Statement on Murray Darling Basin Plan Reform

Today’s high level announcement of further reforms for the Murray Darling Basin, by Federal Water Minister, Keith Pitt, is welcomed by the National Farmers’ Federation.

Minister Pitt made several key announcements following his consideration of the Water for Environments Special Account and the Sefton Socio-Economic Report, these include:

  • A new ‘Trust and Transparency’ body;
  • No more on farm water buy backs;
  • Putting communities back in the centre of the Basin Plan.

The Trust and Transparency body will see the compliance roles of the Murray Darling Basin Authority moved out of the authority and vested within the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment.

This is an important recognition of the need to empower the MDBA to get on with the job of implementing reform, while freeing it of the burden of compliance.

It will be important to ensure that there is appropriate separation from the policy branch of the Department and that there are existing models which can be adopted to effectively achieve this.

There is nevertheless still a task of ensuring that the Basin Ministerial Council demands advice from the Basin Officials Committee that will drive effective reform consistent with a range of reviews, especially including the Productivity Commission’s five-year implementation review. The NFF has called for this for some time.

No more farm water buybacks is an important threshold which the farm sector has long been advocating for. This applies in two contexts 1) the non-acquisition of the 450GL from the irrigation consumptive pool, consistent with the current NFF policy and 2) the Minister’s commitment to greater flexibility and the need for greater community engagement for sustainable diversion limits.

Once this is achieved the states can get on with the development and implementation of the SDL measures to achieve a further 605GL for the environment. Agriculture cannot tolerate the prospect of further buybacks, more than enough damage has been done to communities, this needs to be fixed now or other options considered.

Affected Basin communities will no doubt welcome additional funding, about $170 million, to support those adversely effected by the implementation of the Plan, we note more may be required The NFF has long argued for recognition of the impacts of the Plan on Basin communities and this is an important acknowledgement of that.

We thank the Sefton panel for doing the difficult job of assessment and recommendation and look forward to further understanding those recommendations.

The Murray Darling Basin is an economic powerhouse, that Australia so badly needs, now more than ever.The Plan is a controversial instrument. Farmers will continue to adapt but they need an assurance that the Plan will continue to be improved to make it the best it can be.

The above reforms are another step along a difficult road. The NFF will represent the sentiment of our members and promote Basin reform that supports a persistent and growing agricultural sector.

The release today of the Sefton and WESA reviews will provide greater insight into reform priorities, for example both the Productivity Commission and Sefton identify the need for time flexibility on delivery of the plan, this discussion needs to commence now.

Statement attributable to NFF President Fiona Simson.

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