmers lament disallowance ‘disaster’
NSW Farmers’ conservation and resource management committee chair Mitchell Clapham said the disallowance motion was a “disaster” that had undone years of work and significantly disrupted the process of developing new water resource plans for Basin Plan compliance, by 2019.
Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville said her stance against the two disallowance motions facing the senate was in solidarity with Victorian communities.
However, Mr Minns said he would not ‘hitch a wagon’ to a NSW Coalition that had had a difficult year for water matters.
He said any disappointed producers should direct their angst at the NSW Coalition for six months of dysfunctional water politics.
“We need to make sure all inquiries into water theft have been completed so we can make sure what was taken and by who,” he said.
“When (NSW Water Minister) Niall Blair is asked how much water has been taken, he can’t say, and points towards the active investigations. But on policy, his immediate reaction is we need to take more water from the environment.”
Mr Minns also said the vast majority of irrigators in Northern NSW were doing the right thing and should be angry at those wrecking it for everyone else.
“They’re not stealing from me in Kogarah, or Luke Foley in Auburn, they are stealing from their neighbours.”
Greens and Labor skeptical of MDBA science
Both NSW Labor and the NSW Greens told The Land they have little faith in the independent modelling that proposed the 70GL Northern Basin reduction.
That document, released in late 2016, looked at how a reduced recovery target of 320GL would impact 21 communities in northern NSW and southern Qld. It estimated 200 jobs could be saved if 70GL less was recovered for the environment, and proposed a ‘toolkit’ to help achieve this sustainably.
- Murray Darling Basin Plan under threat following disallowance motion
- Moree Mayor Katrina Humphries says Senate's decision to disallow Northern Basin Review is an "absolute disgrace”
- Final Ken Matthews report says ‘certain stakeholders’ put water reforms at risk
Greens water and agriculture spokesman Jeremy Buckingham said he was concerned planned infrastructure upgrades could not meet the reduction in water use “required to save the Darling.”
“(The recovery projects) are being used to justify giving more water to irrigators under a “reviewed” Basin Plan – as is the Broken Hill pipeline,” he said.
“We need to think about all the users and jobs across the whole system. For example, many jobs were lost in the Menindee table grape industry because of a lack of reliable water. The northern cotton industry needs to work out how to be sustainable and potentially look at alternative crops and agriculture.”
Mr Minns said independent onlookers couldn’t have much faith in the four-year review.
“On one hand we’ve got the Matthews Report, an independent authority appointed by Niall Blair, that says we need to go back to square one, look at these alleged rorts,” Mr Minns said.
“Then you’ve got the MDBA who says we’ve been looking at it for four years and reducing the recovery is the solution. Other groups like the Wentworth Group (of Concerned Scientists) says it doesn't add up.
“It doesn’t take into account massive increases in irrigator extractions over the past seven years.
“Everybody needs to be look at this with a skeptical eye.”
Such criticism has not gone down well with the MDBA.
MDBA member Professor Barry Hart said it had contributed to the 70GL amendment being sunk.
“It is disappointing to see disingenuous criticism of the exhaustive work the Murray–Darling Basin Authority conducted during the Northern Basin Review,” Professor Hart said.
“I believe that this criticism has contributed to the decision of the Australian Parliament to disallow an amendment to the Basin Plan affecting the northern Basin.”