Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council Communique 24 February


Most of the Murray-Darling Basin is the wettest it's been in a long time. Many communities are experiencing unprecedented flooding and coping with wet catchments due to the third consecutive year dominated by a La Niña weather pattern. In the northern Basin, this follows the worst drought on record. The major dams have now reached a whole-of-Basin storage level of 99%. Ministers acknowledged the skill and professionalism of river and dam operators across the Basin to do what they can for communities to mitigate the impacts of the wet conditions as much as possible.

Ministers expressed their concern for those being impacted by failing crops and damaged infrastructure, particularly those farmers and irrigators who have lost whole crops. They noted, however, that the wet conditions stand the Basin in good stead to meet the water needs of farmers and communities for the coming seasons. In good news, flooding rains have reconnected the rivers with their floodplains, and are allowing large breeding events of many birds, fish and animals.

Minister Plibersek remarked in her opening address as Chair of the Council that during recent travels across the Basin there was goodwill from all sectors of the community, and a strong desire from many people to make the Basin Plan work. Ministers recognised it is critical that we deliver the objectives of the Basin Plan. This can be achieved through collaboration and cooperation between Basin jurisdictions and stakeholders.

Impacts of a changing climate

Ministers acknowledged the challenges of a changing climate. There is the need for a robust, science-led approach and broad collaboration to underpin an effective and unified response.

Ministers resolved to work together on climate change modelling that can deliver against Basin-scale needs and help to respond to the risks posed to water resources and Basin communities.

A critical achievement of the Basin Plan has been the dedication of water for the environment under the management of the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder.

This water made a marked difference to the health of the northern Basin during the recent drought and ensured that the rivers remained connected to the Murray mouth.

Even during wet times, water for the environment continues to be expertly managed, including for longer term outcomes in vulnerable areas such as the Coorong, Menindee Lakes and Darling-Baaka River system.

Delivering the Basin Plan

Ministers restated their commitment to work together in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration to overcome the challenges to delivering the Basin Plan.

Ministers noted significant challenges remain to implement the shared Basin Plan commitments by 30 June 2024, given stalled progress over the last five years and the remaining timeframe.

They welcomed recent progress by New South Wales to resubmit Water Resource Plans for assessment by the MDBA, including accreditation of the first NSW Water Resource Plan by Minister Plibersek.

The status and timeline of important projects was discussed, including the Menindee Lakes Water Savings and Yanco Creek Offtake projects as part of the Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism (SDLAM) package. It was noted that the June 2024 deadline for all SDLAM projects to be complete is fast approaching.

It was agreed that achieving sustainable levels of water extraction through water recovery under the Basin Plan is important, not just for the millions who live and work in the Basin, but for all Australians.

As a matter of priority, the Commonwealth will work with relevant communities and Basin states on options to bridge the remaining gap in water recovery, including through strategic purchase, and to consider carefully opportunities to achieve the 450 GL.

It was noted that the Australian Government was carefully and consultatively considering all options to meet the water recovery targets. Ministers noted the Australian Government's early engagement with industry on opportunities for improved water use efficiency.

Ministers welcomed the Basin Community Committee's advice on this.

Ministers agreed they will meet again in February 2023 to agree actions to deliver the remaining shared Basin Plan commitments.

Confidence in water markets

Ministers recognised the critical importance that trust and confidence in Basin water markets plays in our regional economies and for the communities that rely on this water.

Ministers agreed in principle to implement all recommendations of the Quinlivan water market reform roadmap. Implementing the recommendations will improve confidence in water markets among water licence holders and market participants and develop new integrity safeguards. This will also enable the investment in new data and systems capabilities that will improve trade and transaction transparency. Ministers noted the success of working collaboratively on these market reforms and agreed to continue to do so on a range of other shared reforms over the coming years.

Ministers also anticipate a draft intergovernmental agreement related to water market reform by the end of the year.

Managing the River Murray

Ministers of the southern Basin states acknowledged their important role under the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement to ensure collaborative governance of the River Murray System, benefitting all communities and their river environments. The MDBA committed to ensuring water delivery and river management continues at the highest standard on behalf of governments.

An annual work plan to support river system capacity and delivery outcomes was agreed. Progress to complete the Barmah-Millewa Reach Feasibility study was also welcomed, including extensive community consultation to date. Ministers committed to agreeing next steps based on options to be presented by the MDBA to Ministers at their next meeting.

First Nations water

Ministers agreed on the need to improve the wellbeing and cultural connections of First Nations people and received an update on the implementation of the $40 million Aboriginal Water Entitlements Program. Noting the significant delays in the delivery of this program delivery, Ministers provided their support for a Commonwealth approach aimed at balancing timely delivery with a proper and respectful process with First Nations people, which respects principles of self-determination.

Ministers also discussed barriers to the delivery of water entitlements for First Nations people and examples of investment programs that have achieved this. Minister Plibersek re-affirmed the commitment of the Australian Government to overcome these barriers and noted that discussions with First Nations people on options, for example a trust model, are underway.

After hearing directly from The Nature Conservancy and Nari Nari Tribal Council on the success and achieved outcomes through the Gayini Nimmie-Caira project, Ministers expressed support to explore with First Nations communities strategic land and water acquisitions that could achieve social, economic, environmental and cultural outcomes.


The Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council (the Ministerial Council) is made up of Ministers responsible for water from each Basin jurisdiction and the Commonwealth.

Commonwealth (Chair)The Hon. Tanya Plibersek MP,

Minister for the Environment and Water

New South Wales

The Hon. Kevin Anderson MP,

Minister for Lands and Water,

Minister for Hospitality and Racing

QueenslandThe Hon. Glenn Butcher MP,

Minister for Regional Development and Manufacturing

and Minister for Water

South AustraliaThe Hon. Dr Susan Close MP,

Deputy Premier and Minister for Climate, Environment and Water

Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science

Minister for Defence and Space Industries

VictoriaThe Hon. Harriet Shing MP,

Minister for Water,

Minister for Regional Development

Minister for Commonwealth Games Legacy

Minister for Equality

Australian Capital Territory

Mr Shane Rattenbury MLA,

Minister for Water, Energy and Emissions Reduction,

Attending for Mr Rattenbury was Ms Rebecca Vassarotti MLA

Minister for the Environment and Heritage

Minister for Sustainable Building and Construction

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