New chapter in Murray Darling Basin Plan centres on communities

4 September 2020

The Coalition Government is investing $234.2 million to put communities at the centre of the Murray–Darling Basin Plan by focusing on the jobs and economic activity the Plan can generate in regional areas.

Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia, Keith Pitt, today launched the Murray–Darling Communities Investment Package detailing 11 new initiatives to keep the Basin Plan on track while ruling out water buybacks.

“My focus is on delivering the highest accountability when it comes to managing our scarce water resources by establishing a new statutory compliance role separate from the MDBA,” Minister Pitt said.

“I’m also reaffirming the Australian Government’s commitment to recovering the 450 GL needed to achieve enhanced environmental outcomes but I will not put further pressure on irrigators to recover this through buybacks – my focus will be on off-farm efficiencies.

“Communities have told us in no uncertain terms that they are sick of being talked at and not listened to.

“That feedback came through loud and clear in the Independent Assessment of Social and Economic Conditions in the Basin which I release today – it highlighted the need to rebuild trust with communities and to ensure they can play an active role in shaping their own futures.

“I want to thank Robbie Sefton and her panel for the report which was a touchstone for us in developing the Roadmap.

“This report, along with the First Review of the Water for the Environment Special Account report, which I also release today, and recommendations from previous reviews, give Basin governments the guidance needed to put communities at the centre of the Plan.

“Government MPs and Senators from across the Murray-Darling Basin have all provided strong representation of their communities’ issues and concerns that has contributed to the reforms announced today.

“It’s now time to focus on delivering the projects that keep more than 600 GL of water in the system for productive uses and securing the additional 450 GL to improve water quality and river health, in particular in the lower Murray.

“In the face of slower than anticipated progress on the 450 GL we have established the $38 million Sustaining Riverland Environments Program, designed to make sure the environment is supported as we redouble efforts to recover the water needed through improving the efficiency of irrigation networks. 

“This will promote progress without taking water from farmers. To achieve this the Australian Government will focus on off-farm projects for water efficiencies.

“Many of the projects underpinning the 600 GL will be delivered by New South Wales and Victoria – and the Roadmap makes it clear how the Australian Government will work with states to make sure these projects are designed and delivered in ways that benefit the community and maximise water savings. 

“The need to improve community involvement has been a recurring issue since I became water minister which is why I am making $54 million available to support Murray-Darling Basin communities and rivers through two competitive grant programs – an extended Murray-Darling Basin Economic Development Program and a new Healthy Rivers Program both of which are designed to turn local ideas into action.

“I’m also investing $3.1 million to create four new Indigenous Ranger groups across the Basin to make sure that First Nations knowledge is used in managing our rivers and to reinforce connection to country.

“I look forward to regular reports on the progress in implementing the Murray–Darling Community Investment Package from my department and to working with Basin states and communities to maximise the benefits of the Basin Plan.”

A full list of initiatives is available in the Murray–Darling Community Investment Package available on the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment’s website. agriculture.gov.au/water-investment-package

Summary

  • 11 new initiatives worth $234 million that will enable all Basin jurisdictions to get on with implementing this important reform and put communities and jobs at the heart of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
  • Merging  responsibilities of the Inspector-General of the Murray-Darling and the MDBA’s Office of Compliance to create an Inspector General of Water Compliance.
  • Building a web-based, real-time water information platform to be the single point of truth for communities on water storages, flows and trade information.
  • No additional water buybacks and more community-led solutions.
  • We are committed to delivering the Basin Plan, but will not put further pressure on irrigators.
  • The Commonwealth will focus the future of the 450 GL efficiency program on off-farm projects that avoid any need to take any further water off irrigators’ licenses and out of the community.