The Productivity Commission has advised the Australian Government against rushing to water buybacks from farmers to recover an additional 450 GL promised to South Australia under the Basin Plan.
The Commission’s ‘Murray-Darling Basin Plan: Implementation review 2023 clearly states “it makes little sense for the Australian Government to rapidly pursue the 450 GL/y target when a significant shortfall in the Bridging the Gap target is expected.”
The Gap is the anticipated shortfall of up to 315 GL in projects designed to meet the Basin Plan’s benchmark water recovery target of 2680 GL. The 450 GL is an additional target on top of that.
The Commission says: “The focus of the Australian governments should be on making progress towards this target – using the full range of water recovery options – before pursuing the 450 GL/year efficiency measures target.”
NSW Irrigators’ Council CEO Claire Miller said irrigation farmers support delivering the original 2012 Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which excludes buybacks towards the 450 GL due to their negative socioeconomic impacts.
“While the Government is spinning the Productivity Commission review to justify open slather on buybacks for the 450 GL, the Commission is clear that the focus must be on Bridging the Gap first.
“The review also suggests the Government wait until the 2026 Basin Plan review to assess first how best to deliver the enhanced environmental outcomes that the additional 450 GL target is designed to meet.
“If the Government was being honest, the Productivity Commission supports taking a very different path to the one it wants cleared by the Water Amendment (Recovering Our Rivers) Bill.”
The Commission Review states:
“The absence of a credible delivery pathway for the 450 GL/y over the next four years – including catchment-specific targets – provides no certainty to Basin communities or water market participants, potentially undermining planning and investment decisions. The government risks being seen as just chasing a volumetric target.”
And: The Commission previously raised concerns about the assumptions underpinning the 450 GL/y water recovery target, including the lack of any review point to assess the feasibility of the ‘enhanced environmental outcomes’
The PC Review also advises:
a water recovery strategy should include ‘a commitment to all available water recovery options, including community and industry developed proposals’. The Bill at present excludes any options other than buybacks by one name or another.
“The review calls on Government to finish the core business of the Plan – that is, Bridging the Gap – and then start thinking about how best to get enhanced environmental outcomes associated with the 450 GL. Instead, we have the Government doing it in reverse,” Ms Miller said.