Councils call for certainty for communities from Basin Plan

The below is a media release issued by Murray River Group of Councils on Thursday, 18 June 2020.

Communities in northern Victoria, and across the Murray Darling Basin, need an end to

the uncertainty around the Basin Plan.

With Water Ministers soon meeting for the first time since December, the Murray River

Group of Councils is pressing for clear and decisive action that will prioritise certainty for

the future of Basin Plan implementation.

“Now is the time that Water Ministers need to establish a clear path to deliver on the

promise of a sustainable basin with a healthy environment and resilient, prosperous

communities” said Cr Bill Moar, Chair of the Murray River Group of Councils.

The Murray River Group, which represents communities across northern Victoria, is calling

on the Ministerial Council to face the difficult decisions around timing and funding to get

the Plan right.

The Group is asking Ministers to focus efforts on tackling the parts of the Basin Plan that

are behind schedule; such as the supply projects to deliver 605GL worth of

environmental benefits and constraints management that is critical to enabling

environmental water to be delivered to where it is required.

“These projects are really important to that balance that we keep on hearing about,”

said Cr Moar. “If they aren’t delivered, then more water will have to be recovered from

agriculture to restore the health of the Basin’s ecosystems. Doing that will cause more

damage to our communities and put more pressure on our farmers, so let’s deliver the

605GL, even if they take a bit more time, or there have to be new projects.”

The Group is also concerned at recent applications to the Commonwealth Water

Efficiency Program that on the face of it are at odds with the socio-economic neutrality

criteria agreed by all Basin governments in December 2018.

“The uncertainty in our communities about the 450GL is a real worry” Cr Moar said. “It

hangs over their heads a bit. Lisa Neville and MinCo worked hard and listened and

agreed the socio-economic criteria and we thought that had clarified it. Only now we

are seeing proposals that really aren’t water saving projects. We want Ministers to be

really clear about their commitment to the neutrality principles and then tell their

departments to adhere to them please”

“We really support our Water Minister, Lisa Neville on this. She is standing up again and

calling out what is unacceptable. Ministers agreed these criteria and everyone needs to

stick to them’ said Cr Moar.

The Group also expressed its support for Minister Neville on the issue of deliverability and

the risks of increased extraction licences in the Murray downstream of the Barmah

Choke to the environment and to existing water entitlement holders.

MRGC called on Ministers to urgently implement a consistent mechanism for issuing new

extraction licences that will not adversely affect existing entitlement holders.

Other areas where the MRGC councils are seeking better outcomes for their

communities include improved transparency and accountability for environmental

watering, as well as reform of the water market to improve transparency and

consistency.

“Our communities value the environment and they need to know that environmental

water – the water they have given up – is being used as effectively as possible and is

being measured and monitored and that we are getting good outcomes for it” Cr Moar

said.

“They also are very concerned about the water market. We really look forward to what

the ACCC is going to say on markets. We need them to make recommendations that

will, as far as possible eliminate speculative trading that just pushes up water prices.

While the Murray River Group acknowledged that the impacts of water reform had been

varied across the region, there was concern that the policies and investment designed

to offset the negative impacts of the Basin Plan had been ineffective.

The Group is calling for co-ordinated policy and additional investment to preserve and

enhance northern Victoria’s capacity to grow food and fibre and to promote

entrepreneurialism to support new business growth across the region.

The Murray River Group of Councils comprises six councils in northern Victoria, Mildura

and Swan Hill Rural City Councils and Loddon, Gannawarra, Campaspe and Moira

Shires.

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