Most of the 118 submissions to the Senate inquiry into the Government’s rewrite of the 2012 Murray-Darling Basin Plan oppose the legislation.
A review of the submissions reveals a diversity of perspectives united by a substantial lack of support for the Water Amendment (Recovering Our Rivers) Bill 2023. The Bill is currently before a Senate Inquiry with hearings to begin this week.
NSW Irrigators’ Council CEO Claire Miller said the submissions, 74 per cent of which come from within the Basin, were a wake-up call to Federal Parliament to start listening to the people whose livelihoods and communities are on the line.
“The Parliament also needs to listen to the Productivity Commission, which warns in its interim report released overnight that it makes little sense for the Government to rapidly pursue the 450 GL target when a significant shortfall to the benchmark 2680 GL recovery target is still expected.”
The Commission urges the Government to first make good on that shortfall through a range of options, before any recovery towards the 450 GL. It also suggests that the Government wait until the 2026 Basin Plan review to first assess how best to deliver the enhanced environmental outcomes that the 450 GL target is designed to meet.
Key findings from the submissions include:
• 61 per cent of submissions overall do not support the Bill, rising to 79 per cent of submissions from within the Basin.
• 56 per cent do not support water buybacks, rising to 76 per cent of submissions from within the Basin.
• 68 per cent of submissions support socioeconomic impact conditions on water buybacks, rising to 84 per cent of submissions from within the Basin.
• 100 per cent of Murray-Darling Basin local government submissions oppose the Bill.
• Most submissions support complementary measures to fix river health.
“The Senate must listen to the people who live in the Basin and know from past lived experience exactly how buybacks hurt and hollow out their towns and their communities,” said Ms Miller.
“Their voices, expressed in the majority of submissions, must carry more weight than those of city-based academics and activists who may be well intentioned but have no skin in this game.
“Academics asserting the impacts of water buybacks are overstated rely on models with selective assumptions. Too many also have a history of anti-irrigation rhetoric, so their analysis is hardly objective.
“Basin communities, on the other hand, have witnessed the lasting and devastating effects of buybacks. They’ve seen the jobs lost and families leaving town, leaving schools struggling with declining enrolments, shops shutting up, and essential services disappearing.
“These are not hypothetical scenarios that can be modelled away using this or that assumption in an academic analysis. These are the stark realities faced by the people who actually live with the lasting and often subtle consequence of Government policy.
“And these people are overwhelmingly saying no to this legislation.”
Ms Miller said the Government was over-reaching on this Bill on every front.
“This Bill goes far beyond the 2012 Basin Plan that had bipartisan and Basin State support, and communities understood to be the limits of acceptable socioeconomic impact.
“It goes beyond the August agreement with Basin States, excluding Victoria, because in practice it only allows buybacks in one form or another and no other options.
“It dumps the conditions on recovering another 450 GL for South Australia that were written into the 2012 Basin Plan by the former ALP Water Minister, Tony Burke.
“Mr Burke made the 450 GL conditional on having only positive or neutral socioeconomic impacts, and expressly excluded buybacks because they would damage communities. He also linked the 450 GL to environmental outcomes and constraints management.
“The question has to be asked – what has changed since then, other than this Labor Government made an election promise to South Australia to shore up its vote in Adelaide, and its Greens preferences in other cities?”
“We know the Basin Plan can be delivered in a way that deliver the environmental outcomes sought without resorting to buybacks and this must be the way forward.
“The Water Minister asked communities and industries to come up with other options and they did – but the Minister is determined to instead work against, not with, Basin communities.”