A make-or-break political play is splitting Murray Darling communities and stakeholder groups in two, and the independent Basin Community Committee is the latest non-partisan player drawn into the debate.
On May 8 the Senate will vote on a disallowance motion brought by the Greens environmental spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young to block the approval granted to a suite of 37 water saving projects across the Basin.
The Committee has kept out of politics to date, but today issued a strong statement admonishing the Greens.
“It is time for the community voices to be heard and they say – do not put politics above people – stick with the Plan,” the Committee said in a statement.
“We need the Basin Plan to work and reject the political game playing that has recently hijacked this important piece of legislation.”
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The projects were approved by the inter-state Ministerial Council of Water Minister last year.
The Greens say the projects are poorly designed and will shortchange the environment.
But the Murray Darling Basin Authority has endorsed the projects and argues they are a work in progress which is underwritten by a safety-net where any gap between the projected and actual water benefits would be made up from irrigator buybacks.
Committee chairman Rory Treweeke, Angledool Station, Lightning Ridge, NSW, said the Committee members normally meet in Canberra or in the Basin four times a year, but had recently convened a special meeting in Sydney at the own expense to formulate a response to the disallowance motion.
“We feel politicians are playing a very silly game with a process that was quite deliberately written into the Basin Plan at its inception.
“Some people have got very unrealistic expectations of timelines for the Plan to deliver outcomes.
“We’re trying to correct some bad policy decisions of the last 150 years with the majority probably made in the last 40 years.”
The projects deliver the Sustainable Diversion Limit Offset Mechanism, which was written into the Basin Plan legislation.
That means they’re infrastructure and river operations works designed to simultaneously improve the flow of water to environmental assets like wetlands and reduce by 605 gigalitres the amount water buybacks required of irrigators.
Senator Hanson-Young said in a statement today urging Labor to support her disallowance motion and provide the numbers she needs to win the vote.
“This is another case of the Water Minister asking us to trust the Government on this, but history shows us we’re right to be sceptical,” she said.
“The Greens do not share the Murray Darling Basin Authority’s confidence that these projects are up to scratch, and it is a gamble the Senate must not take.
“River communities want the plan to work, but as long as environmental water is intentionally siphoned off into corporate tanks and dams, they can have little faith that our nation’s food bowl is going to sustain us into the future.
“Labor must join with the Greens again when our disallowance motion comes up in the Senate next month.”
Opposing the projects are environmental groups and a collection of downstream communities, particularly in South Australia.
Pushing for the projects to go ahead are NSW and Victoria, as well as the Turnbull governments, backed by many community and farm groups.
The Basin Community Consultative Committee is made up residents from across the Basin, with expertise in water management, indigenous affairs and government.