Incoming water minister David Littleproud has promised Murray-Darling Basin communities he will equip them with tools to “recover and restructure”, as he requests an urgent investigation into the purity of the water market as his first post-election priority.
The Conservative Party continues to call for a federal royal commission into the Murray Darling Basin after South Australia’s royal commission was hamstrung by federal government interference last year.
Mr Littleproud declared he would offer “certainty and leadership” on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which he said was not perfect.
“Some 93 per cent of trade of water happens in the southern basin. We’ve got to get an understanding of what role corporate players have. Fourteen per cent of trade is done by corporate entities that don’t own land,” Mr Littleproud said. “Is the market a pure one and how do we get an understanding of ensuring we get a marketplace working for the outcomes the plan seeks to achieve?”
Murray-Darling Basin Authority modelling based on the employment impacts of the plan on 61 irrigation communities found a loss of 4239 jobs in the northern and southern basins.
Communities in the northern basin such as Dirranbandi, Warren and Collarenebri ended up with more than 10 per cent cuts to water entitlements following government buybacks.
Mr Littleproud said an expert panel that he will appoint in coming weeks will review the social and economic impacts on communities across the basin.
“We can’t blow up what we’ve done. It’s not a perfect plan. There are a lot of flaws to it but if you blow it up, you’ll invariably get a worse plan than we’ve got,” he said.
“We will get a real appreciation of the impact this plan has had on small regional communities, and how do we equip them with the tools to recover?”
Mr Littleproud pointed to two new native fish hatcheries, remote river sensors and cameras and the installation of satellite technology as practical measures to help prevent another disastrous fish kill in the Darling River.
National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson said it was crucial the Murray-Darling Basin Plan remained bipartisan after the states and commonwealth reached an agreement on its management for the first time since Federation.